As a sport psychologist, Im always looking for ways to help players gain the mental edge. This can be accomplished in many ways, but the correct attitude and drive are necessary before any technique or strategy can be properly implemented. Since youre on a computer now, lets call it your hard-drive. Whether you are a professional player or coach or just a weekend hacker, its wise to study and understand this internal motivation or essential desire. Before we begin, Id like to share a very simple but effective model of performance that I use in working with athletes.
Talent/Physical Skills + Hard Work/Effort/Discipline + Mental Skills = Performance -->
Lets take a look at each area. Talent and physical skills are a combination of your innate ability and what youve acquired through learning. This is the relatively stable factor that changes little. To improve in this area you could turn the clock back and choose better parents, take many lessons, or play tons of matches. High skill and talent level are essential, but never enough. The pages of history are filled with talented failures.
Hard work, effort and discipline are fundamental driving forces behind any success. Without these elements, you are spinning your wheels. Your ability to make practices and lessons challenging and your ability to stay properly motivated helps, and provides our main focus today.
Mental Skills represent another key area. We often use many kinds of mental skills including the classics of Confidence, Focus, Intensity Regulation and so on. I like to refer to them as mind-body skills because nothing is purely mental. Your thoughts and feelings influence your actions and physical sensations all the time. The quality of your thoughts and feelings change how well you hit the ball and vice versa. But the key is to take this area as seriously as any other area.
All three of these major areas come together to produce performance. Notice that I did not say success. Its really impossible to control outcome, but by performing better youll ensure a better outcome. It also takes a lot of pressure off the student when you focus simply on performance. Let the outcome take care of itself because it often gets in the way.
So, how can you boost your hard-drive? Ive listed a few principles to aspire to below:
PASSION & ENJOYMENT
First of all, make sure that you enjoy what you are doing. Its very difficult to excel at something you dont enjoy. To find greater passion and enjoyment, think of the following:
- Allow success to occur. Structure lessons and practices so that it fully challenges you, but where success occurs more frequently than failure. This increases perceived competence and motivation.
- Reward yourself for proper performance including good effort, sportsmanship and match wins.
- Praise yourself and others both verbally and non-verbally (comments such as good job, pat on the back).
- Make learning interesting by varying the routine.
- Involve others in decision making.
- Make sure goals are realistic and tied to performance rather than only to outcome
- Make learning fun.
EFFORT & DISCIPLINE
Desire is truly essential in every point of every match in order to create a winning formula. It is the most important factor in any success. Below are some tips:
- Reduce excuse making it reduces uneasiness but does not promote performance or growth.
- Take full responsibility for negative outcomes. This increases perceived control. Without perceived control, lower goals are set and effort declines. A downward slide continues and you may take on less and less responsibility.
- Do not accept mediocrity. Have realistic but high performance standards. Jack Welch at GE fires the bottom 10% of his managers. Rid yourself of useless and harmful habits and see your performance rise.
RESILIENCE & ADAPTABILITY
Michael Jordan once said that he "failed over and over again" and that is why he succeeded! Jordan was very resilient and look where it led him! Here are some tips for you:
- Practice emotional control over anger, boredom, and anxiety.
- Increase your competitiveness by learning to love the struggle more. Get comfortable with the worst possible situation and the rest is a breeze. This promotes toughening.
- Draw from the support of others. Talking is very good.
- Take frequent short breaks. This increases joy and ability to stay fresh, and the ability to bounce back too.
Get in the habit of practicing and playing with more joy, effort, and resilience, and all your effort and desire will pay off in performance. It may not guarantee a win against Roddick or Rafter, but you will perform better, and that is a worthy pursuit in itself. Have a great time watching the US Open and Ill see you next month. My humble predictions:
Andy Roddick and Venus Williams.