Most of us saw Novak Djokovic’s dominating win over Rafael Nadal in the finals of the 2019 Australian Open. Usually, coaches, parents, fans and even the athletes themselves write off this kind of big win as: “He just played great.” But this explanation is often too simplistic. In sports and in life, we tend to miss the larger story beyond the score. The underlying reasons for the win are not just skill, talent, technique and physicality, but also that which is unseen. I call this a player’s “More.” The More is a unique combination of heart, energy and spirit that fuels and sustains performance, even under the most adverse of conditions.
To get a clear picture of a player’s More in competition, imagine Roger Federer playing against Nadal. In both players, you see skill, but you also see a synergy of heart, energy and spirit. This is their More, and it is what makes these athletes champions. Part of Nadal’s More may be his unbelievable grit. Federer shows us his More when he exhibits his calm and stylish grace. Mark Twain pointed to the More, when he said, “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.”
Bringing your individual More to the court is often the difference between winning and losing. We see the elements of your More when we look below the surface—the heart, energy and spirit braid together in symbiotic relationship with skill, talent, technique and physicality, like a steel rope, that once intertwined, the sum is greater than the parts.
The first part of the More is the heart. Heart manifests as desire. Think about Nadal. Rafa has a tremendous love of the game. Rather than looking at his opponent as better or worse, he respects the opponent as a person, and is grateful for being able to play. He is not playing with expectation or ego, he is playing for love … his love for competition and the game, and love for always trying to be the best that he can be. If you think of something greater than yourself when you play, it can power your game. In doing this, clients of mine have identified their big “I,” an inspiration for playing. It might be to inspire other young siblings or disadvantaged athletes.
The second part of the More is their energy. How many times have you heard a commentator discuss a player’s energy or the crowd’s energy feeding a player? Think about a grueling five-set match when a player’s emotional energy fluctuates up and down, similar to an EKG. Energy can shift from none to low, to balanced to hyper, to overwhelmed. Like anyone, Federer’s energy shifts throughout a match, but he always knows where his energy is, and he is able to stay in control of his game because of it. Observing junior tournaments, one can sometimes see players forcing points from a state of hyper-energy, rather than patiently waiting for an opportunity to attack. Without knowing it, they keep pressing, until they finally feel so overwhelmed, they crash. Conversely, if you are playing tight and in a state of low energy, by focusing on your breath or movement, you can bring it back to balance. Knowing where your energy is can be a critical part of staying balanced, and staying balanced is one of the keys to peak performance.
The third part of the More is spirit. Spirit is a person’s spark, their passion and resiliency. Spirit is how a player navigates success, failure and adversity during competition. Think about Novak Djokovic … his spirit is unlike any other player’s. There is a calm, Zen-like way about him, yet he also has a beautifully explosive spark to him. This allows him to manage adversity, while others players crash under the same situation. Spirit is not about the knock down, it’s about the get-up. When you play, you can show a strong spirit by bouncing back rather than spiraling out of control or giving up.
A player is more than an athlete. Athletes are often trained based on their skill, talent, technique and physicality, but a player is more than that. Their More—the combined effort of their heart, energy, and spirit—actually defines their game. Playing from their More is really the only way an athlete can maximize one’s full potential. Next time when you see a player pull off that great win, look below the surface. Sure they may have played well, but why did they play well? Most likely because they were connected to their More. When a player brings who they are to what they do, More happens … every time.
Rob Polishook, MA, CPC is the founder of Inside the Zone Sports Performance Group. As a mental training coach, he works with athletes helping them to unleash their mental edge through mindfulness, somatic psychology and mental training skills. Rob is author of 2 best selling books: Tennis Inside the Zone and Baseball Inside the Zone: Mental Training Workouts for Champions. He can be reached by phone at (973) 723-0314, by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, by visiting insidethezone.com, or following on Instagram @insidethezone.