January 3, 2010

The Proper Balance of Respect for Your Opponent

The best attitude to take to a match would be: "I know I can win, but I know my opponent can win if I'm not at my best." This attitude puts the athlete in a state of absolute readiness for a tough battle. Many athletes prefer to reject this attitude, however, because they feel that giving the opponent respect and recognizing the difficulty of the task at hand places them in a vulnerable position.

The smart and experienced competitor is always aware that emotional balance is critical for best play. The foolish player fails to respect his opponents. The inexperienced player respects some opponents too much. It is best to obtain a proper balance.

This table illustrates the likely reactions in performance to the different pre-match states of mind.

This figure shows the flow and direction that a match will most likely take from the three different attitudes toward an opponent that can be taken before a match.

The best intensity to have to win a two-set match would be similar to the intensity a runner would have in running a two-mile race. He should start out quickly but settle soon into a comfortable stride. He should be solid for the biggest part of the race with few ups and downs and keep enough left over to finish the race.

Respecting an opponent too much is like trying to run too well in this race. It is like a runner who goes out too fast and sprints off to an early lead but collapses quickly when things get close. Tennis players who assume this role often start off by playing all their best shots early in the match. A good opponent is not threatened by great shots early in the match, and often a player who starts this way will not have anything left when the points get critical.

Too little respect for an opponent would be much like a runner starting off the two-mile race in a job and falsely reassuring himself that he can always catch up and that he does not have to run this best until later. This lack of readiness usually compounds problems - a situation of too little too late.

Confidence - belief in self and respect for opponent.
Cockiness - belief in self minus respect for opponent.

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