We have all seen “It,” either as a player, coach or fan. The “It” I am referring to is a player in the throes of a slump. Maybe “It” is a tournament winless streak like Novak Djokovic is currently experiencing due to what he calls “personal issues.” Or maybe “It” is missing the last six months of the 2016 season like Roger Federer due to an injury. Or even saying flat out, “you don’t have what it takes,” like Sergio Garcia said in 2012, prior to winning the 2017 Masters. Sometimes the “It” is a perfect storm where the personal, injuries and mental issues accumulate and create a big tangled knot!
The most common “way out” is by trying harder, maybe hitting 1,000 more serves, or maybe grinding by adding more tournaments to get in more match play, or even increasing your intensity by being uber-serious and forcing your game. However, this never works, it’s common knowledge that all this does is make the knot, slump or block tighter. It just adds more frustration, anger and anxiousness to the equation. Sometimes it leads to a shutdown of the athlete because they feel like there is no way out.
But indeed, there is a way out …
It starts with awareness to the knot (slump) and not following the traditional route of trying harder, which makes it close to impossible to untangle the knot. Instead, we want to try softer by untangling the knot, ending the slump and starting fresh.
Below the surface, from an emotional perspective, the idea is to “be” with the tangle, not to struggle and inadvertently tighten it. By “being” with it, you can become aware, shift your focus and learn what might be holding you back.
In my work with clients, I call it providing yourself CPR. Yes, I’m talking about emotional cardio-pulmonary resuscitation! Certainly, if your best friend was in a high stress situation, rushing and on the verge of a shutdown, you wouldn’t think twice about jumping in and helping. Let me suggest you do the same for yourself. How? By providing some much-needed CPR to get yourself back to a place of balance, stability and focus.
It’s a three-step process …
►Compassion for self (and others): Here we are talking about allowing yourself to be imperfect. In fact, being perfectly imperfect! Being yourself. Compassion is about accepting and loving yourself, no matter what happens. Giving yourself unconditional acceptance without comparisons and not valuing your worth based on the results. Recognizing that what happens on the court is not a reflection of who you are as a person, rather what happened in the competition.
►Patience: Here, we are talking about focusing on the process and away from the outcome. Breaking elements down into small pieces where the focus is on what you can control. When you lose focus, not getting angry and calling yourself a “head case!” But rather, refocusing on what you can control. It means taking your time, allowing things to unfold and sticking to your rituals.
►Resiliency: When a player has compassion for themselves and is patient, they will be able to be resilient under pressure. Here what happens is actually not the most important thing, but rather, being aware, adapting and adjusting to what happened. We have all seen some players (think Nick Kyrgios) unravel when a fan screams from the crowd. Whereas, if the same situation happens to Roger Federer, he will acknowledge it and move on. Having a wide range of resiliency allows a player to experience ups and downs, but not get off track.
In summary, missed shots, lost sets and tournament losses will happen. However, the key is not to panic, label yourself as mentally weak, or struggle against what’s happening. Your call to action to attain peak performance will come from being aware, centered and relaxed. Not from rushing, over-trying and applying more pressure. No matter the situation, give yourself CPR. You are worthy of it! The capacity already exists within you, it’s not something you acquire from the outside. Only when you’re compassionate with yourself, patient and resilient can you untangle the knot. Then, mental skills such as breathing, visualization and rituals can be layered in so you can be your best both on and off the court.
Rob Polishook, MA, CPC is the founder and director of Inside the Zone Sports Performance Group. As a mental training coach, he works with athletes and teams at the middle school, high school, national, collegiate and professional levels. His work focuses on helping athletes and teams gain the mental edge, often the difference between winning and losing. Rob has spoken to athletes, coaches, parents both nationally at USTA, USPTA, ITA conferences, and has conducted international workshops and has worked with top-ranked juniors in India, Israel, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. He was awarded the 2008 USPTA-Eastern Division High School Coach of the Year Award. He may be reached by phone at (973) 723-0314, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.insidethezone.com.