The Most Common Mental Toughness Coaching Mistake…And What To Do Instead

“Well, to be honest, I was really concerned about how I was going to feel on that center court. I was a bit nervous. I was telling my coaches, God, I feel like I’m playing first round all over again, like the same nerves. Yeah, I was probably thinking too much of what happened last year. I don’t think it was actually a good thing for me. But in the end I managed to not do what I did last year.”

Daria Gavrilova before her 3rd round Australian Open match…

I love hearing honest quotes from top players about the unintentional difficult mental experiences (nerves, frustrations, worries, fears, etc) that come with competing…

Why?

1.) It Demonstrates Vital Mental Toughness Attributes

The Kyrgios Saga Continues…Why Players Give Up

While I’ve written about Kyrgios’s issues a couple of times in the past I’ve never before received so many communications asking for my opinion as on his performance last night.

So here it goes…

Essentially, the way I saw it, Kyrgios tried for 2 and a half sets…Didn’t try for the next set and a half… Then see-sawed between trying and not trying in the 5th.

First, lets clarify the possible reasons players don’t try…There are only 3:

1.) Lack of motivation

We most commonly blame a lack of effort on poor motivation. While this is sometimes the case, more often than not I’ve found that what I first thought was a motivational issue, turned out to be a result of other issues.

2.) Caught in Helplessness

2 Mental Toughness Lessons From Day 1 At The Aussie Open…What To Do + What Not To Do

1.) What To Do: Your players should fight hardest when their opponent is trying to finish the job, because it’s more likely that they’ll play poorly at this time

It was a Major tournament master and a potential future star that taught us this huge competitive lesson to begin…

While so often players tap out and fold meekly when it gets time for their opponents to serve for the match (or close to it) champion veteran Stan Wawrinka and 17 year-old newcomer Alex De Minaur got tough at the right time and reaped the rewards.

For Wawrinka, down 4-3 40-15 in the 5th against a rampant Martin Klizan, the reward was a 6-4 in the 5th victory. And his post match quote summed up the importance of fighting till the end when not playing your best, “Wasn’t my best tennis today, but was fighting, trying to stay in the game, fighting a lot.”

For De Minaur, looking gone at 2 sets to 1 and 5-2 down in the 4th, he seemed to harness memories of Lleyton Hewitt at the same tournament to squeak out of the set 7-6, giving him a chance in the 5th.

Which brings us to the next important lesson…

Wawrinka’s Pre-Match Nerves No Barrier To His 3rd Grand Slam…

That was another incredible big match performance by Stan Wawrinka to claim his 3rd Grand Slam and 11th finals victory in a row. Interestingly, it came after what he described as being the most nervous he has ever been before a match…

I found his candour regarding his pre-match nerves refreshing. Here’s what he said in his post-match interview:

“Today, before the final, I was really nervous like never before. I was shaking in the locker. When we start five minutes before the match talking, last few things with Magnus, I start to cry. I was completely shaking…I was also — because I don’t want to lose the final in a Grand Slam. That simple. That’s the only reason….The pressure, I was feeling amazing after the semifinal. I was feeling great yesterday. Really happy. But this morning it start to be there, the feeling of you don’t want to lose. I don’t want to come to the court and lose a final. So close, so far.”

The reason players almost always feel nervous before matches is that when we enter competition we have 2 very different motivations…(you can see my visual display of how these motivations affect player experience above)

The desire to win, but also the desire not to lose.

These may sound the same but they’re not and motivate very different internal experiences…

So as players consider the possible outcomes before matches they experience both excitement to do with the desire to win, and anxiety to do with the desire not to lose.

And when a player misses an easy shot at a crucial time of the match they will likely experience frustration to do with moving away from their natural desire to win, while at the same time feeling anxiety regarding moving closer to their desire not to lose.

It’s also why players feel both pain and anger when they lose, and joy and relief when they win…

When we as coaches understand that these motivations are always part of competing it can help us normalise their existence (this is one of the simplest, most helpful communications we can have with our players).

 

2016 US Open Women’s Final…A Resilience Story

# I think Angelique Kerber’s rise to the top of women’s tennis is one of the most remarkable stories of resilience in tennis history…I wrote about this earlier in the year when she won the Australian Open…Here is my update

In 2011 when Angelique Kerber arrived at the US Open, she was nearly 24 years old, had been on the tour for 7 years, and had passed the first round main draw of her previous Grand Slams on just 5 of 19 attempts (and had never been past the 3rd round).

From the outside looking in, most experts I’m sure would have already pigeonholed her career as a journey woman destined to be a perennial early round Grand Slam loser until career end.

That she went on to make the semis at that 2011 US Open was surprising…

That she slowly but surely built herself into a regular top 10er was superb….

That she has just become the World#1, won her 2nd Slam of the year, and also made finals appearances at Wimbledon and the Olympics is simply remarkable.

Her finals victory was another reminder of a career trademarked by resilience…