September 14, 2023

Coco Gauff’s Mental Game: Lessons in handling pressure on and off the court

On September 9th, Coco Gauff made history as the youngest American to win the U.S. Open since Serena Williams in 1999. While she is making headlines for her remarkable performance on the court, she’s also inspiring students and adults all over the world with her positive outlook on life and how she handles the pressure of tennis matches as a professional athlete

Gauff reported that as an adult she felt constant pressure to win her tennis matches and succeed during practices. However, she did mention that she’s felt pressure her whole life to live up to the expectations of others, whether that be her coaches or other figures she looked up to. While the pressure that she feels is not unique to her experiences, the way she handled it as a student, and now as an adult, is remarkable. How did she do it? Gauff says it’s all about putting her life “into perspective.”

An inspiration to students everywhere

“At first, I used to think negative things, like why is there so much pressure? Why is this so hard? Blah, blah, blah. I realize in a way it’s pressure but it’s not. I mean, there are people struggling to feed their families, people who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, people who have to pay their bills. That’s real pressure, that’s real hardship, that’s real life. I’m in a very privileged position, I’m getting paid to do what I love and getting support to do what I love. That’s something that I don’t take for granted.” 
– Coco Gauff

Gauff recognizes that people everywhere experience pressure from a variety of places, and how important it is for us to handle it responsibly. While students might not face the exact same pressures as professional athletes, they do face pressures from social media, technology, school, and so many other places. As students are dealing with substantial pressures, they can learn strategies to handle the pressure of their day-to-day lives by finding positive influencers, like Gauff, and following in their footsteps.

Students can’t be what they can’t see, so we’re exploring how Gauff’s journey to tennis stardom provides valuable lessons in finding positive influencers and handling pressure, both in sports and in life. 

Rising above the pressure: What it can teach us

Coco Gauff’s recent win in the U.S. Open showcased not just her tennis skills but her ability to handle immense pressure. Gauff’s journey to fame has been marked by continuous improvement, both physically and mentally.

 She says, “Mental endurance comes with trial and error. What I learned about myself is that in these moments, I should not put so much pressure on these matches because when you’re playing these tournaments, the pressure is always on… They’re so intense and you always want to win. I just learned how to cope with that better the more I’ve reached this level. You have some people who kind of do it already when they come on tour and some who need to learn.” 

Gauff highlights the importance of not putting too much pressure on yourself. Her advice and positive outlook on her life experiences highlight how she is a great influence on students. When students find and follow positive role models, such as Gauff, they’re inspired and empowered to follow in their footsteps and maybe even use similar strategies to address challenges they face in their own lives, revealing the importance of finding positive influencers. 

TSI’s Take

Gauff’s experience provides educators with examples of how they can help students find their influencers online and transform pressure into a driving force for success. By huddling with your class on ways to handle the pressure and characteristics to look for when finding positive influencers, you can empower students to build resilience, cope with the challenges they encounter, and find great role models that will influence positive behavior. When students are equipped with the skills to problem solve, make high-character decisions, and overcome daily pressure, they’re more focused and engaged in class lessons, rather than being overwhelmed by stress. 

What we can learn from Gauff about handling the pressure and finding our influencers

Handling the pressure: 

  • Gauff emphasizes that handling pressure is a unique journey for each person. Educators can use her example to show students that it’s okay to have their own paths to resilience. Some may naturally handle pressure well, while others may need to learn and adapt over time. For students who need support in handling the pressure, educators can teach them how to utilize deep breathing, the importance of repetition, how to create a plan for different outcomes, and how to set realistic goals for themselves. Understanding the diverse ways students can handle the pressure can create a more empathetic classroom environment.

The Power of Positive Influences:

Coping Strategies:

  • Gauff’s journey involved learning how to cope with the intense pressure of professional tennis. Educators can teach students various coping strategies for handling stress and pressure, such as taking breaks to pursue hobbies, taking naps, and time blocking. Encouraging open discussions about these strategies and their effectiveness can be a valuable exercise.

Enjoying the Journey:

  • As Gauff says, “It helps to not think about the results and instead only focus on having fun.”  She suggests that focusing on the enjoyment of the process rather than fixating on results can alleviate pressure. Educators can encourage students to find joy in their learning journey, emphasizing personal growth over external achievements.

Coco Gauff’s journey is more than a tennis success story; it’s a testament to the power of handling pressure with resilience, gratitude, and authenticity. Educators can draw inspiration from her experiences to help students navigate their own pressures, whether academic, social, or personal. By instilling these lessons, educators empower students to thrive. 

As the school year ramps up, students are facing the pressure to succeed and excel in their classes, especially as they take tests. Educators have the opportunity to not only educate students but also nurture their well-being as they navigate the challenges and anxieties around testing. Find out how in our latest school playbook on empowering students to handle the pressure of taking tests.

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