“Pressure is a privilege,” Bille Jean King says. It’s also an inescapable fact of every tennis player’s life. With the recent advent of the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR), that pressure has only been ratcheted up for rec players. Now that we have a specific number attached to our names, we know exactly who we shouldn’t lose to.

How can we alleviate some of that stress? Even better, how can we use it to our advantage?

This week, our 5-step plan outlines how to take the pressure off yourself—and put it on your opponent. In case you missed it, Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 and Step 4.

Don’t Be Afraid to Care About the Outcome

“Trust the process” is a popular phrase in sports these days. Every mental coach will tell you that the less you worry about the outcome of a match, and the more you concentrate on the process of getting the outcome you want, the better off you’ll be. Believing that you “should” win any match is a kiss of death, according to Greenwald.

“‘Should’ is a six-letter swear word in tennis,” he says. “Players who have that ego investment may fear a negative end result, and stop focusing on the task at hand.”


The key is to let yourself want to win, without making the match personal.

The key is to let yourself want to win, without making the match personal.

For many of us, though, taking the need to win out of the equation can take some of the sting out of our shots, and the grit out of our games. When we focus on the process alone, we might hit the ball cleanly and consistently, but we might also find ourselves playing a little too safely; we might settle for rally balls instead of creating openings; we might find our approach shots sitting up in the middle of the court. We might work so hard to pretend we don’t care whether we win or not, we start to believe it.

So while you don’t want to paralyze yourself with fear over the result, you also don’t want to let your competitive juices dry up entirely. Make sure you hit the ball well, but also with purpose.

“For some players, determination to win can narrow your focus and give you a mission,” Greenwald says. “Sometimes it can help to visualize success when belief is low.”

One of the original and best-known tennis psychologists, Tim Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis, believes that process- and outcome-based approaches can work in harmony. The key is to let yourself want to win, without making the match personal.

“Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal,” Gallwey wrote. “Each player tries his hardest to defeat the other, but in this use of competition, it isn’t the other person we are defeating; it’s simply a matter of overcoming the obstacles he presents.”

You’ll never eliminate the pressure you feel on a tennis court. But with the right mindset and goals, you can use it to drive you on to victory.