Posts Tagged ‘Sports Mind Coach’

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!

Taking Care of an Athlete’s Emotional Welfare: Living Inside Another Person’s Head

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The Mental Game of a Sports Mind Coach is not that Different from the Athletes they Coach.

As a sports mind coach, much of the ability to create sustainable change in athletes comes from the ability to completely associate specifically to them and their performance issues on a deep level – and then take a precise pragmatic approach to solving those issues with them.

This means spending much of the workday deep within the minds of others, observing their idiosyncrasies, emotional roller-coasters, behavioural dichotomies, good and bad days, perceptions of self-worth and their individual sporting needs.

This can be emotionally challenging as a coach, especially when you have more than one client on the go which could mean double, triple or even 10 fold the idiosyncrasies, emotional roller-coasters, highs and lows! Keeping track of all the individual athletes needs, progress and programmes is paramount to ensuring them the best sustainable performance outcome.

So how can so many high octane careers be managed and still deliver each and every time? Well, it’s in part about perspective and systems!

It is as much about managing your mental wellbeing as a coach as much as it is managing the athletes. Let’s face it, if a coach was to get lost in the mental abyss and didn’t practice what they preached, they lose the ability to lead and guide these athletes. It would be like trying to catch a whole bunch of rabbits in an open field, blindfolded – completely hit and miss.

Empathy and understanding play a major role as does 100% precision focus on them whether working with them or building their programme. This means having the ability to not only switch ON to them and their needs but also to switch OFF from them too. This is vital to instantly change focus and do so without leaving traces of the last client or a build up to the next!

So the same ‘switch’ process I teach athletes, I utilise myself – a set process that switches me on before I engage with the client and one that powers me down after. This is the same process the athletes go through so they can perform 100% in full concentration and focus during the training session and more importantly on game day.

So how is this achieved?

The first stage is to establish a boundary – a physical and or mental line between where is work and where is not. For me it is outside wherever I am working with the client (this is a flexible boundary I maneuver as the physical venue changes frequently). So I establish the boundary line and once I cross that boundary line it’s game on, 100% them and their programme and nothing else.

Clark Kent or SupermanThe second stage is a ‘trigger’, a replicable action I set that signifies the mental transition from a mild mannered Clark Kent to Superman!

This trigger process is the same process as building an anchor to fire off a specific set of internal chemicals to initiate a set response or performance (anchoring). It needs to be unique and replicable, so with the crossing of the boundary and the firing of the trigger I become immersed in them and their world completely.

At the end of the session I reverse the process, I again cross out of the boundary and fire the second trigger to turn me back into Clark Kent or Dave Diggle! Leaving behind the emotional baggage and debris from the session. This preserves my emotional state and mental health.

This process allows a coach to be completely effective when needed to be and protects mental and physical welfare, creating sustainability and targeted focus.

This same process protects athletes from mental and emotional fatigue allowing them to be 100% committed to their sport and their careers yet allows them to power down and live a normal life outside without the hype and pressure creating a happier, healthier athlete with a sustainable career.