When The Mental Wall Hits…And How Your Players Can Climb It

The 8th Day of the Australian Open showed how even the best professional players aren’t immune from hitting the mental wall.

First it was Dominic Thiem winning a total of 4 more games when leading Goffin 7-5 6-6 (4-4 in tie breaker)…

Next it was Istomin who, since shocking Djokovic, had continued his impressive display with a 3rd round victory and was then leading Dimitrov 6-2 6-6 from which point he won only 3 more games…

And next, Bautista Agut had fought his way back after losing the 1st set against Raonic 6-7, to win the next 6-3 and find himself at 4-4 in the 3rd with several break point chances to serve for a 2 sets to 1 lead…He won only 1 more game from that point…

And finally, with Nadal stumbling as he neared the finish line Monfils suddenly found himself back in the match with a big chance to take it to a 5th set serving at 4-3 30-0 in the 4th…He failed to win another game.

Together this group of players (Thiem, Istomin, Bautista Agut, and Monfils)….who had won 12 matches straight to get to their respective match stages, mustered a collective 8 games in the final 6 sets of their exits.

How Could This Be?

The answer I think lies in their mental fatigue all reaching a tipping point where they all decided that with their mental energy dwindling it was simply ‘too hard’ to extend effort at a level required to compete at that level.

And so, much like a marathon runner might reach a level of physical discomfort and tiredness, when the mental urge and thoughts too slow down take over and they break…

Our group of players mentally capitulated at the point when they became caught up in the mental discomfort and tiredness that came with getting that tournament stage.

For Thiem and Instomin the tipping point came when lost the crucial breakers that would have put them up 2 sets and in sight of victory, and went down a break in the 3rd…

For Bautista Agut, it was when he missed his chances to break Raonic and serve for the 3rd and instead Raonic won the 3rd set…

And for Monfils it was when he lost serve to let Rafa back in the 4th set…

It’s important I think to recognize that these players didn’t tank…

They were just spent mentally from the toils of getting to that stage of the tournament and became ‘caught up’ in the self-judgements that didn’t have the fight left to turn the matches in their favour.

How To Extend Effort…

That these players ‘broke’ first was crucial, because, except for Nadal who I’ve rarely ever see hit the mental wall, who knows how close Goffin, Dimitrov, and Raonic were to breaking themselves.

So what can players do to extend effort when their mental reserves reach breaking point?

1.) Self-Awareness

First, players need to recognize that they are experiencing the urge to reduce effort otherwise this process leads to an automatic effort reduction which is hard to reverse.

2.) Acceptance/Tolerance

Once aware, players need to practice recognizing the urge to reduce effort without acting on that urge…

This ‘willingness to suffer’ as Nadal has talked so much about is the foundation of the ability to compete effectively point by point for long periods and match after match.

In this case it can be helpful to often remind your players that no matter how physically or mentally tired they are that they only ever have to commit helpful actions to one point- the next one.

This can help prevent them from getting caught up in the typical mindset during these challenges where players look to what it will take to win the whole match it total and make the assessment that they don’t have the effort to make it.

The key question here that we want our players to grasp is—

Do I have enough energy to commit action to my helpful attention for just the next point?

The answer to this will be yes 99.9% of the time. And repeat this process each point.

For Nadal. through consistent training in practice and matches, this process has long become automatic.

But for the huge majority of even professional players it is not.

This question is so important that if Thiem, Istomin, Bautista Agut, and Monfils all did it at the crucial stage of their matches, I would have bet a lot of money that at least one of them would’ve climbed their mental wall and won their respective match…

My Coach Partner Program

For the next week the 2017 edition of my Coach Partner Program is open…This program is right for you if you would like to i.) provide the highest quality tennis parenting guidance for parents of the children you coach, ii.) better support your players’ mental toughness development, and/or iii.) increase your programs revenue with very little requirements on your time…

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