##This was an article I wrote in 2014 summarising Maria Sharapova's incredible mental toughness...
It would not have been quite right had Maria Sharapova completed one of the all-time great grand slam title runs in any other way.
A mighty struggle of over 3 hours; faced with the adversity of double faults at key times throughout the match; seeing the 2nd set slip from her grasp when so close to victory; but ultimately decided, like so often throughout her magnificent career, by her ability to respond to the adversities characteristic of 3-set encounters just a little better than her brave opponent.
Sharapova’s Remarkable Career 3-set Record...
Think of any quality associated with mental toughness and Maria Sharapova ticks the box:
Competes effectively when behind;
Competes effectively when not playing her best;
Competes effectively under pressure;
Competes effectively when in front;
Competes effectively through adversity.
Traditionally the field of Sport Psychology has recommended strategies like controlling difficult emotions to feel better- because we know when we feel better it’s easier to commit to helpful actions.
Similarly, the recommended goal to do with anxious, angry, or outcome thoughts has been to avoid or reduce them.
When done successfully this helps players in the short term.... but there are 2 problems with this approach that tend to lead to big problems in the long term.
1.) Because the thoughts and feelings that show up during competition are based on the situation and our history within similar circumstances (including human evolutionary history), these strategies are very hard to do effectively when players most want them to work.
2.) In the long term players become less ‘fit’ in being able to tolerate internal difficulties, and more reliant on having to feel good to play good. This in turn tends to lead to players experiencing more...
The emotions we feel during matches are based on the situation itself combined with millions of lifelong learning experiences from past similar situations.
This means that it is actually easier to improve the relationship we have with our difficult match related emotions (and therefore respond better to them with our actions) than it is to control the difficult emotions itself.
The weird thing is that this ‘emotional fitness’ approach tends to result in less intense difficult emotions in the long term, without ever trying to control them.
The same goes for difficult unintentional match related thoughts as well.
Time and time again Novak Djokovic successfully navigates both the external and his own internal challenges to find his way to finish line 1st in the biggest matches.
Asked after his 8th Aus Open victory what it is that gives him this mental edge in the biggest matches Novak said this:
"My upbringing was in Serbia during several wars…embargo in my country where we had to wait in line for bread and water.
I think these things make you stronger. They make you hungrier for success in whatever you choose to do. That has been my foundation, the very fact that I came from such difficult life circumstances.
And going back to that and reminding myself where I came from always inspires and motivates me to push harder and so thats probably one of the reasons that I manage to find that extra gear or mental strength to overcome challenges when they present themselves."
Too often those of us responsible for helping players develop the required resilience and grit needed to...
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...
Wow...what a match!
Nadal was at his incredibly tough best and my sense that Kyrgios is finally making great progress towards becoming an effective competitor to complement his crazy physical talents looks more and more likely to be the case.
Here are 2 vital lessons to take from the match:
1.) Nadal shows again that choking is usually not fatal if you can respond well to the common experience of trying to finish close matches.
In tonight’s match, when Nadal realized that the finish line was in sight when leading in the 3rd set tie-break and again when he was serving for the match at 5-4 in the 4th set he suddenly tightened…A couple of double faults and playing more tentatively, along with Kyrgios's great fighting spirit, allowed Kyrgios to win the 3rd and prolong the 4th.
But, as usual, to Nadal's huge credit he recovered from both chokes quickly and got the job done…
There are a few key things we want to remember when trying to...
Why is getting angry at others, particularly those people who players are close to like their support team, so common?
In my latest 'Mental Toughness Made Simple' video I use Nick Kyrgios as a case study to help understand why players so commonly get addicted to this habit. I also discuss the 4 Step process that breaking the addiction almost always requires.
Interestingly, the reason players develop this habit can be the same reason that they give up, use excuses, or even lose concentration so if any of these issues sound familiar to you this video really is a must watch. The great news for Kyrgios is that on the evidence so far this Aussie Open, with the support of his team he appears to be finally making steady progress in improving all of these issues...
A huge thank you to Dan Kiernan and Soto Academy in Spain for allowing us to share this video from our coach professional development workshop last night. We had a great discussion regarding Roger Federer's coaching advice for Fabio Fognini and why part of Federer's advice was likey not helpful. Particularly when he said "If he hits a good forehand you respect it, ok maybe he was lucky it doesn't matter. believe in the good thing, you cannot be frustrated". I also mention how I advise coaches to approach situations where a player is experiencing difficult unintentional thoughts and feelings during matches... Check out the clip below.
When I was a child I fell in love with tennis. I fell in love with the challenge... I fell in love with the fun... I fell in love with the competing...I fell in love with the camaraderie and much more. To this day all I need to do is picture in my mind walking into the outback tennis centres where I played most of my junior tournaments to trigger great joy.
For those of us who love tennis, watching the men's US Open final was a great reminder of why that is...Watching Rafa resist Medvedev's incredible fightback, like all great Grand Slam battles, shows us that ultimately it is the greatest sporting test. No other sport tests the physical, technical, tactical, and mental elements so completely.
And this match proved to be the ultimate mental test. The physical demands, the pressure, trying to hang on when behind, trying to finish when in front, , the doubts, the wandering mind, the frustrations...It had it all :-)
This match was also a reminder that we...
Matteo Berrettini spoke frequently about how nervous he was feeling during his US Open Quarter Final match...If you are a coach or parent its important to reflect on how you talk to you players/child about nerves? What do you recommend they do if/when nervous feelings show up?`
At Mentally Tough Tennis we recommend that you make it your highest priority to encourage your players develop the skills that allow them to be more accepting of difficult internal experiences like nerves and frustration. One great way to do this is to normalise these feelings, as opposed to encouraging your players to try to control difficult emotions (which tends to lead to not only normal levels of difficult feelings during challenging situations, but additionally worry or judgement about being nervous or frustrated).
This is a crucial shift from traditional sport psychology advice and, given Berrettini's reflections, it's obvious that his coaching/support team have done a terrific job...
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