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Tennis Identity
by: Dr Chris McAlister


Tennis is among the most unique sports in the competitive sphere; unique because of its simultaneous breadth and isolation.

The sport covers the entire spectrum. It is athleticism and skill, explosion and endurance, power and finesse, laser focus and raw emotion. And all of that is experienced in isolation. There’s no coach – and in singles not even a teammate! – to encourage, instruct, or recalibrate to keep you on track. It’s just you and your opponent; mano a mano.

And the raw competition can be consuming. The burden to win every point and every match can be heavy. Double faults can ignite anger. Country club matches can be not so friendly.

In such a head-to-head faceoff, winning can be energizing and affirming, and losing crushing. Winning elicits feelings of superiority, power and pride, and losing can plunge you into inferiority, lack of self-worth and exile.

The moods volley as deliberately as the ball back and forth across the net. How can you ever reach, and more importantly, sustain peak performance like this?

You can’t. In reality, winning and losing should be a lot less emotionally moving than it is.

The problem is these feelings come out of insecurity. Common wisdom exhorts us to stuff the feelings and press on, but packed within those performance feelings are clues to what’s going on internally. You’re striving for something tennis can’t give you.

Learn to be aware of your feelings while performing. They will show you needs you try to meet through competition. Turn to the Father for those needs. He will create in you a spring of living water. Then you’ll no longer play to earn something that you can only find internally.

When you are confident in who you are regardless of your current performance, you don’t become falsely attached to an idea of perfection. Your internal confidence allows you to perform with external clarity. You aren’t threatened internally so you can tear up the court externally.

When who you are is secure, then what you do can set the world on fire! Learn to turn to a source greater than you and hear an affirmation of identity, then you can enjoy the win without needing the win. You can absorb the full breadth tennis has to offer, all of the aces and double faults, the outs and the winners down the line, not in isolation, but in the presence of a Father who says, “You are my son/daughter. With you I am well pleased.”


Chris McAlister and Bret Burchard collaborated on this article. Chris leads SightShift events which help leaders reach and sustain peak performance. Bret has lived within athletic competition his whole life and works with the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury.