The Competition Mindset

I’m one of the most competitive people you will meet. I take Fussball at the local bar as serious as the Olympics, and I can even be bratty about birthdays. (“You’ll never beat me,” I say to younger people on their birthdays.)

But I’m having a really hard time dealing with the mental game of a badminton competition. I’m just too damn nervous.

Take last week for example. There was a lot of awesome players one night so my coach decided to have a small tournament. My coach asked me to be his partner and I walked around doing my fair share of trash talkin’ before the games. After all, with my coach as my partner we couldn’t lose, right?

And then I see our first opponents and groan. Xixi and Xiao He, the king and queen of the college badminton team. They are a young couple (good looking of course), teammates and partners. They work together like clockwork, practice together and win competition after competition both together and in singles. They aren’t better than my coach, but they are a better team than me and my coach. I lost all confidence.

“Do we have to play them?” I whined before the game started.

“Don’t be scared!” My coach said. “We’re gonna win!”

But for me, it was over. I find Xixi and Xiao He incredibly intimidating. I originally met them a year ago when I played in the school gym and they awed me even then. (They are also part of the student clique that is friendly to me but never willing to play with me so I have little game experience with them.)

I hate when people watch my games, but my coach is so good, people tend to watch whatever game he is playing.

Spectators gathered around our court to watch, making me even more nervous and I was missing easy shots or returning shots in the worst possible way, not because of my skill level, but because of my nerves. It was so obvious even my coach couldn’t get mad at me.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said when I missed my third easy shot.

“They’re too good,” I said. “Of course we’re gonna lose.”

“You’re a gaoshou!” he said. “They’re scared of you!”

“Oh really?” I answered sarcastically looking at them across the net. “Are you guys scared of me?”

“Oh yeah,” they answered smiling. “We’re very scared.”

After losing by 5 points my coach and I went off to the side while the next teams warmed up. “You’re too nervous,” he chided again.

“I know, but it was Xixi and Xiao He,” I whined. “They’re too good.”

“No!” he said pointing his finger at me. “You’re a gaoshou. They are scared of you.”

“There is no way they are scared of m…” my coach put up his hand to stop me.

“It doesn’t matter what you really think,” my coach said.  “When you play a competition you have to know that you are better than your opponent regardless of their skill. You have to tell yourself that you are better and you have to know it. It’s the way you need to think in a competition. YOU are a gaoshou and they are scared of you.”

So, on our next game my coach kept telling me and I told my opponents (other students who I’m friendly with) “You’re scared of me!” in my female empowerment voice. It actually worked! I ended up playing much better, so much so that our opponents commented I was playing better than my coach. (We ended up losing, but it was my coach that was off that game, not me.)

When there are a lot of people watching, even if I know them, I get more nervous.

I’m a natural introvert, shy, speaking a non-native language in a country that isn’t my own, playing a sport I learned about less than two years ago.

While a lot of people think that I’m pretty good the truth is I was miserable a year and a half ago and my brain still sees me in that light. (Doesn’t help I was never a athlete and have been telling that to myself for 40 years so changing that mindset is difficult.)

With all that going on in my subconscious it’s a miracle I can play at all.

So now my mind game is as important as my footwork. The thing is I can’t pump myself up too much because then it makes me too bouncy with erratic energy.

Instead I have to take deep meditative breaths to calm myself down, tell myself I’m a gaoshou, my opponent is scared of me and I shouldn’t be scared of them.

I got a chance to test out this new mindset a few days later at a competition at a new badminton court in a far-away part of the city.

This was the ultimate test because it was a new court with all strangers. (I played with Azhi, my partner from before.) These people had never seen me before, I was the only foreigner as usual and with all the extra whispery type attention and people staring at me I felt my confidence waver.

“I’m a gaoshou,” I told Azhi. “They are scared of us!”

It didn’t quite work but two of the 4 games we lost by a mere 2 points (29:31) and one game, the last when I was totally not at all nervous because we had no chance at the finals, we won by 10 points. All our opponents were our level or higher so I think the results are good, but I am pissed because if I wasn’t so nervous we could have won those two close games easily.

But I gotta remember it’s all part of the process, and I should enjoy the process right? I know that playing in more competitions will help me relax a little but do you have any mental games that help your confidence in a competition that can help me? Let me know in the comments!



  1. Cheung

    A lot of it is experience. So more competitions make you more relaxed. Clearer knowledge of strategies and court positioning helps.

  2. Liam Geoghegan

    Its such a mind game. I got into league semi finals this season and played pants, as i was so nervous and not in the right head space.I realized after the game that i lose a lot because i talk myself down in a negative light and see the opposition been better and unbeatable. Your story makes a lot of sense. Thanks

    1. Becky (Post author)

      Yeah, we can talk ourselves out of winning a lot quicker and easier than we can talk ourselves INTO winning. Human psychology can be a real pain sometimes. 😉


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