How Daria Gavrilova's Difficult Mental Experience Can Help Us...

 

 

“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

1st, when players talk openly about their difficult mental states it demonstrates awareness of mental experiences which increases the chance to have choice in how they respond to them (as opposed to players who lack awareness which leads to the automatic/habitual reactions based on the difficult states..)

It also communicates a degree of understanding that these experiences are normal…(those players that lack this understanding more likely won’t reveal these difficulties because of the fear of being judged badly)

2.) It Can Help Us Improve Our Communications and Reflections

We tend to overestimate the amount of control players have over these unintentional difficult mental experiences that frequently show up to do with competing…

This can damage mental toughness because it often results in parent/coach communications that players should be able to control/reduce unintentional mental experiences that they have little control over. And it can also limit reflections that improve mental toughness for players. 

The fact is that the unintentional mental experiences that players feel to do with competing are based largely on the situation they are in, and their personal history within similar situations…

So playing bigger matches on bigger courts brings naturally brings more pressure…

And trying to finish off a close match naturally brings nerves …

And not hitting the ball as well as normal brings the feeling of frustration…

Regarding personal histories…when players are serving for a match at 5-4 in the 3rd and they lost last time that they were in this position the situation IS going to trigger memories of this event….

And for Gavrilova, the fact that she’d lost last time she played on centre court at the Australian Open, meant that this memory was naturally triggered in the form of difficult thoughts about that event when she approached playing on that court again…

So What Should We Do?

Rather than falling for the trap of encouraging players to try to explicitly control mental states surrounding matches that are outside of their immediate control, we need to help them respond better to those states without relying on controlling/reducing them…

Instead of communicating that they should try to control/reduce nerves, confidence levels, worries, frustration, etc in the present, I recommend that we have frequent conversations with players that normalize the unintentional difficult states that are a part of competing.

This will allow players to develop self-awareness and a level of acceptance of these difficulties which develops healthy mental toughness over time…

 Wherever you are reading this, scroll down. Leave us a question or comment, and all the best for the coming week :-)...