Petra Kvitova the Czech tennis star was robbed in her home shortly after Christmas and the attacker stabbed her playing hand- leaving her to nurse the injuries. Speaking about the incident in a recent interview to the press [TOI-Reuters 2JULY] she said-` Before I was very nervous before every match, now I see I shouldn’t be. Sometimes I am thinking on the court that I already won the biggest fight and if I fight in the match, it doesn’t matter if I win or lose I will still be happy to play. I see tennis and life from a different angle than before. I am not sure if it is the result of what happened but maybe I feel fearless now of what happened.’
Ramkumar Ramanathan world no 222, from India, recently stunned the whole world by defeating the world no8 Dominic Thiem in the Antalya open-in straight sets. He told TOI shortly after the match-` Beating a Top 10 player makes me fearless now. I am definitely not scared of my next opponent now.’ After reading these responses I asked myself – what were they fearing in the first place: to feel fearless now? My mind said-` hey, it is the same predicament that plagues the entire human race: Fear of failure– fear of defeat or simply- fear of loss.
Fear is one of the four primary emotions- the other three are anger, sadness and joy. Anxiety represented by worry, nervousness and panic is experienced by most performers in general and athletes in particular- before a competition or during it and all of these feelings fall under-FEAR. Pressure and choking are also as a result of –FEAR: the fear of defeat or fear of failing.
Why are the performers terrified of failure?
In this evaluative environment everything is judged on the basis of results: making it a result oriented competitive world. Success [string of victories] will give you pride, name, fame and monetary benefits, scholarships, sponsorships etc. On the contrary – string of losses [wrongly termed as failures] will give you shame, see you slipping in your grades, seeding’s and risk losing your scholarships or sponsorships. So, athletes want to avoid this precarious situation and would like to keep succeeding. In this competitive world children begin to understand from an early age that you have to keep winning and it is a crime to lose. So, defeat/ loss become a dirty word. If losing is attributed to failure: then the seeds of failure are sown and Fear of failure sets in.
Even the elite athletes are exposed to these feelings of stress [anxiety, self-doubt, nervousness & pressure] before or during a competition. They have been in these situation umpteen times and know how to handle them. The ability to handle Fear and the associated feelings like pressure is what sets apart an elite athlete from the ordinary. Elite athletes want to win and hate losing but they are not afraid of losing.
Fear of failure in sports is not the same as facing life threatening situations [ex: Petra Kvitova, Monica Seles], plane crashes, motor accidents, facing a carnivorous animal in the forest. And to top it all: winning is not for ever and setback is just the bend not the end. The athlete will know at some point of time their chosen career is not forever and there is life beyond it. This mind-set will encourage the athletes in to accepting both success and setbacks [so called failures] in the same breath.
It is true Victory gives pride and achievement motivation. But desperate thoughts like- ‘I must win or I shouldn’t lose or what if I lose, will distress you and you end with the result you never aspired for in the first place. Instead ask yourself- ‘what is the worst thing that can happen if I lose the match. Keep telling yourself before an important event – `this is just like any other game: it is just a ……… match, it is not the end of the world if I lose it.’
If you think losing a match is failure then what would you say of Thomas Alva Edison who said- ‘I am not a failure I have only discovered 999 ways of how not to make a bulb.’
M N Viswanath, author of Success Mantra In Sports and sports performance coach, he can be reached at email@example.com.
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