Gain confidence through mini-goals
Before I turned pro in 1969, I enjoyed success playing as an amateur in local, regional and national tournaments. My national ranking allowed me to be seeded among the top players, and I enjoyed a few easier early rounds. These wins in smaller tournaments boosted my confidence.
When I joined the World Championship Tennis (WCT) tour in 1971, I was a “contract pro.” The WCT—and similar tours—offered a guaranteed income (plus prize money for winning) to their hand-picked players and booked them into venues around the world.
On the WCT, we practiced, drilled and competed almost every week, from January through October. I played against the best singles players in the world—John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver and Tony Roche—and the best doubles teams in the world—Ken Rosewall-Fred Stolle, Laver-Roy Emerson, Newcombe-Roche—in the first round every week. These guys were tough; there were no more “easier early rounds” for me to win. I lost a lot of matches and a lot of confidence. I didn’t like losing.
While playing on the WCT tour against this caliber player, I figured out how to survive by trading winning for “mini-goals.” In the first four events I played on the WCT tour, I lost to Newcombe, Ashe, Laver and Roche. My “easiest” match in the first few months was against Bob Lutz, NCAA singles and doubles champion, who beat me in a tight three-set duel. I always played my hardest and wanted to win, but in the face of my incredibly tough daily competition, my reality was creating my own “wins,” despite the score. When I played Laver, one of my mini-goals was to attack the net at every opportunity and not worry about being passed. If I did it, it was a “win.” Another mini-goal was to keep my feet in constant motion. If I did that throughout the match, it was a win. I played Rod three times before I was confident enough in my game to forget I was playing the “legendary Rod Laver.” I finally took him to three sets, twice. My confidence grew.
I created and managed my own mini-goals for years, keeping my win-loss record in my head. It was excellent discipline, my goals were good ones, and it took a lot of pressure off me to win each set.
Years later, when the owner of the Kiawah Island Golf and Tennis Resort changed the name to “Kiawah Island Golf Resort,” the morale of my tennis department plummeted. I thought back to how creating mini-goals on the tour helped me gain confidence in the face of difficult challenges. My department needed the same focus. We didn’t have to dwell on the “big picture” name change—it didn’t at all diminish what my department offered—we just needed to define and conquer smaller goals to continue to distinguish ourselves. It worked.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, I have not been able to dwell on the big picture. So many lives lost, so many sad stories, so many businesses in jeopardy. It’s unprecedented and overwhelming. To stay grounded, I created mini-goals for myself. I finally tackled some of the projects I’d been putting off (sorted through boxes of old family photos, re-landscaped an area of my yard), and I found some new interests (started riding my new bicycle, created a website, worked on a new book). Without these projects, I would be having a much harder time accepting the necessary isolation from work, friends and especially my grandchildren.
This is a tough and unprecedented time, filled with challenges few of us have ever before faced. In order to get through them, it’s important to set mini-goals—and accomplish them. That could just provide the motivation to keep you moving forward.
Roy Barth joined the professional tennis tour in 1968 and was a founding member of the ATP. He is now the Director Emeritus of Tennis at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Kiawah Island, S.C. The above blog is an excerpt from his new book, "Point of Impact," which is set to be published soon. To see more from Roy, visit roybarth.com.