What an incredible rise to becoming the US Open champion it's been for Bianca Andreescu. At the start of this year she was ranked 178 in the world. She has spent several months out of the game with injury. Yet when it came to her biggest test, playing perhaps the game's greatest ever player in her own backyard, she was ready. And when Serena came storming back to set the crowd alight, despite doubts, despite nerves, Andreescu stood firm to finish the match in dominant style.
Andreescu again talked about how she prepares to respond best to the doubts and nerves that she faced in the final, as well as the importance of this type of training to her development as a player and competitor.
When asked about whether her mental skill was born or learned she said: "I was never as composed as I am now, or even a year ago, so (in addition to my meditation and visualisation training) I started seeking advice from other people...and I think that's been really helping me even in tough situations. I visualised this morning, I put myself in situations that I think I might face so I am prepared for anything that comes my way because I think the biggest weapon is to be as prepared as you can...because at this level...the thing that separates the best from the rest is the mindset."
So while the huge majority of other players disproportionately train their bodies while leaving their minds to chance and the winds of external forces, Andreescu has very wisely incorporated mental training in a similar way to her physical training.
It's surely no coincidence that the best players in the men's and women's game (Djokovic and Andreescu) seem to also be the 2 players who have invested the most dedication to developing their mental toughness via long term mindfulness and creative visualisaton training.
##Check out the video to see how she explained her views on the importance this has had on her development...
5 Key Mental Toughness Take Aways...
Here's 5 ways this type of mental training likely played such a big part in Andreescu's incredible rise to the top of the women's game, and should be part of every players' improvement plan.
1.) The Development of Self-Belief
The way Andreescu responded to the opportunity and pressure like she was an experienced champion who had won it all before was quite incredible.
Our brains are designed to continually automatically prepare us for the future based on what has happened in the past, invisibly guiding our moment to moment thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
In this way our brain acts like an ‘anticipation machine,’ funnelling and filtering incoming information through the lens of our past experiences influencing how we come to ‘see’ and ‘be’ in future situations.
By training visualisations of future success, players can influence the way their brain interprets situations of unchartered territory through the lens of positive past visualised experience when the moments of opportunity actually arrive.
2.) Improving Physical Skills
Andreescu has amazing physical power and skill.
It's important to realise that visualisation can be used to actually practice improving physical skills. This is commonly believed to work by imagined events creating the same neuromuscular responses as if we were having the actual experience. So by practicing physical skills in our mind, the body changes according to the thoughts that we have.
But one additional and little talked about positive effect of mental training is that it absolutely improves the quality with which players actually train their physical skills, because to consistently work at improving physical skills is dependent on the way a player can concentrate and respond to challenges.
This is why training meditation and visualisation in the morning, like Andreescu does, is such a great idea... It primes the brain in a way that is helpful for activities that come later in the day.
3.) Developing Attention
The 3rd key thing to realise is that anytime we practice aiming and maintaining our attention on a present moment target, which is a basic requirement of meditation and visualisation, we are practicing the core foundational skill of tennis mental toughness and skill development.
4.) Developing Self-awareness
4th, Andreescu has spoken of the importance of getting in tune with her body and mind during her morning meditation training. Without doubt the most common cause of poor player mental toughness is a lack of self-awareness of when they are acting based on the unintentional difficult thoughts and feelings (e.g., nerves, frustration) that show up throughout matches.
As soon as players engage in meditation and visualisation training, they are not only developing concentration, but the ability to more skilfully recognise when their attention has been drawn into unintentional thoughts, and consequently return it to their target. This self-awareness is one of the keys to skillful competing and practice and when players lack it their physical and even tactical skills typically become pretty worthless.
In Andreescu's case, for example, she explained in her press conference that when the doubts showed up during Serena's comeback, she was able to recognise them quickly and return to her strategy of making Serena move and work hard for every point.
5.) Developing Emotional Fitness
Upon reflecting on the nerves that were intense before and during the match, Andreescu spoke of one little used but powerful training technique to practice developing 'emotional fitness' by visualising oneself in situations that evoke difficult emotions with the goal of improving tolerance of the experience. This works in the same way that athletes become better in responding to physical discomforts through physical training.
Where To Start?
When considering where to start with mental training, its best to keep it really simple while players get the hang of it.
At Mentally Tough Tennis, we've learned its almost always best to start by practicing aiming and maintaining attention of physical sensations while stretching or doing a physical activity. From there you can, begin to progress attention and self-awareness skills in other ways. If you would like access to the Mental Activity that we usually use with players as an introduction to the practice You can see me applying it with former USC All-American Jack Jaede here...
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