Posts Tagged ‘performance strategy’

Mental Output in the Game of Tennis: Advantage or Disadvantage – Your Call

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

 

As a self proclaimed tennis tragic, I found myself in an emotional quandary this weekend as my all-time favourite tennis player Roger Federer was going for yet another record as the longest standing World Number One and seven times Wimbledon Winner at Wimbledon 2012…

 

… but he was playing Britain’s Andy Murray, our first real hope since Fred Perry of seriously contesting men’s world tennis and his first grand-slam title.

The weight of expectation from the British sporting nation were squarely on Andy’s shoulders. In this Olympic year, when our Olympic team and city is shining brighter than ever, the English Cricket Team is firing on all cylinders and the England Football Team – well, are not! (but that’s another article) – my loyal head was with Federer but my British heart was 100% behind Murray.

As I stepped away from this internal battle raging within me and looked at the two players as no more than individual athletes, and more specifically from a Sports Mind Coach perspective, and what I would do to improve someones chances of winning given the opportunity, I realised just how immensely different these two players really are at this stage of their careers.

The Federer we have come to know and admire epitomises the cool, calm and collected athlete, the one who has a plan, has a cast iron strategy and no matter what gets thrown at him – he accurately and systematically applies the blueprint. The Swiss timepiece, as he is known, very rarely lets his emotions out to play and they almost never dictate his game. I am not sure he even sweats under pressure.

Murray, on the other-hand, is a more emotional athlete. He is outwardly passionate and prone to the odd blow-up, tantrum, dummy-spit and teary moment – reminding us of past champions who too were prone to an uncontrolled emotional lashing or two!

Andy Murray is extremely talented and is known as being both one of the hardest working athletes on the professional tennis circuit, and also a little difficult to be around if things are  not going his way.

With Andy Murray you can see every play. His every hit and every miss is written all over his face, on and off the court. During his game he telegraphs his emotions in big neon lights through his physiology to his opponent, broadcasting how he is feeling, when he is up and firing and when he is down and they are best poised to strike. For Andy Murray it is all or nothing – 100% raw, random, uncontrolled and unpredictable emotions

If the old adage ‘You can have mental output without physical action but you cannot have physical action without mental output’ is true, then this statistically close game was always going to be won or lost between the players ears not on their physical skills.

Passion can be a good thing, it shows you care and willing to go to greater lengths to achieve, to do whatever it takes, and nothing is out of the question when talking about winning!

So passion is important. But so is stability, strategy and replicability if you want to be a champion. Assessing and understanding what needs to be done and then having the clarity of mind to just do it – this takes a certain kind of mental skill-set.

TennisOur emotional monster needs to be fed. And as we are what we eat, both physically and metaphorically, what we feed this monster depends on the style of our approach.

What emotions do you feed your monster?

Confidence, clarity and focus

Or anxiety, fear and anger?

When I watch Andy Murray I can see a frustrated champion lurking deep down inside, itching to get out. Like a destructive ADD child, incredibly gifted and talented, hardworking and tenacious, but one who is shackled by his own self-created demons. These demons are, for now anyway, dictating how he plays his tennis. These may be the same demons that arguably haunted Roger Federer when he was much younger, more fiery and unpredictable.

Over the years at the Smart Mind Institute, I have seen these unchecked emotional monsters cause untold damage to an athlete’s career.

Damage such as:

  • an increase in physical tension and emotional stress resulting in an increase of muscular and tendon injuries
  • to recurring injuries
  • lowering of their bodies immune system and an increased susceptibility to illness
  • to emotional self harming
  • performance and skill blockages
  • physically vomiting and diarrhea
  • a loss of performance focus resulting in competition chocking

 

To his credit, Andy Murray has managed to tame many of these demons in recent years which has seen him race up the rankings and to the position of the tour bridesmaid, appearing at a number of grand-slams but not yet bagging the top prize.

Over the more recent years Roger Federer too has not been impervious to the demons within, whilst Nadal and Djokovic have had Federer sitting in 3rd spot for the last year or so, you could say his clinically predictable and emotionless approach had left him blindsided and led him to take his eye off the ball.

Even though some would disagree with me, Federer is human after all (I think!) and initially his slip from number one impacted his confidence and he lost sight of what had made him so formidable. But thorough self analysis may have re-calibrated his perspective and direction.

Watching Murray at this years Wimbledon, I got the impression the pieces of his puzzle are coming together, his game is at an all time high, his on court performance and approach to the sport is definitely a world above previous years and the number of brides-maid gigs are increasing.

I believe the missing link for Murray is his lack of effective emotional management. The unpredictability of his performance, his not knowing who will be waking up to play – the whirlwind emotional ADD child or the precise, focused athlete.

If Murray can tame the dark side and unleash his skills for good not evil then a Grand Slam victory is surely on the cards for him. But whilst he reacts and doesn’t respond, the elusive number one will remain just that – elusive!

Our emotions are a skillset, not an excuse.

The difference between an athlete and a champion is NOT just knowing what to do – it’s being willing to do it – no matter what others think or say!

The Athlete Mindset: Reactionary Versus Responsive Behaviour

Friday, May 18th, 2012

If you are chasing after another athlete you will always be behind them – waiting for them to make the next move. It is better to lead yourself than follow another.

Athletes base much of their outcome strategy on being able to intuitively produce the right action at the right time.

This forms part of their belief systems, instinctive direction and ultimately the sustained success of their performance.

When working with professional athletes, it is important that their internal drive and external performance needs are personally tailored to them.

However this very specific objective sometimes leads to some confusion for athletes and coaches around being either reactionary or being responsive!

These two actions may sound very similar in nature – but they have two very different drivers and consequences.

If we look at the specific behaviour of the ‘reactionary’ athlete, they are reacting to any and all situations:

  • a perceived external force on them, such as their environment;
  • the venue conditions;
  • the pressure; and probably more importantly
  • the other competitors actions

These athletes let their performances be directed, dictated and controlled by interpretation of their current situation – assessing – reacting – reassessing.

This mindset places the athlete in a constant observational role, not an action role. These athlete are then in damage control mode or constantly playing catch up as they wait for something to happen or someone to act before they can assess and react.

They have essentially surrendered their control over their performance to an external force limiting their options to counter actions.

When a Mind Coach builds an athlete’s optimal performance strategy, it is tailored specifically to that athlete and their skill-set and objective. It is not based on another athletes agenda or objective.

So by being a reactionary athlete and deviating from the designed path in order to react to another’s actions, an athlete is detracting from their own optimal performance strategy and objective.

I often tell athletes, ‘If you are chasing after another athlete then you will always be behind them – waiting for them to make the next move – it is better to lead yourself than follow another.’

The reactionary approach essentially ties the athlete into following their competitors path not their own.

If we now look at the specific behaviour of the ‘responsive’ athlete, these athletes have both their physical and psychological performances primed and ready to strike in a specific way, thus making them responsive to their own needs. This also allows them to make informed performance decisions based on their ability and their objective.

These athletes posses behavioural flexibility and can manoeuvre their performance within their optimal strategy based on their outcomes and situational needs. This gives the athlete the freedom and control to perform towards their objective and not be looking, judging and reacting to what others are or are not doing and using that as their gauge.

This single-minded focus gives our athletes clarity, objectivity, control and an optimally designed path to follow. This lowers performance anxiety and any second-guessing to what is coming next and also allows athletes to select the path that is right for them.

So the next time someone advises you they want you to have better reactions – tell them you would rather be responsive and compete on your own terms not those of your competitors!

There will always be environmental conditions or personal conditions outside the athletes control, so it is important an athlete remains open minded, cognisant of their ability and primed – responsive and ready to tap into their resources when called on.

The Assassination of a Sporting Performance: Have you been Implicated?

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

If you are a professional coach or a coach at any serious competitive level, you may have experienced this.

You have spent years physically and technically preparing an athlete for the ‘big competition’, the one stand out event that will synergistically bring all that hard work together; set them apart from the crowd; and cement their name in sporting contention.

Only to find on the day they implode and choke!

Bearing witness as their minds spontaneously combust into a scrambled mess, a coach can only watch the athlete’s precision-controlled limbs take on a zombie-possessed life of their own. Their ability to problem-solve appears left in the trunk of the car along with that old gym sock, sweaty towel… and maybe now their hopes and dreams.

As a coach at this point you begin to wonder who the hell is this athlete?

Where is my athlete, the one I have spent all that time and effort in building?

Why did I not see this coming, how could I have got it so wrong?

What do I do now?

Relax…

… This is a very common scenario.

However, it is a scenario that frequently spawns a reaction that involves a complete re-evaluation of the whole process, the training schedule, the fitness structure and the technical application of the core skills!

This overhaul is time-consuming, disheartening and quite frankly probably totally unnecessary.

STOP – before you begin to unravel years of work and your coaching philosophy built up over a lifetime, first understand what has really happened here by following this simple process:

1. Was it really a train-crash or simply just a wrong turn?

Lets start by taking the high level emotions out of the situation and looking at it clinically.

2. From a disassociated perspective, ask “What could I do differently next time?”

Think backwards to the point where the wheels on the track first began to wobble and before the athlete careered out of control!

3. Did the wobble initiate weeks ago or was the first major wobble on competition day?

I often hear coaches speak of the athlete letting the pressure of the competition moment get to them or they allowed their competitors to get inside their heads or their confidence was shattered by their performance as they lost focus and objectivity.

As much as these may be contributing factors to the final derailment of the athletes performance the reality is the real core inefficiency is probably in the approach, for specifically the lack of structured approach.

The Competition Approach

The competition approach, is just that – the days leading into the competition and the day of the competition right up to where the athlete takes to the spot to perform. I refer to this as the 7-2 funnel process.

I have been working with coaches and athletes my whole adult life and it’s the most rewarding profession I can imagine. And after all these years, I would consider the ability of a coach to ‘effectively’ mentally prepare their athlete for their performance day as one of their most valuable skills. On competition day and in much of what an athlete does, educating an athlete how to be responsive rather than reactionary is all in the planning.

Humans are creatures of habit, we are also by nature essentially quite lazy (although we ‘sell’ it as being efficient) and will follow a well-trodden and established path when faced with no obvious solution rather than assess and innovate a new tailored path. In fact, we are hardwired to seek out such established patterns and to be an early and loyal adopter.

Because of this most coaches follow the same system for competition – blindly applying time after time, athlete after athlete.

However these final steps before their performance is such a critical time for the athlete, a crucial time where they need to be focused, emotionally neutral, clear, concise and precise about their objective, confident that they can deliver what is required and comfortable in knowing that all the boxes have been ticked and that everything that could have been done has been done.

Often the reality is we see two polarities, where coaches and athletes are either completely disengaged or wholly consumed by the moment, following no obvious structured and designed approach, they are emotionally charged thus reactionary to everyone else’s movements and unable to apply what they have trained for or know to be the right move for them.

I also see coaches correcting intricate technique or even teaching the athlete new skills just before they take to the competitive arena.

This disorganised approach is a mental minefield as it is widening of the athletes focal aspect not a narrowing of their focal precision.

Last minute hurdles placed into their path is not beneficial to the athlete and in fact greatly inhibits them from performing at their optimum as it splits and defocuses their ability to mentally reproduce and apply.

Instead of emotionally loading them up, sludging their thought processes and giving them little opportunity to build confidence (a history of success), the key to preparing an athlete to perform efficiently and effectively involves funnelling the athlete into a heightened state of awareness and specificity of focus, ticking boxes and disengaging what isn’t needed to make them mentally leaner and more efficient.

So when you think about how YOU currently approach competition, are you mentally weighing them down? Do you have a replicable system that is prepping your athlete for success?