Conquering self-doubt and embracing success in sports and beyond

by Federico Coppini

You’re probably asking yourself right now, "Did I just read that title right?" Yes, it said fear of winning. By now, your thought of running to the copy machine to make a few copies of this article has quickly subsided, and you’re wondering if you can hit the wastebasket with it from where you’re sitting. But before you do that, do this. Go back in your history to a time when it looked like there was no possible way you could lose in one kind of competition or another. Here, we're not just talking about tennis, but any and all competitions that stand out in your life. These could be on the field of competitive sports battles, the pool room, the board room, the living room, the locker room, or anywhere where your quickness of thought, muscle, action, or reaction was required. In this instance, you even perceived the competition as "Unworthy" of being out there with you. You were a sure thing, but something lost! There was no possible way (in your mind) that you could lose or come close to losing to the competitive field in front of you, but still, when the final points were tallied, the votes were in, the score was added up, someone else was number one! If that sounds like you at some point in your life, don’t throw this article away just yet!

You MAY have been the victim of being afraid to win. Yes, the fear of winning is a true reality for all of us who haven’t established our crown of prowess and achievement in the face of pressure, and it still lurks in the minds of the established champions just as much as the "Newbie." Now that you know about the fear of winning, you're probably wondering just how this can happen? Let’s examine some of the reasons why you can be afraid of winning.

REASON #1 I DON’T DESERVE IT. Maybe you had a fight with your spouse, boss, co-worker, child, or whoever, and you said some things that were completely out of character for you, and now you feel like you have harmed someone. Because you perceive yourself as a good caring person in reality, this creates a conflict with your self-image that turns you upside down. "If I'm so good, why did I have such a conflict with that person who I value as an important part of my life? Maybe it's because I'm not as good as I think, and I don't deserve to win. Maybe I'm not as good as I imagine myself... this could go on and on," and so you miss too many bullseyes, too many three-foot putts, that put-away volley, or that easy lay-up... and you LOSE! Sound familiar? It’s just the tip of the iceberg of the fear of winning.

REASON #2 HOW IT WILL CHANGE MY LIFE. Deep down, you may think, "If I hit this last overhead/volley or passing shot, I will win, and then my life will be turned upside down with pressure on me to keep winning. I'll have to work harder to stay in the winner’s circle, people will look to me for advice, what if I don’t keep winning, and they will look down on me. It will be worse than if I just stay in my comfortable little lovable loser spot and keep plodding along at my own pace. I like it here in my comfortable number 4 or 5 spot, I’m afraid to be a winner because I would have to say goodbye to this comfort level."

REASON #3 I DON'T KNOW HOW TO ACT. "What will I do if I win?" you may think. "I've never won before, so I might not know what to say. I might say something stupid and come off as foolish. I hate being in the spotlight."

REASON #3 OTHERS WILL BE JEALOUS OF ME. I will make people mad at me. All the people I have defeated will be jealous of me and won't like me anymore. Perhaps you should ask yourself, "Why is it important at all that people love me?"

REASON #4 I WILL HAVE TO WORK HARDER. To keep winning, I will have to train harder and dedicate more time to the sport, just to keep up with the other regular winners. I like where I am, and I don't want to put in more effort by working harder.

The great tennis star Jimmy Connors was once asked what he attributed his long winning streak to. He replied, "I guess I just hate losing more than I like winning."

Whatever it takes for you to develop that winner's mindset or "hate to lose" attitude, when you find it, don't forget to use it. Think of allowing yourself to win rather than forcing yourself to avoid losing. You have all the necessary skills; now you just need to get out of your own way, relax, and enjoy the game. Keep your eyes on the ball, not the trophy.

"It's much harder to win than it is to avoid losing."

Remember that line when you're about to win and it's match point in your favor. That's when your opponent will be the toughest to beat, and that's when you will have to play not only the strongest but also the smartest point of the match. And if you're match point down, remember: fear is merely seeing the projected negative possibility of something that may never happen; it's just as easy to see yourself winning instead of losing... GO FOR IT!

Keep your eye on the ball and good luck!