I will attempt to relate to those interested the importance of mental toughness through personal experience in the past season. I feel that over the past year, I have improved in many areas of my game. However, I believe that the best improvement in my game was my mental game. Whereas I used to get mad at myself in games, I now stay calm and collected, and never give up. There are four things I will write about here.
1. What is mental toughness (what I think it is, remember, everyone else is wrong)
2. Effects and examples of bad mental toughness (probably what is most experienced or observed)
3. Benefits and examples of good mental toughness
4. How to gain better mental toughness, from my short experience (from here on refered to as MT)
WHAT IS MENTAL TOUGHNESS?
To me, MT is how well a person can cope with the pressure. In this case, the stressful situations that sometimes arise in competitive badminton. Examples of times when MT comes into play:
1. When losing (say, by 5 or more points)
2. Opponent’s game or set point
3. Playing a tough opponent
These are all situations where the fear of losing can create stress in the mind. In turn, this affects the body by causing the muscles to tense up, which adversely affects gameplay. (as many know, relaxed muscles perform the best)
MT is how well someone copes with this stress, or whether they experience it at all. Those that have good MT stand up under the pressure, and are able to play normally or even better. Those with bad MT will play worse, get mad at themselves, and usually lose the game.
EFFECTS AND EXAMPLES OF BAD MENTAL TOUGHNESS
Those with bad MT are typically seen as the ones who get angry with themselves and throw their racquets. Those with bad MT will often “give up” or concede a game because they don’t think they have a chance at winning. However, the effects of bad MT aren’t always as flashy. Often, bad MT will simply result in someone who just starts to think they’ll lose all the time, and hardly expects to win. Bad MT can snowball to become so bad that a person never believes they’ll win.
Here is a situation I’m sure many have been in that shows bad or not very good MT:
You are playing someone in singles around your skill level in a tournament. The match starts off okay, but you make several errors in a row, and the opponent now leads by 5. Each mistake lingers in the back of your head, which distracts you from the actual game at hand. You lose the first game, and think to yourself, “that was just to get warmed up.” Unfortunately, your opponent is now playing very well, and all their shots seem to be perfect. After every mistake you make, you yell at yourself and become angrier. Of course, your opponent sees that you are mad, and plays even better. You end up losing the match.
As you can see, there are a few effects of bad MT.
1. Your errors linger in your head – This causes you to become focused on your mistakes, which distracts you from the game. So while thinking of not making mistakes, we actually cause ourselves to commit more errors due to lack of concentration.
e.g. – You lunge forward to take a net shot, and in an instant think “this is the same as when I missed that net shot earlier.” What do you know, you missed this shot too.
2. Getting angry at yourself – Needless to say, this is pretty self-explanatory. When you start to get mad at yourself, your opponent may see this, and if they do, it can boost their morale and help them play better.
EFFECTS AND EXAMPLES OF GOOD MENTAL TOUGHNESS
Those with good MT are often the ones who are seen as “the guy who always comes back and beats you,” and “the guy who is always so happy when he plays, even when he’s losing.” Those with good MT hardly yell or never get angry at themselves. Good MT can also have a snowball effect so that a player always comes out to play their best, and never gives up.
Here is an example of a situation where good MT comes into play:
You are playing someone in a singles tournament that is around your ability level. You make some mistakes, but they don’t hinder you. As play continues, your opponent gains game point, leading 14-9. You become more focused, playing high percentage shots and moving your opponent around. You climb your way back up and end up winning in setting. In the second game, your opponent is very frustrated from what seemed like a sure win, and you play much better as a result of your boosted morale. You win the match easily.
As you can see, there are many effects of good MT:
1. Mistakes mean nothing – You come to realize that a few small mistakes don’t make all the difference, and you get over it. One difference between those that have good MT and others is that the good MT people don’t get mad over mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, so don’t kill yourself over a smash into the net.
2. The game isn’t over until the score says 15 (or 17, or 11) – Good MT enables the player to play calmly even though the opponent is leading in points and may even have game point. Anything can happen until the game is over, so never, ever, EVER give up.
3. Frustrating the opponent – Often, when you come back from a game-point to something lead and win, this upsets the opponents mind greatly. They think they should have won, it was a fluke, etc. Frustrated opponents usually play worse and begin to exhibit the characteristics of those with bad MT.
HOW TO GAIN MENTAL TOUGHNESS
In my mind, good mental toughness is a result of several things:
1. Getting over mistakes
2. Not letting one’s emotions take over
3. Never giving up
Note that doing these things will not exactly help you gain better MT. It is the effect of playing better because of doing these which helps your mind.
Face it, everyone makes mistakes. Don’t kill yourself over it. The key is to not let errors haunt your mind for the rest of the game. If you do let mistakes stay in your mind, you will think about them while playing, which will distract you, causing you to lose concentration. So, to sum it up on the topic of mistakes – “Get over it.”
In important matches, such as quarter or semifinals, emotions can sometimes rob players of victory. This is most visible in players yelling at themselves or their partners. Also, some people get mad in any game when they play bad. The only thing that getting angry does is make you lose your concentration, and even help your opponents morale. I know when I see my opponent getting all mad, it helps me because I know he now has a lack of concentration. To sum it up on the topic of getting angry – “Get over it.”
Never give up. Repeat that 10,000 times now. This is one of the best ways to help gain MT. When you are down 14-8 or so, and you don’t give up and climb your way back and win, it is an incredibly rewarding feeling of accomplishment. This also has the opposite effect on your opponent. They feel robbed of a sure victory, as many, including I, have probably felt. As this happens more often, you will start to always give it your best shot, even when things don’t seem to be going your way. To sum it up for the topic of never giving up – “Never give up.”
While simply doing these things won’t instantly grant you good MT, they are what help. I’ve found that when you start winning close games because you didn’t give up, or you came back from a point deficit, it helps you improve your MT. Of course, good MT won’t do much against players that are much better than you, so don’t expect it to be some sort of super secret ultra weapon.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
This past season saw myself often coming back from an opponents lead, sometimes game point, and winning. I noticed that in each of these games, I had held on, not giving up, and I hadn’t gotten mad at myself. I’ll share with you perhaps the most glaring example of both sides of MT:
It was the regional tournament for qualifying for OFSAA. In our semifinal, we played a pair that had beaten is before. They probably expected to win, and we knew we could win, it would just be hard. We lost the first game, as we sort of in a way expected to. We played relaxed in the second game, knowing that they were a very good team, and we could still climb up the backdoor to take second place. Well, we won the second game, and we ended up winning the third. Our opponents were devastated, while we were elated with joy.
Our final was against their “B” team, so we expected an easy victory. Their “B” team played extremely well, and beat us. Of course, this was shocking to both teams. While I was disappointed, my partner was very down, and wasn’t very happy at all.
We had to play the team we had beaten in the semis for the second and final spot for the trip to OFSAA. I really, really wanted to go, so I gave it my all. My partner on the other hand, had pretty much given up, and was playing half-heartedly. While I was pounding unreturnable smashes off their constant flick serves, my partner just wasn’t really trying. Although the score was close, we lost.
As you can see, my partner didn’t have very good MT. In fact, he has very bad MT and is a very sore loser. My partner’s giving up had lost us the game. He’s gone next year, and I’ll be playing with my regular partner. I’ll also be out for revenge.
If I want to convey any message across, it is the following:
1. Don’t get mad over mistakes
2. Don’t get mad at yourself
3. Never give up
By doing these things, you will most likely find yourself playing better in tense games.
Thanks for reading this far, and I hope this has helped you.