Don’t focus on winning, focus on outplaying your opponent. While the difference between the two ideas seems insignificant, the change it has on your mindset is important.
Playing to win does have its merits when talking about work ethic or motivation, but in the middle of a set if you’re playing with that mentality, it could be a hindrance more than anything else. When you focus on winning, there are some things that are out of your control that may cause you to lose. You have to take into account the opponents skill level and effort they put into the game just as much as your own.
I’m sure most of us have also had those times mid-set where the thought of “Wow, I’m about to beat x player! All my friends will be so happy for me, this is amazing. I really hope I win!” or thoughts like “Oh no I’m about to really lose to y? I’ve never even lost to him! How is this happening? My friend is going to be so disappointed in me. The car ride home is going to suck and I’ll be so sour the entire way home.” The obvious problem we have with this mentality is that we’re putting all of our concentration on the past or the future and none of it is being used one the thing it should be used on, the present. As you see your win or loss begin to slip away because your mind is elsewhere, you tend to try too hard to force risky things and get antsy, and overall play worse because of it. The thing about playing to win is that it’s a single goal and when you get close to the outcome of either winning or losing, your mind begins thinking about the future that looks like is about to happen instead of focusing on the match at hand. This leads to a lot of choking, losses, and a lot of disappointment. You’re not better than your opponent if you lose because you choke, you choke because keeping calm under pressure is something you can’t do as well as your opponent, and that is just as important as any adaptation or tech skill that you see in game.
Focusing on outplaying your opponent on the other hand is something that can help combat this issue. The key about this mentality is that you’re focusing on the present, it’s a continuous process with a lot of thoughts about the game such as your opponent’s habits or thinking about how you’re going to mix up your next approach. Playing to outplay your opponent keeps your mind occupied with useful information that happens during every second of each game you play. Since your mind is so preoccupied with thoughts about the present, you don’t think about the future or past and begin to get flustered. This mindset helps you stay calm and focused during high tense situations that you would otherwise crumble under.
It’s through this mindset that you begin to see who deserves to win and who deserves to lose, you don’t concern yourself with the idea of winning, and you begin playing the game for the reason of improving and learning more than anything else.