Amazing as it sounds, everything players need to know about developing mental toughness can be learned in a 2 min story about a bus driver...
Each day the bus driver selects his bus route and tries to drive his bus where it needs to go. The more the bus driver is in touch with why it is important to him to do his job well, the more motivated he will be to drive well (Key 1: Purpose).
To increase the chance of a successful trip the driver puts his attention on the road in front of him/her (Key 2: Present Moment Attention) and takes actions of steering and pressing the accelerator and brake in a way that takes the bus in the right direction (Key 3: Committed Action).
The bus driver stops the bus to pick up passengers at each bus stop. Different passengers get on depending on the stop. The driver doesn't have a say in who gets on the bus, everyone is welcome as long as they pay their money. Therefore, sometimes good passengers get on the bus and sometimes more difficult passengers get on.
Passengers can sit wherever they like and they can be as quiet or loud as they like. Often the more difficult passengers get right up in the driver’s ear and sledge him about his driving, try to get him to go the wrong way, or even to stop driving the bus.
Throughout the trip it's common for the driver to operate on autopilot and start to listen to the difficult passengers without even realizing it. This results in the bus going in the wrong direction or the driver not driving as well.
It’s also common for the bus driver to get sick of the difficult passengers and try to get them to shut up or kick them off the bus. Unfortunately this is the worst thing the driver can do because as soon as he gets up out of his seat the bus is likely to crash...He usually can’t shut them up anyway...and sometimes they just get louder. If he stops to kick a passenger off, the bus will be late which usually results in more frustrated/angry passengers getting on at the next stop.
To limit the chance of automatically doing what the difficult passengers say, or putting his energy and efforts into trying to control them instead of driving, it's vital the bus driver stays committed to attending to the road and steering the bus.
This is impossible to do all the time however, so as soon as the bus driver notices he's going in the wrong direction or is not in his seat, he needs to notice the passengers momentarily (Key 4: Awareness) and practice accepting them along the ride (Key 5: Acceptance).
This helps him to put his attention back on the road and get back to committing to taking the necessary actions to get the bus where it needs to go in a timely manner. As a bonus, over time when the difficult passengers figure out that they are not affecting the way the driver drives, they tend to get tired and sit back in their seats and stop being so loud...
So What's the Story Got To Do With Tennis?
When it comes to competing in tennis, we are the bus driver and the passengers represent the unintentional thoughts and feelings that we continually experience as we compete (often extremely difficult like nerves, frustration, helplessness, worries). Just like the bus driver, to compete well players require the 5 Key Skills of mental toughness:
1.) Purpose: knowing where we are driving and why it's important
2.) Present Moment Attention: being skilled at aiming and maintain our attention in the present
3.) Committed Action: committing to actions (processes) that continually increase the chance that we achieve our performance aims
4.) Awareness: being quick to notice when we are listening to the difficult passengers or when we're out of our driver's seat, stopping the bus to try to control the passengers, or even avoiding picking difficult passengers up.
5.) Acceptance - Developing fitness in allowing the difficult passengers along for the ride.
Together, these 5 key skills improve player ability to appropriately control attention and commit to helpful action, regardless of the passengers that may or may not be on the bus :-)
Before you go, check out the Bus Driver Video above and wherever you're reading this, leave us a comment or a question and all the best for the coming week :-)
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