Posts Tagged killer instinct

Why I Constrain My Killer Instinct

When I accepted an invitation to be the fourth in mixed doubles, I had no idea that my partner would be a soft-spoken woman psychiatrist with gray hair and a very strong net game. We won the first set and were forced to end the second at a tie, due to time constraints. But the real blessing was the many 90-second chats we enjoyed during the changeovers.

I have always said that tennis is a metaphor for life: what you do on the court is probably a small-scale version of how you live your life. The biggest criticism some people have of my mental game is that I do not have–or hold back–my killer instinct. Especially when I am facing an opponent for whom tennis is EVERYTHING, and losing is the worst punishment. For me the sport is a sport, a game, a physical challenge that I’d like to improve at and win. However people around the world are starving, refugees, dying. How can I be miserable over the loss of a few tennis points? Not in my nature.

I am definitely competitive and almost always do my best…except when winning is the only thing to the man across the net…the guy who knows his life is over if he loses, who says to his doubles partner, “Take no prisoners…make them bleed…no mercy.” Yes I have heard these words.

In these cases, I notice that I make a lot of errors, when the scores are close. I definitely feel sorry for the guy for whom winning is the only thing. And I think my errors are subconscious…I never make them intentionally.

So here is the gist of what I learned today from my 90-second tennis changeover therapist…with a few other extrapolated conclusions of my own: I shouldn’t worry about the other guy. Losing is his problem, not mine. He has to deal with it, and I shouldn’t worry about his “suffering.” The fact that I have these sympathies suggests one obvious explanation: deep down I have a big need to be liked, and if I beat a player who thinks he should beat me, then I won’t be liked by that loser. It is very important for me to get along with people and have them think I am a great guy. I want to be included and invited back to play another day. I might have some fears that winning will keep me out of the group.

Wow!! Pretty mind-blowing for me. Needs some digestion and reflection time. When I started playing so late in life (just six years ago), I lacked the skills of others who had been playing weekly for 40-60 years. So the first impression I conveyed was of a worse than mediocre player. But I have improved continually, so my current performance is a surprise, when I play someone I haven’t seen in months. They are startled to find that they are losing. They still see me as the beginner they knew earlier. They can’t relate to this guy who is winning points against them. And it pisses them off.

Of course it doesn’t happen all the time or even most of the time. But I see their pain on those occasions when I rise to higher performance levels. Now that I know more about the psychological game that is going on, I am going to beat the crap out of every guy I face.

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How To Become A Killer In Sports

potential Killer Ira—8/1961

When I was in basic training in the army, they gave me a rifle with a bayonet, faced me off with a similarly armed buddy, and told me to stab at him. I thought it was dangerous, so I barely lunged. Then they made us all—perhaps 20 in one line facing 20 in another line—jab at the air about two feet from the other guy. Still pretty uneventful. Even though I was told to imagine the other guy as my enemy trying to harm me, I couldn’t get into it.

Next we were ordered to scream “KILL, KILL,” each time we lunged. I was laughing silently at how ludicrous it all was. And then about five minutes later, I really wanted to kill the soldier opposite me. I was totally involved, cocky, angry and only came out of this potentially deadly trance, when I suddenly realized what I was feeling and became scared I might actually impale him.

I have written before about how I lack the killer instinct. This is very bad in competitive sports, but I don’t know how to change it. Maybe if I yell “KILL, KILL,” out loud…or at least whisper it…I can be more determined to win at tennis. I will do it and report back to you.

I was playing someone this past week who almost always beats me. He hadn’t played in five months. This is usually my best chance to win. I lost the first set 4-6. I was ahead in the second set 4-0. When he was surprised to be so far behind (even though he has every excuse he could want), I told him that you never know how things will turn out.

Either I felt badly for him or I just plain lacked confidence in myself. The score went to 5-3, and then he won 5-7. Did I sabotage myself? I wasn’t aware of it.

Today I played a complete stranger and was ahead 4-2 and 40-love. I definitely felt sorry for him. I was completely aware of it. I guessed how awful and frustrated he might have felt. Suddenly the game was at 40-30, and I came to my senses and won. I finished the set ahead at 6-3, but then was behind 1-5 in the next set, when he had to leave. Did my sub-conscious make me play poorly, so that my opponent wouldn’t be miserable? I don’t know. But I clearly recognized my sympathy when I was ahead 40-love in that seventh game.

Then I played another man who has defeated me every time we have played during the last two years. I lost the first set 0-6. I wasn’t even embarrassed. Next set we were at 3-3, then 3-4, and I was serving and ahead at 40-15. I was already fantasizing about winning four games, which would be a rare achievement. I lost the game and then the set at 3-6. In this case I was not at all worried about upsetting my friend who has never lost a set to me. But something gets in the way of outstanding performance for me, when I am close to a victory with these superior players.

I watch the same evolution on TV, when professionals choke up and blow their leads near the finish. Some of the top talents are cool and calm, but mess up anyway. They just can’t close when the stakes are high. Like a woman I knew who was afraid to succeed and sabotaged herself repeatedly.

The other observation I made these last few days concerns hitting the ball hard. I don’t usually do that. My return is gentle, like me, and the “enemy” just clobbers it. Fed up with this crappy delivery, I practiced for 2.5 hours yesterday until I had my forehand perfected. I was hitting the ball solidly, deep, fast and in the sweet spot. I was also watching the ball.

Today in two matches, I only did that less than five times in over two hours. One friend thinks I may have a psychological problem. Why can’t I watch the ball, or follow though, or move my feet correctly? It’s all a fabulous challenge, failure does not have serious consequences, and I will keep on practicing until I can do it effortlessly and consistently. Looking forward to that glorious moment…

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Re-Channeling Anger To Become A Tennis Terror

I wrote earlier ( about how I lack the killer, cuthroat instinct. How it shows on the court. I am definitely competitive and want to win and try what I think is my best. But if I lose, big deal. It’s only a game. And I am constantly saying just that to new doubles partners: “Relax. We’re here to have fun. You never have to apologize for a bad shot and say, I’m sorry.”

Observers of my tennis game have commented on my nonchalance about winning. They say my niceness shows up, that I don’t run desperately for each ball, that my net volleys are firm, but not so forceful as to knock someone unconscious if I hit them in the head. I should be tougher.

All that changed yesterday, December 7th, when I was playing and became pissed. Now I must interject that I have had some personal setbacks, disappointments, anxieties about a relative dying, friends with their own problems. And the doubles game was going slowly. I grew impatient for a speedier match, and all my suppressed negativity broke through. I was outraged, annoyed, ticked off—at the world and the difficulties of living a life. At the raw deals people are stuck with, and their daily burdens. It all busted loose. I may have wanted to scream and shout.

So I took it out on the tennis balls. I served rapidly, faster and harder than ever before. I hit powerfully for me, deep and accurately. The other team was commenting on how impossible returns were. And what was going on stroke after stroke?

I was experiencing new and rare emotions that I couldn’t recognize. I felt enraged and ornery and furious and threatening. God damn evil and dictatorial. Some caused I’m sure because a relative of someone I know had been murdered a few days before. If I’d had a hammer, I might have hit someone in the head. There was a lot of pent up energy.

So I channeled it into my game.

When it was over and a few hours had passed, I thought about who I had become. Read the rest of this entry »

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