Confidence in one's shots can make a huge difference during the crucible of a match. (AP)

Confidence is a key to success in tennis at all levels, but it’s especially crucial for pros. They are all good athletes and have mastered all their shots, so the difference between winning and losing often comes down to how sure, or unsure, they are of their games on a given day.

That level of self-assurance fluctuates, the same way it does for the rest of us. How, you might wonder, could Rafael Nadal still let his doubts get the best of him in close matches? How could Angelique Kerber go from No. 1 to No. 21 in the span of a year, without any visible change in her game?

When we try to imagine how we can increase our confidence, we end up with a chicken-and-egg proposition: to become more confident, we need to win more matches; but we can’t start to win matches until we’re feeling confident.

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How do we get past this conundrum? Take the long view, and think as pragmatically as possible.

In my experience coaching the pros, confidence begins in practice. It doesn’t grow from a player’s belief in his or her talent; it grows from a belief that, in the long run, working the right way will produce results, even if you don’t see them every single day. Process orientation is key: make a plan, believe in that plan, and remember that whether you win or lose isn’t a verdict on you as a player. One match is only a small part of your journey.

For proof, look no further than the resurgences of Nadal and Roger Federer in 2017. Neither had won a Grand Slam title for at least two years, a fact that might have eroded their confidence. Instead, they went back to the practice court and worked smart. They put into place their process, paid their dues and trusted their skills in the most pressure-packed arenas.

Here’s how you can learn from them and reach your potential.

1

Practice Your Strengths:

Many players use practice to shore up their weaknesses. But working on your strengths is also valuable: doing something well gives you confidence, and repeating your strongest shots will remind you to hit them most often in matches.

2

Don’t Beat Yourself Up:

It’s natural to lose confidence after losing a match, but don’t judge yourself
too harshly. Evaluate and move on. Losing doesn’t reflect on you as much as it may reflect on your game plan or your practice habits—or perhaps your opponent.

3

Let Repetition Take Over:

You want to go on court without having to worry about whether you’re feeling confident or not on a particular day. The only way you can do that is to hone your skills until they become automatic. When this happens, you can make your game plan successful even when you’re nervous or doubtful. There’s only way to do that: practice.