March 10, 2021

Two Outcomes

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In many ways, tennis is binary. Win or lose. But the mental aspect makes it much more complex. Learn the two outcomes principle. Adapt this for your style of play to win more.

Coach: Aleks Szymanski, Founder of Tennisletics, and Certified Mental Coach.
Bio:Founder of Tennisletics and tennis fanatic. Started work life as a military and search and rescue helicopter pilot. Spent the past two decades founding and nurturing fast-growing technology businesses across the globe. Competed at high-level squash, judo, and rugby. Certified Mental Coach.

Birthplace: England
Residency:Austin, TX, USA

Length: 3 min 48 sec
Theme: Confidence


In many ways tennis is binary. You win or lose. The ball is in or out. And, unless you're playing college tennis, the serve is a let or not.

But the mental aspect of tennis means it is actually more complicated than this. If you can embrace the 'two outcomes' principle, it can help you win more matches.

When you play points in a game, there are two outcomes being decided. The first 'outcome' is merely who wins or loses that point. The second outcome is what 'message' you send to your opponent as a result of your actions, and what message they send to you.

Interestingly, it is this outcome battle that often dictates who will eventually be victorious in the match. To be effective, you need to ensure your level of competency matches your style of play, and the tactics you employ.

Let's examine how this works.

You start a match by applying pressure to dictate play with your approach shot and move to the net. You're successfully executing your approach shot better than eight times out of 10. The outcomes of this tactic are you're more likely to win the point. And just as important, your aggressive tactics are sending a powerful message to your opponent. In response, they might start to (wrongly) believe they need to play harder to match you. No doubt they will swing ferociously at the ball and overplay, make more mistakes, question was going on, and lose confidence.

Let's flip the situation. If in a different match, you're trying to be aggressive, but missing more than half your approach shots long or into the net, what does that tell your opponent? Well, it demonstrates that all they need to do is put the ball back in play and wait for you to make a mistake. You're making it too easy for them.

You will have those days when your usual shots let you down. If that happens, then breathe, slow down your play, and shorten your swing as you close on the net. Or if your skill level allows change things up and adopt a slice instead. Just don't give away too many free points. Stay relaxed with confident body language and keep in the rally. Things come around quickly. When your rhythm returns, you can always go back to plan A or stick with what's working.

Another simple example is how you deal with that high deep ball. You know the one. It doesn't put you under real pressure, you have almost too much time to think about it. And you don't have to move too far to get it. Your mindset here is critical. You need to keep those feet active and get the ball back deep with a purpose. Be patient, go crosscourt, or deep down the middle and start to look for an opportunity to build points for your pattern of play. Why? Well, firstly, you're staying in the point. But more importantly, it's the message you're sending. Your opponents are going to have to work hard today to create opportunities, and that, in turn, will lead them to make more mistakes.

From now on, consider how you could achieve two outcomes for the price of one - one for the score and the second is a signal to your opponent.

What message can you send by attacking their weak second serve? Using a drop shot when they hang back on the court or coming forward with a swinging volley? Work hard to improve the reliability and level of your shots to start using the two outcomes principle and dictate the course of a match.