This week I went to cheer on my son and his friend as they represented their school in the District Tennis competition.
Before the competition began, most boys seemed full of confidence. Stories of how they had won their matches on the weekend, descriptions of how they won a tie-break or a long point, and predictions of how many games they were going to win during this competition. Many of them were itching to get their campaign underway.
However, it wasn’t long after competition started that some of the boys began to tell a different story.
And it wasn’t with their mouths.
As they faced their opponents, some of them realised they weren’t all that good at tennis at all — or that is how they saw it.
As I watched matches across four courts, there was a common theme. I could tell who was losing, simply by their body language.
Shoulders were slumped, feet were dragging, and heads were hanging between points. There were frustrated sighs and a bit of racquet tossing.
I was sitting next to one father who was watching his son. Every now and then he would call out, “good shot.” His son would look up and shake his head, then proceed to look at the ground. At one point, his dad called out, “Don’t give up, mate.”
At the end of the game, his son came and sat down next to me, clearly devastated by his loss.
“Why did you give up?” his dad asked.
“Because I suck at tennis,” was the reply.
Probably the same sentiment going through the other boys’ minds as they were getting beaten on court.
It occurred to me that most of us say things similar to that at one point or another.
We may feel confident in our abilities (whether it be tennis or something else) but as soon as we come up against someone else who is better at that particular activity, all of our confidence evaporates. We begin to compare our game to theirs, we watch how good they are at something and then begin telling ourselves that we are not that good after all.
It’s really only another thought or two before we begin to think “we suck”.
The father put his arm around his son and said: “Hang on. Did you think you sucked before you started playing?”
“No, not really,” answered his son.
“So what’s changed?”
“He beat me.”
“Yep, that’s right, he beat you. What does that mean?”
The boy just shrugged his shoulders in an answer.
“Does it mean you suck, or that he’s just better than you are at tennis?”
And there it is, the question that we all need to ask ourselves.
Do we really ‘suck’, or is someone else just more gifted in that area than we are? Perhaps they have worked harder than we have, or have more experience in a particular area than we do.
It’s so easy to put ourselves down and talk to ourselves negatively, particularly when things don’t go the way we want, or when someone else’s abilities show up our weaknesses.
However, all that does, is erode our confidence and cause us to mope about, shoulders sagging, dragging our feet. The more we do that, the lower our confidence dips, and then we begin believing, acting and performing as if we do ‘suck’.
What we need to do, is accept that while we may be good at a particular thing there is always someone who is better than we are. Just because their abilities outshine ours, doesn’t mean that we have lost our abilities all of a sudden. Just like the boy’s tennis abilities were no different between when he stepped onto the court and when he came off.
Before the boy went back on court for his second match his dad gave him some advice.
“Firstly,” he said “go and have fun.”
“Secondly, instead of thinking you suck, or you’re going to get beaten, ask yourself what can you do to stay in the game.”
“Thirdly, think about the aspects of your game you need to improve. Off you go.”
With a smile on his face, and a spring in his step, the boy went back to meet his next opponent. There was no more sagging shoulders, shakes of the head, or dragging of his feet. He played some very good points against a very good opponent and came back with a win.
So next time you find yourself questioning your abilities, think about the boy on the tennis court and the questions his dad asked him —
“Does it mean you suck, or that he’s just better than you are?”
“And what can you do to stay in the game?”
Nerissa Bentley is a Melbourne-based freelance writer at Write to the Point Communications. This blog is just one of the things she writes in her spare time.
She also specialises in writing for the health and well-being market. As well as writing thoroughly researched articles, she can provide assistance with press releases, copywriting, editing, proofreading and communication strategies.
So if you would like her to help you, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org