Dr. Allen Fox: What is Worse, Getting Discouraged or Choking?

Let’s ask Dr. Allen Fox. Tennis.Life is honored to host all week Dr. Fox’ ever popular break downs of the matches we all watch. Dr. Fox, the father of sports psychology, is able like few others to look beyond the amazing athleticism on display to see the match behind the match. Its the emotional and mental make ups of these amazing players that decide these razor thin matches. Here is Allen’s take on yesterday’s Monfils-Nadal match up. We hope you enjoy!

Nadal-Monfils Australian Open Round of 16.


Watching the Nadal/Monfils match last night, a question popped to mind. Which is worse, choking or discouragement? What brought it up was Nadal, up two sets to love but choking in the third with chances to finish, missing, losing the set and falling behind in the fourth. Monfils, on the other has a propensity to get discouraged when he gets behind or fails to capitalize on opportunities. With Monfils down two sets and a long road in front of him to beat the tireless, persistent Nadal, he was a candidate for, at some point, discouragement.

Two of tennis’ best athletes ever put on quite a show the other evening.

And in the fourth set, I got the answer. Monfils was controlling most of the points, and Nadal was scrambling and hanging on. With some brilliant shotmaking, Monfils got up a service break and appeared well in control and on his way to a fifth set, serving at 4-3 and up 30 – love. At which point he flogged a couple of easy forehands out, lost the game, and let Nadal back in the set. Then, down 4-5 but up 30 love on his serve, Monfils threw in several unforced errors and virtually handed Nadal the game and the match.

The answer to the initial question is that discouragement is far worse than choking. Monfils showed it in this match with his lack of resiliency after missing an opportunity to finish the set at 5-4, which, in my opinion, caused him to become discouraged, collapse and lose the match. Nadal, on the other hand, though missing opportunities by choking, was able to hang in there long enough for events to suddenly and decisively turn the match in his favor. He won not so much with great play as with perseverance. He hung around until Monfils found a way to lose.

Nadal’s winning exuberance tells you he was feeling some pretty strong emotions out there

A final note: Choking is never totally under the player’s control. No matter what you do, you can’t guarantee not to choke, so it’s not a character deficiency to do so. Discouragement, on the other hand, is under the player’s control. With mental discipline and by replacing bad thoughts with good ones a player can avoid discouragement. If a player does not do this and allows himself/herself to become discouraged it is a negative sign for one’s character.

For more information on how you yourself can handle the stressful situations of competitive tennis better, look no further than Allen’s seminal work Tennis: Winning The Mental Match…Available at AllenFoxtennis.com as well as Amazon.

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