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5 Lessons From Defeat That'll Make You A Better Player

Updated: Sep 3

I didn’t always enjoy playing Tennis.

Dealing with defeat, disappointment, frustration, anxiety and anger every time I stepped onto a match court was challenging to handle.

Those were some of the lowest times of my tennis life. I can still remember feeling like the ball was tiny, wondering what people were thinking and worrying about rating and ranking points.

Some days I just wanted to quit and go back to football, it was a team sport with less pressure on me, and I had teammates to support me.

Then one day, something shocking happened to me. Club finals day, Boys U16s, I am playing mike, the defending club and county champion.

I was a setup, 4/2 up and serving, and I became very aware I was close to victory. I stated, thinking about all the praise I was about to get from my friends; I was about to become club champion!

My Tennis Coaching
I use my defeats to educate my players on Resilience

I lost 6/4, 4/6 1/6; I was devastated! And it was at that time that I decided things needed to change. I needed to change. So I made the decision that I needed to be more Resilient. At the time, I didn’t know what it was called; my coach told me to be mentally more challenging.

It wasn’t easy.

At that time, in the mid-nineties, we had no google or blogs to read, so I set off and went to the library and started reading booking on Psychology. I began to read about mindset and mindfulness and understood that all those feelings I had were normal.

I still read books on mindset and how to build resilience in athletes every week. I have bookmarked some of my favourite books here

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The Key five lessons I learned to use were:

(You Can Download an Infographic at the bottom of the page):

1 - Stay in the moment

Accepting the situation is letting go of the past and focusing on the present. What has happened can’t be changed, and the future is still undecided. If you find yourself 0-5 down, try to win the next point and the next moment. Focus on the situation that is facing you, the next issue. We can say the same about worrying about the future and staying in the moment.

2 - Accountability

When situations get tough, our competitor instinct is often to make excuses. It makes us feel a little better or gives us a valid reason why we may have lost by offering up excuses. Injuries, what we have or haven’t eaten, the weather etc., have all been offered up by players (and parents) as reasons why we lost.

Resilience is accepting that maybe the other player was better or you have areas of your game that you need to improve on. To be more resilient, you need to avoid making or using excuses.

3- I can, I have, and I will

When the going gets tough, and we find ourselves in a challenging situation, the easy option is to be negative. You may tell yourself how bad you're playing; you may shout, scream or cry. First, give yourself a break and remember these are normal reactions.

To build up your resilience, try and have a positive response: find something that you may have done well in the point or a shot or pattern you performed well. Tell yourself you can play well and try to stay positive.

I always tell my players – that tennis has no time limit; you have all the time in the world, so slow down and remember that time is on your side. You may wish to think about games where you have returned from being behind in the past, remember the feeling, and place it’s possible.

Try and have an 'I can do this attitude and not 'I can't.

Self-belief is essential when being resilient and believing in your strengths and what you are good at. When things are tough, focus on what you do well and try to build upon these areas. Think about a time when you 'turned it around or a happy moment. Things may seem dark, but remember, good things will happen again.

4- Teamwork

Tennis is primarily an individual sport, but surrounding yourself with kind, caring, and supportive people is essential in crisis times. Embrace your teammates, friends and family and talk to them about how you feel.

Ask for advice and share ideas on handling these situations better. You will be pleasantly surprised how 'normal' and regular these problematic or stressful situations are and that they happen in everyday life, not just on the court.

Having others to share life's journey with you makes you more resilient.

5 - Become a detective

Look for clues: why things are not quite working the way they should, what is going wrong, and find a way of changing it.

Most tennis matches are lost because the losing player doesn't know or attempt to change things around.

Use time between points or ends to think about what is happening, what is working well, how you can force more mistakes from your opponent, and where they struggle to be effective. Think about trying to change things to get a different outcome.

This is a great video about Resilience and life

Don’t get me wrong – I still needed to do much other work to try and win more tennis matches. I studied sports psychology in my own time and talked to others who’d always seemed calm and controlled on the court. And I learned a whole lot about being resilient simply through the process of trial and error.

Go ahead and try it – you might surprise yourself!

You can see me use tennis games and drills with players to build resilience in my upcoming FREE webinar here

Feel Free To Download and Share this Infographic - Please link to this blog when using it.

5 Ways to be resilient in tENNIS

Written by Steve Whelan

Steve has developed thousands of tennis players and tennis coaches over the past twenty years as a coach and educator.

Steve has over 20 million social media views in 2022 alone.

Read About Steve's amazing career here

Contact Steve direct at or

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