One thing I discuss a lot with coaches, parents, and players is the importance of normalising the difficult mental experiences that are part of competing.
In almost all cases we fail to adequately empathise with just how challenging a sport tennis is mentality, and understand how hard it is to reduce or avoid the unhelpful thoughts and feelings that show up throughout matches.
It was absolutely fantastic therefore to see both French Open singles champions describe their lack of self-belief...their conflicted motivations...their 'negative thoughts'...their outcome thoughts, so well throughout the tournament.
It is a great lesson for all of us to realise that the reality of competing is frequent difficult thoughts and feelings.
And it is in fact not the player who has some special power to experience less uninvited 'negative thoughts and feelings' that is the mentally toughest.
Rather it is the player who is most accepting of these type of experiences, and skilled in responding well to them, who will usually compete better over time.
Let's take a look at a couple of quotes from the tournament...
Women's champion, Barbora Krejcikova discussing her 4th round match:
"I actually don't know what happened today, because I just woke up and I felt really bad. I don't know why. I just felt really stressed...Half an hour before the match I didn't even want to go onto the court because I felt that bad and I had to lock myself in the physiology room and I had to talk to my psychologist. I was actually crying."
She went on to win 6-2, 6-0. And after her semi-final win:
"I never expected to reach even the semi-finals of this tournament"
This was the experience of the player who would go on to win the title, saving match point along the way...
Novak Djokovic discussing being 2 sets down in the final:
"The voice in my head was saying you can't do it, it's done, it's finished, and that voice was pretty strong after the 2nd set...this has happened many times on some big occasions, big matches that I can recall that I lost because of that internal dialogue unfortunately got more on the negative side".
And on how he tries to respond to these challenges:
"I've been training throughout my career on the mental ability to come back to the centre and the present moment rather than having allowing these thoughts to pull me left and right. And that's why I feel the mental work is as important as the physical training, so I put a lot of time into that as well."
I simply can't stress to you how important it is to normalise the 'negative thoughts and feelings' of competition and to focus efforts on developing the skills that will help respond well to them.
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