The 2014 Wimbledon Final…
When Novak Djokovic prepared to serve at 3-3 30-40 in the 5thset against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon Final, imagine the internal challenges he would have encountered.
Being faced with the prospect of losing from 5-2 up in the 4thset must have been a chaotic mental test.
But fighting off break point in that moment and going on to deny Federer’s awesome comeback was an incredible effort.
Djokovic’s Improved Statistics…
To explore how much Djokovic has improved in the last few years I decided to compare his results from 2008-2010, with those from 2011-Present…
Grand Slam/ATP 1000 results 2008-2010: 79% winning percentage
Grand Slam/ATP 1000 results 2011- Present: 90% winning percentage
While this 11% improved winning % is significant, looking specifically at his statistics against Federer, Nadal, and Murray reveals an even more important story…
2008-2010: Murray 1-3; Nadal 5-10; Federer 5-8
While players can give up because of a lack of motivation, this is rarely the case.
More often when we see players fold, it’s for 2 other reasons. And both reasons played out at the same time on separate courts during the 2014 French Open men’s quarter-finals.
Becoming ‘Caught Up’ in Helplessness: Ferrer v Nadal
Score: Nadal 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1
In this match, David Ferrer played his typical terrier like tennis during the first 2 sets taking advantage of Nadal being below his best.
As the match wore on, however, Nadal’s level started to rise allowing him to claw back the advantage.
But to see Ferrer, one of the toughest competitors of this era, fold so quickly and meekly was shocking.
So what exactly happened?
He explained it best in his post-match interview, “The court was slow, he (Nadal) started playing a lot better, making fewer mistakes, and I threw in the towel…I don’t usually do this, but I thought, I’m not...
It was a simple experiment that explored tennis players’ estimates of their ability to hit tennis serves into target areas.
Every player had 10 serves at each of two target areas. One was a difficult target area which players hit successfully about 2 out of every 10 serves.
The other was a large target with about 7 of 10 serves landing successfully.
Each player predicted how many he/she would make into each area before serving.
This resulted in players generally overestimating their ability to hit the difficult target but underestimating their ability to make the easy target.
Why did this happen?
They generally fell victim to the hard-easy effect. The hard-easy effect is sometimes also called the ceiling-floor effect.
It’s a statistical effect that ensures that performance estimations tend towards the middle of the scale.
How does it work?
When we perform a difficult skill, say one that we can complete successfully 2 out of 10 times, we’re faced...
One of the most common competitive issues players report is a lack of confidence or belief.
This may occur after several losses, when working on a change in technique or game style, or when playing someone with superior past results.
A few years ago I tended to encourage players in these situations to just ‘trust’ the shot, or ‘believe’ in themselves.
This is typically not helpful however.
Unfortunately, confidence, trust, and belief can’t be created out of nowhere.
Therefore, when I did this I was likely asking players to do something that was not possible.
Now though, when players encounter the inevitable loss of confidence at some stage, instead of expecting them to change the natural internal states that show up in these circumstances, I would first encourage them to reflect on your lack of confidence, belief, or trust and make sure they know that this is normal based on the situation that they’re in.
I then encourage them to...
Less Physical Discomfort…First, fit players tend to experience less physical discomfort than unfit players in the same match circumstance. Therefore, fit players are better placed to focus their energy and attention on helpful processes that increase the chance of success, whereas unfit players are more likely to start taking actions based on their experience of physical pain.
But there are also other reasons for the link between physical fitness and mental fitness that have to do with how our brains operate.
Stronger Bodies, Stronger Brains…
It turns out that physical pain and emotional pain are housed in the same brain area.
So what this means is that when players evoke physical discomfort through physical training they are literally making their brain stronger in coping with physical pain.
And because this part of the brain is also largely responsible for coping with emotional pain, physical training makes players fitter at coping with emotional...
Today we've got a short video for you to show you how I've been working on trying to improve my reaction time when I am returning. It's been working pretty well for me and I actually used this in winning a pretty big doubles tournament on the weekend :-)
I hope you find it helpful too...
I often find myself saying to players that "the components of tennis mental toughness are relatively easy to understand but very hard to do"...
At it's core our mental toughness requires simply bringing their attention into the present at the start of a rally or point and choosing to commit to a helpful process (e.g., a technical cue like 'stay low', or a strategy such as 'rally deep and attack the short ball') during the rally or point.
In this way the formula for mental toughness is Present Moment Attention + Helpful Committed Action = Mental Toughness
And the key reflection...
We must regularly check in at the end of rallies/points and ask the following question: Did I actually commit my actions to my chosen attention during the rally or point?
The bottom line is that, assuming that we know the processes that will most help us improve (in practice) and improve/win (in matches), the player who most frequently commits to repeating this simple formula in practice and...
1.) Practice Improving Attention Skills…
The 1stbarrier to mental toughness is when our concentration lapses.
Players can lose concentration during matches when they get distracted by external causes (e.g., sounds), or also when their naturally wandering minds start thinking about things not to do with the match.
It’s quite amazing that although being able to aim and maintain attention on a helpful performance target is such a foundational requirement to successful performance…
And although we are regularly told to “Pay attention” during our developmental years, we rarely actually formally practice it.
This is a little like expecting someone to get fit without doing fitness training!
Here is a super simple way that players can develop attention skills during the daily activity of teeth cleaning:
Step 1.) The idea is to see how long we can aim and maintain our attention on a sensory aspect of the activity…
So the sound of the...
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