Can I let you in on a little secret? Tennis players are a bunch of “losers.”
It might sound harsh, but it’s true; most tennis players suffer a loss nearly every competitive week of their career. In every tennis competition there is only one victor. Just one man will hold up the trophy at the end of each tournament, while the rest of the field will suffer a defeat.
I was discussing this exact phenomenon a few years ago with tennis legend Wayne Ferreira at the Australian Open, when he told me something poignant that really resonated with me.
He said, “Look, I’ve had what most would consider a very long and successful tennis career. And guess what, the total number of weeks in my career where I didn’t lose a single match? Only 15.”
I will never forget how clearly Wayne’s comment put things into perspective for me. Dealing constructively with defeat is a critical skill in tennis where losses are prevalent and tournament wins are few.
I was thinking a lot about this topic this week after Kevin suffered a disappointing loss during his first match at the Citi Open. Over and above our typical job descriptions, the whole support team plays a crucial role in helping Kevin cope with losses. I actually think it is one of my biggest jobs as Kevin’s wife to help him through trying results.
I decided to write a blog about this topic because it seems people have a genuine interest in how players handle defeat. I am often asked how Kevin behaves after a loss. People are curious whether players become mad, despondent, or irritable. Quite honestly, the answer is not very cut and dry, it really depends.
You see, not all losses are created equal, and some seem to hurt more than others. I think you can evaluate a loss using the following three questions: What were the stakes? What were the expectations? And what were your chances?
This refers to what was at stake in the match, in other words: what was on the line for the player? Were you perhaps competing for a title? Maybe you were going for a career-best result?
In some ways, these are the hardest losses to swallow. The player perceives it as a missed opportunity, or a career-defining moment. In other ways, these losses are not as difficult to handle because these situations often also present many positive elements that can be used to console the player.
After this type of loss, it is important to draw on these “positives” as a means to move forward. For example, this year at Queens when Kevin lost the final to Andy Murray, we reminded him of the fact that he was in his first grass court final and that he defeated three current or former top 10 players on the way there. Similarly, when he lost at Wimbledon a few weeks later, vying again for his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, we pointed out that he lost to the eventual champion, he came close to a victory, and proved to himself and the world that he has the ability to compete at the top of the game.
Trying to keep the positive components of the result in the forefront is critical, and encouraging the player to focus on these elements, rather than the undesirable outcome, helps redirect the energy in a productive manner.
Dealing with the loss of a match you expected to win can be incredibly tough. These are often the matches that incite the most anger within players. From my own competitive experience as a golfer, this is the type of defeat I have the most personal experience with. I know for a fact that no one is harder on themselves than the athlete after failing to compete at the level to which they believe they can perform.
These losses are also dangerous because they can shatter confidence and therefore have a direct impact on future success. For this reason I think it is really important to have an analytical analysis as to why the match was lost, and to define a clear path forwards. Determining tactical things to work on to prevent this type of result in the future helps to shift the player’s mind from critical to constructive.
As an example, after a difficult loss for Kevin earlier this year, we sat down as a team and created a working list of things that will be addressed week in and week out during practice to ensure a fine tuning of Kevin’s game. We now affectionately refer to this item as “the list” and it has been an effective tool for Kevin to utilize. We have been able to draw on “the list” when Kevin feels parts of his game have let him down, and use it to craft his total approach to improvement. By taking proactive steps towards a better skill set tomorrow, it is much easier to leave an unexpected loss in the past.
Probably the most emotional losses to cope with are those where the player felt they had “a chance” to win. Perhaps they squandered a match point or maybe they created break point opportunities but were unable to convert. These type of losses can leave a player crushed, gutted, and feeling somewhat hopeless.
It sounds cliché, but I have found the best way to get through this type of defeat is to adopt a “you’ll get ’em next time” mentality. It is the job of the support team to keep the atmosphere positive and help promote good energy around the player, but more so than ever after an emotional loss, we must also keep things moving forward. We remind them there is always another match, another opponent, and another tournament right around the corner.
Sometimes taking a day or two off from tennis after this type of result can be refreshing. Doing something fun is an excellent way to forget the loss and press the reset button. I will never forget how much I appreciated my college coach Paula Smith doing things to help cheer us up after a disappointing day on the golf course; sometimes my mood was uplifted by something as simple as going to get ice cream, or a corny joke.
On our team, we are lucky to have Kevin’s coach Neville Godwin, who is simply brilliant at lightening the mood. It is an incredible skill that brings immeasurable value to our team in those instances when we must get Kevin mentally “on to the next one” as quickly as possible.
Any athlete has to deal with trying times in their career, but I firmly believe that positive and proactive approach to defeat can really make the difference between mediocrity and greatness.
Most tennis players are familiar with part of the famous Rudyard Kipling poem “If…”, thanks to its inscription above the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon. It reads: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…” However, the lesser known completion of the poem is what our players must really take to heart: “…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”
Let me know what you thought of this topic in the comments section below. Also, please share your insight with me on how to help athletes cope with defeat.
Onwards and upwards!
[…] Tour Wife Tales with Kelsey Anderson: Dealing with Defeat – another good/interesting post by Kelsey. […]
I really enjoyed reading this Kelsey – thanks for writing it. As to helping athletes cope with defeat – depends on the personality of the athlete I am guessing, so know your guy so you know when and how to intervene/contribute. I’m guessing you do so telling you nothing you don’t know! I’d also say never say never – adopt a growth mindset (see Carol Dweck), always think you can improve – don’t be pigeonholed into having a ‘particular game’.
Ignore the media – most of them talk pish (as we say in Scotland), unless your guy has won, in which case bask in the glory for 10 minutes and then get him back on the court.
Use the fans, the sensible ones that is. A difficult loss is difficult for us too, as we (foolishly probably) tend to live and breathe the match with the player. We’ll be hurting too, and will want to offer support.
And never, ever go near the idiots that gamble and then berate a player.
Very well written and so thoughtful. You should be an analyst on ESPN.
Have LOVED reading these posts, Kelsey. Great insider’s perspective. Please keep them coming!
I have a few questions for possible consideration for upcoming posts:
* Did it take some getting used to being married to a pro athlete? Most people can pretty much divorce themselves from work when they get home. A tennis player seems to be 24/7 and necessarily pretty selfish. How did you adapt to that?
* How are the logistics of travel? Does the whole entourage have to buy fully refundable airplane tickets to be able to change them every week?
* If Kevin loses early, what do you do with the week? Return to home base? Stay on at the tournament site and practice (but I’m guessing they no longer pay hotel / food?) Or go early to the next tournament?
* What do the other WAGs do most of the time? I’m guessing sightseeing and shopping get to be pretty expensive. And hanging around your partner all day every day would likely get monotonous, no?
I’m sure I’ll have plenty more questions. Can’t wait until your next post!
Great post, hope more are coming soon!
This is really great, thanks. As a high school tennis coach, I feel like this is a huge part of the job, one that is undervalued. Especially at that age, one has to have a feel for each kid. What works for one won’t work for another. I suspect this is true for grown men as well, which is why it is so important to have you as a huge part of that team.
Very interesting thoughts and information. We , the fans, do not appreciate how much of a players life is taken up with the sport of tennis but we are interested in all aspects of our sportsmans life Thank you for your theories
i didn’t know this analytical side of you …..will help cope up with losses better….
Superb article Kelsey
Def gives better insight into ‘defeats’ none of which must be easy.
Put very succinctly
Kelsey, I read tennis articles everyday, and I can seriously say you are as good as if not better than any of them.
As for what to write next, it would be very interesting for us tennis fans to see your insight as in insider into the characters of the players. If I am not mistaken, you cheer for Rafa?
Great read! Will be following u now!
Wow! Thank you for a great and inspiteful analysis of losses and how to deal with it. Great article
that is such a great insight, thank you! I deal with this everyday with my team of players and your thoughts confirm many of my own and add plenty more! Thank you and keep up the great blogs!
Thank you for sharing Kelsey – it’s beautiful. I think one of the big things in tennis, in other sports and in society in general, “losing” has a very strong negative annotation and everyone wants to avoid it all the time. I think it can be very freeing to put a deeper and broader perspective on what losing and winning really means in that context. And this is directly linked to control. How much control do we really have over winning and losing? And how much control do we have over how we play in a certain match. If a player understands on a mental and physical level to only focus on what he or she can actually control, they already feel a certain freedom, which helps them deal freer with the whole situation, which makes them stronger in the match and during tight moments. I think tennis players need to learn to get a different mind set than what we usually grow up with in society to compete at the highest level.
If interested, there are a few videos on the ekabhava tennis youtube channel on that topic. Thank you! Benjamin
I’ve seen Kevin in DelRay Beach several times. Love your article, thank you. What most people don’t understand is in a tournament, everyone is a loser except one at the end of the week. Putting it in perspective is not only a tennis lesson but a great life lesson.
Watching Kevin’s progress over the years, shows he gets it and has the support around him.
He’s earned lot’s of fans.
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