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Senior Tennis and Performance Anxiety

senior anxietyIt’s not as if retirement doesn’t have enough anxiety associated with it. For example, many retirees report that finances and finding meaningful activities cause considerable consternation. Actually, Laura and I are only partially retired, yet we must deal with those anxieties just like people in full retirement.

The other day we ran across a news item that looked like it would solve one problem involving how to spend time productively. And by productive, we mean anything that gives us a sense of purpose, meaning, or even just enjoyment (obviously we define “productive” a little differently than we did in our previous full blast work mode).

The news item was “Super Seniors Tennis!” It was an incredibly inexpensive set of six weeks’ worth of tennis lessons followed by six weeks of Round Robin play against other seniors. OK, so we’ve never played tennis more than casually, and that was about forty years ago. But so what? It sounded like great fun.

Then we arrived at our first lesson and met our 75 year-old instructor. Eeesh. Not only did he look no older than 60, he ran like a gazelle and could drop a tennis ball on a dime anywhere he wanted to. He swung his racket as smoothly as Ted Williams could swing a bat (for those of you old enough to know who Ted Williams was).

Now we began to worry. How would we look scrambling around on the court while swinging our rackets and connecting with nothing but air? Should we spare ourselves the embarrassment and leave right on the spot? Probably so, we thought.

But then we realized we were just encountering an old nemesis: performance anxiety. Perhaps you’ve had that problem to at one point or another. People with performance anxiety often worry excessively about what other people will think and imagine that they’ll suffer humiliation and embarrassment.

Of course, one approach is medication for performance anxiety. A common strategy used by professional musicians is a beta blocker such as Propranolol. Of course, there weren’t any pharmacies sitting next to the tennis courts. And even if there had been, beta blockers can slow your heart rate which may not be such a good thing if you’re tearing around the courts (or at least trying to tear around).

Alas, we were doomed. But maybe not. We talked to each other about what we’ve told clients so many times in the past. Who CARES what the instructor thinks? Who cares what the other participants think? So what if a few people happen to think we look like bumbling fools? Did we choose to pick this activity to show the world what great tennis players we are or to have a good time?

So we dove into the lesson. I can’t tell you we were particularly good either. But we did have a great time. The bottom line: The best cure for performance anxiety is to let go of what other people think and go straight at what you’re afraid of.

Photo by Siddhartha Lammata, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Senior Tennis and Performance Anxiety

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2011). Senior Tennis and Performance Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Apr 2011
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