How Has Simona Halep Improved So Much?



I listened with fascination to Darren Cahill's interview following Simona Halep's dominant quarter-final win at the Aussie Open, and thought I'd share a couple of the key points and reflections.

1.) Regarding her improved approach to responding to difficult internal experiences that are part of competition Cahill said:

“As far as I'm concerned, the relationship is exactly the same. She's still as stressed on the court as she always is, but she's learning ways to deal with it and to handle it.”

“After letting two breaks slip against Mertens in the Round of 16 and then having chances in the 4-3 game in the second set, Simona got back to 4-all, had break points in the 4-all game and missed them. The old Simona would have let that game go, but she refused to give up in that game."

“That's what I'm most proud of is that fight that she's showing when a few things go against her. That's been the big change in her I have seen over the last two or three years.”

Key Take Away:

Perhaps the most common mental toughness trap that almost all of us were brought up to believe is helpful, is to focus on trying to control and reduce difficult internal experiences (and increase helpful feelings) during competition. While this is occasionally helpful in the short-term, in the long-term it increases our reliance on having to feel good to play good which is disastrous for effective competing.

Instead, the ultimate power actually lies in doing the opposite....Adopting an approach in which our primary goal is to respond well to higher levels of stress, fear, and frustration without having to control or reduce it to compete effectively.

Over time, when we develop our skill in taking this perspective, we improve our ability to choose and commit to helpful actions regardless of the difficult thoughts and feelings that might be showing up in the situation. And this is my understanding of the process that Cahill is describing that Halep has improved most in the last few years.

Key Reflection:

Do I approach difficult internal experiences with the aim to reduce and control them, therefore making me more dependant on having to feel/think good to play good (emotional control focus), or do I approach internal experiences in a way that helps me become more able to play good regardless of how I think/feel (emotional fitness focus)?

2.) Regarding the importance of connecting to purpose in driving motivation he said:

"She loves the game and she loves to compete, and I think that every tennis player needs to find their purpose, we've seen it with Nick in the last 4 or 5 weeks. Until you find your real purpose and why you're getting onto the court and why you're doing all the work, getting up in the morning and going though all the blood, sweat, and tears it doesn't make much sense."

"But Simona when she was about 60 in the world she had a realisation that this is what she really wants to do and that she wouldn't want to be in any other place in the world. She loves the competitive nature, she loves the competition, she might at times look like she's not enjoying it but she loves it".

Key Take Away:

It is vital that we make frequent efforts to connect with the purpose of what we are trying to achieve, and why that focus is important to us. Because connecting with an important purpose drives motivation to continue to commit to helpful actions as challenges are faced.

Key Reflection:

How could you do a better job of connecting with your purpose? How could you reflect in ways that help you recognise the importance of things other than winning in tennis- e.g., improving skills, loving the process of competing, contributing to others through your participation.