So, you’ve taken up playing padel for the first time but feel overwhelmed with nerves, hitting a sudden emotional wobbly? Don’t feel alone.

It can happen to the best of us.

Taking up any new sport is exciting but at the same time also a bit nerve-wracking, almost like meeting your future in-laws for the first time. What if you suck at it and fail?

When we are kids, we run and play and do
things spontaneously and seldom hesitate or doubt our ability to manage it. We’re
just having fun.  Until someone tells us
we cannot/shouldn’t do it because it’s too dangerous or because we look
stupid.  Especially when we get laughed
at when we fail to get it right every time.

Flooded with self-doubt and anxiety, we
stop and waver. Hit by an emotional wobbly.  A defining moment we may carry with us for the
rest of our lives. Every time we are under pressure to perform. 

How can you overcome your mental block when stepping on to the court? You can overcome your mental block on the court by taking control of your state – mentally, emotionally and physically. Here are our 5 tips on how to break through your mental barriers:

  1. Focus on your breathing and relax your body
  2. Take control of muddled thinking, be aware of your negative self-talk and emotions
  3. Focus on the moment, let go of the detail
  4. Be yourself, give it your best shot. 
  5. Just do it, no matter what.

To overcome a mental block is the same as
facing some handicap of sorts. Firstly, you have to come to recognize, accept
and understand your mental block and how it affects your play. To understand
what a mental block is, continue reading.

What is a “mental block?”

A mental block can be described as a psychological obstacle that prevents you from performing a particular skill. Think of it as similar to a “default program” running in the background reminding you of all the times you so-called “screwed up “or ‘failed” every time you’re under pressure to perform.

Needless to say, these mental barriers can hinder you from reaching your potential. They can come in many forms, including negative thoughts, muddled thinking, and feelings of self-doubt and failure.

E.g. Can
I do this? I can’t do this. Please, let me do this right; don’t let me screw it
up.

If you’re hitting a roadblock or mental hurdle playing pedal, there’s probably a reason.

Performance Anxiety

Mental blocks in sport are not uncommon.
Even elite players can have an emotional wobbly during moments of intense
pressure e.g. a tie break or after having served a double fault at a critical
moment during a key match.

Watching them sweat it out, we can hardly
breathe, hearing ourselves saying: “Pleased
don’t make a double fault now, please…”
 
And then, low and behold, they do exactly that: serve another double
fault!

The question arises: did the double vault arise from a mental block or simply a momentary performance anxiety of intense pressure during a match?

Fight or Flight

Mental blocks can be easily confused with performance anxiety, as they both consist of a challenging scenario that arises in sport and forces players to either ‘fight’ against the perceived problem or to take ‘flight’ and avoid the scenario.  

Fight Mode:

How often have you watched your favorite couple go a set down just to see them fight back to take the match? This is what is called the “fight” mode. It requires a certain degree of mental toughness, self-awareness, and self- confidence to make that kind of impressive comeback and win the match.

This is what distinguishes the champions
from the amateurs – the desire to fight back and not give up until the very
last point is played (and won).  Elite
players competing on this level hold the necessary techniques to quickly regroup,
regain focus and overcome momentarily performance anxiety.

In short, your degree of mental toughness is what gives you a psychological edge, whether natural or developed.  Mental toughness allows you to cope with the many demands of sport and be consistently more focused, determined and confident under pressure.

Flight Mode:

We take “flight when we feel outside of our
comfort zone, lose focus and panic when put under pressure to perform. This is
a moment we experience as being under threat.

When feeling under threat, real or
perceived, our natural instinct is to “flee” – emotionally or physically or
both. We become negatively more self –critical.

The same applies when we step onto the
court and suddenly feel overwhelmed with nerves and the pressure to perform. We
hit an emotionally wobbly and simply ‘freeze” – unable to perform the task at
hand.  

When you go into full ‘flight mode’ without the ability or desire to fight back, you may have to look at the underpinning factors of what exactly is it that makes you take flight?

Psychological Triggers

There is nothing more debilitating for an
athlete than fear, and in particular, fear of failure.

Fear of failure is a nasty trigger and difficult to deal with.  It comes with a lot of add-ons. Similar to a Ryan Air Ticket. The price you see is never what you get. There’s a hidden cost, found in the fine print.

The same with Fear. Fear of Failure erodes your self-confidence. Fear of Failure magnifies your innate self-doubt and eats away at your mental processes.

Fear of humiliation is just part of the
fear factory – what if people laugh at me?

Negative Perceptions:  In short, you have become your own worst enemy. What you say to yourself and believe, becomes your reality.

Meaning, by the time you’re stepping onto that
court, you have already convinced yourself that you can’t do it. Even if you
are physically perfectly capable but mentally doubting yourself and lacking faith
in your ability.

Bottom line: When you lack self-efficacy and/or lack of mental toughness, you would be more prone to developing a mental block.  In addition, if a mental block is formed there would be a greater chance of avoiding the challenge altogether.

Jemma’s Story:

During my time as a rock climbing coach, coaching kids ages 5- 18, one particular incident stands out in my mind. Her name was Jemma, age 15. She arrived with her mother at the meeting spot and joined the rest of the group, all with a mix of excitement and apprehension.

I could see Jemma was scared as in really scared. From the moment I put her into the harness. But what counted in her favor, was that Jemma was prepared to give it a try, regardless of.  I knew it was of the utmost importance to make Jemma trust me and the equipment.

I had to patiently coach her every step of the way up the rock. First was making her believe that a rope with a 2.5-ton breaking strain was strong enough to hold her. The next was ensuring that she trusted that I would lower her gently to the ground. In other words, she needed to learn that falling held no physical danger for her.

With that done I got her climbing in increments. First 3ft and lower safely back down. Then 6ft, then 10ft, then fifteen ft, gradually pushing the edge of her comfort zone with a target she fixed on from the ground. 

I could see Jemma was starting to feel more confident and slightly more relaxed. She was ready and psyched to make an attempt to climb the whole 60ft cliff. She set off, but not without apprehension as she edged higher and higher than she ever had before.

Everything was going splendidly and she was a mere couple of feet from the top of the cliff, when suddenly, from down below, her mother (who had been occupied on her phone) shouted, “Watch out! You’re gonna fall!

That was it. Jemma just froze. What followed was a half-hour cliffside rescue that involved me rappelling down the cliff, attaching Jemma’s harness to mine and carrying her back down to the ground, in tears.

True, Jemma’s story may seem unrelated to padel per se, but illustrates to what extent your fears can have on your ability to perform under pressure, resulting in a lack of confidence and self-belief.

In the long run, unchecked triggers such as Jemma’s story can be preventing you from progressing in your development and reaching your full potential.

Sven Goran Eriksson, Swedish football manager, and the former player once stated that “the greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”

Can you beat your fear?

How to Overcome Fear    

When
facing a mental block, fear of failure should be accepted. Vulnerability should
be embraced and “what if’s” should be
replaced with “so what’s”.

Here are some tips to conquer your fear:

  •  Acknowledgment:  Knowledge is power. The first step is to recognize and admit to feeling scared or fearful.  Accept that it’s okay to be scared; that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even elite players openly talk about their fears e.g.  Alé Galan, has admitted to being absolutely dreading playing a big lop out of fear of mucking it up and in the process, feel like a total ass.
  • Understanding:  Know thyself.  Meaning, ‘look at yourself’.  Dig in the dirt, explore and uncover the origin of your fear. Fear of failure. Where does it come from? Is it externally or internally focused e.g. do you allow external factors to dictate your actions or are you battling negative inner dialogue?
  • Face your Fear:  Now that you acknowledged and understand your fear and negative perceptions, embrace it instead of running away from it. Time to fight against your fear, mental blocks and “what if’s” and make an active decision to just ‘go for it.’ Mentally it is making you tougher. “I’m not good enough” is being replaced with “so what”, because this is a goal you want to achieve.
  • Be kind: Stop beating yourself up. Take control of your negative self-talk.  Believe in yourself. Never mind what others think or say of you.  Just be yourself, “So what?”  Use your fear positively – make decisions and create your own success.
  • Take on the Challenge: By going forward and moving towards your fear, you’re building courage, mental toughness, and self-confidence. Most of all, you become self-efficient, meaning you are totally self-reliant on your actions and not dependent or influenced by external forces
  • Small steps: Slowly work your way up. One step at a time. Tackle smaller tasks first… This is similarly comparable to systematic desensitization, whereby individuals overcome their fears gradually through small steps of exposure. It slowly increases confidence and decreases the fear of failure.
  • Keep Going:  Finish what you started. To quote Winston Churchill. “Never, never, give up.”  Go back, again and again, like a dog with a bone. The more you practice, the luckier you get. In this instance, practice makes perfect!

Let’s look at other possible factors that
may impact your performance.

Personality Clashes

Your personality and what drives you may be
part of you getting stuck in a mental block.

Competitive: You need to win at all costs. You hate losing. Losing just one point makes you mad. You lose focus, become obnoxious and start throwing anger tantrums.  

Tip: Avoid gestures, shouts, and scorn. Take control of your emotions, regain composure and show your best face. Accept that you don’t have to win or kill every point, instead focus on keeping the ball in play, giving you more opportunities to score.

Perfectionist:  You want every shot to be perfect.  You become upset, anxious and even angry with yourself for not getting it “right.” You start to explain to your partner or others as to why you played a “bad shot” and become more miserable. Invariably, the harder you try on “getting it right”, the more you ‘block’ yourself and as such, are more likely to make a mistake.

Tip: Just play the ball and let go of the idea of playing the perfect shot. Focus on the moment, let go of the detail. When you’re too focused on the details you’re missing the big picture.  The more relaxed you are, the easier it is to play the “perfect shot” without even trying.

Defeatist:  You just give up early on without much trying. When your partner or others try to help, you brush them off, get upset, and decide to walk away. You’ve convinced yourself you “can’t do it’ and will “never get it right.” Even when you are tempted, don’t quit and decide to not come back to practice again.

Tip: Don’t give up. Keep playing, no matter what. Remind yourself that you are physically totally capable of performing the task at hand. It is not your body, but your mind (mental block) that is hindering your performance.  Be open to advise, and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and help from your partner or the coach. Click here to see how you can score more points as a beginner.

Avoidance

When you have a mental block it would be easier for you to avoid the challenge in front of you altogether. This is because self-doubt correlates with low self-confidence, meaning you’re more likely to use avoidance behavior due to the negative perception you hold in regards to your lack of ability.

In padel there are a number of shots that
can be quite intimidating and challenging to play when you are a beginner:

  • Avoid playing at the Net
  • Avoid playing the Lob
  • Avoid playing the Underhand Service
  • Avoid playing off the Glass

Tip:  Try and play all the balls, even if you won’t get to the ball or may not get it “right” for the first couple of times.  It will give you the confidence to keep trying. Don’t focus on the “fail”; instead, focus on keeping the ball in play. The more you play, the better you’ll get at it. 

Development Impact

Mental blocks can drastically impact your development, yet overall, a mental block isn’t the end of the world. Mental blocks can easily be overcome with the right understanding, support, planning, and techniques.

There are many techniques that you can use to overcome a block, and they’re even easier to combat with the help of coaches, teammates or sport psychologists.

The goal is to help you to acquire habits such as motivation, self-confidence, emotional control, and concentration, among others that will allow you to maintain steady and consistent performance.

How Sport Is The Answer

In my years of playing and coaching sport across the different disciplines, I’m convinced that participating in any form of sports offers the solution to many of the physical and mental challenges we face today.

Weakened muscles can be strengthened. I had a 7-year-old boy join my rock climbing group years ago. He suffered from muscular dystrophy and a lack of neuromuscular coordination. His parents told me that he needed to use his hands, elbows on the desk, to hold his head upright.

Three years of doing a sport he enjoyed, training three to four hours a week had him doing pull-ups with ease and sporting six-pack abs. The muscular dystrophy he had suffered from virtually since birth was a distant memory.

The next advantage of sport as a tool to overcome a mental block is that you build your self-awareness. You become more aware of both your physical and mental state. In other words, you feel and be aware of body and mind.

One of the things that I have noticed about myself from playing sports is a reduction in my fear of failure and develop self-efficiency. That is to feel confident to trust my instincts and decisions and become more reliant/confident in my abilities to take action or act upon something instead of waiting for others to tell or decide for me.

The reason for this is the awareness that I will hardly ever get something right the first time I try. At the same time, I won’t get to the position of getting something right without trying and making mistakes and improving.

A spin-off from self-efficiency is that it promotes the development of mental toughness to cope with the setbacks. When you realize that setbacks are nothing more than the necessary stepping stones to your success, you are not afraid to face and take on challenges, no matter what.

Starting Young

There is an advantage to becoming sporty at a young age. The older we are, the more set we become in our ways. I wrote an article about the age that your child can start padel lessons. You can find it by clicking this link.

While it is not impossible to start sport when we are older, we will have unlearned the kind of carefree attitude we had as children. The child-like attitude that allowed us to try things until we got them right like learning to walk, gives way to a whole host of mental blocks that you need to overcome.

That brings me back to the story of Jemma, the 15-year-old rock climbing girl that I told you about earlier. I had a friendly word with her mother about the mental impact her words had on her daughter.

Over the following weeks and months, Jemma not only regained her lost confidence but completely overcame her fear of falling. After six months she was able to cope with multiple 7 and 8-foot falls on an overhanging cliff as being part of her training. Jemma closed out her year as a member of her state climbing team and a spot at the national championship.

Playing Padel Is The Answer

Padel, as a sport is perfect in helping to overcome mental blocks. It requires you to have spatial awareness, to cope with the multi-directional nature of the game. Challenges come at you all-round and you need to cope with them.

Unlike the very real fears that Jemma had to overcome as a result of her perceived dangers, padel as a sport is a far more relaxed space to challenge your mental blocks.

As we learn and improve at the game of padel we will make countless errors. Learning to laugh them off and not take yourself too seriously on the court will allow you to play better shots next time.

Are you having a mental block that is stopping you from performing optimally? Has playing padel allowed you to accept that making mistakes is simply part of learning the game? Let us know in the comment section below.