It's been a while since I've posted an article on the Tennis Server! It's
great to be back this month to talk about sport psychology in Delray Beach,
the closest tournament to my home, for the third straight year.
I recently attended the International Tennis Championships of Delray Beach.
Writing about this event and working with players here the past few years, I
think I'm starting to enjoy Delray Beach more than the US Open! The tennis
is so up close and personal, players, coaches and fans intermingle freely,
and the practice courts are as interesting to watch as center court on
Sunday. Thanks again go to Co-Tournament directors Mark Baron and Fred
Stolle for this gift of superior tennis, and to Lisa Franson for her
wonderful efforts and for keeping us all in line in the media center. Thanks
also go to your editor Cliff Kurtzman for having created this forum to
spread the word about tennis and the enormous impact of mental skills. An
amazing 8 years and still ticking!
Some of you may have noticed the increase in awareness among players and
coaches about the essential role of sport psychology in player development
and performance. Everyone is collaborating to offer the best in mental
training to the players. Players benefit most from a team strategy where
coaches, parents, sport psychologists, physical trainers, and others work
more as a team for mutual success.
I'm always refining my understanding of what it means to perform well
mentally. Much of this is acquired through talking with the best players and
observing their play. Last year in Delray Beach, for instance, players
shared their insights with me about how to close out a match, something I
call the "killer instinct." This year, I looked for action, watching for
on-court examples of mental strength. I'll share these in the article.
Let's take a look at how players in this year's singles matches displayed or
failed to display six of the important psychological skills. Whether you're
a coach, player, or parent, these examples will help you reach a higher
level in all your pursuits.
Robert Kendrick displayed enormous heart and passion, winning six straight
matches and reaching the semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Jan
Michael Gambill. He truly seemed to be having fun out there with his winning
personality and love of the game. His talents will only get better with than
kind of attitude. Passion is a good starting place for many accomplishments.
Paul Goldstein, Michael Llorda, Ricardo Mello, and Robert Kendrick all
showed amazing resiliency in bouncing back from the adversity of losing a
set to qualify for the main draw. Goldstein earned his berth by roaring back
from a first set loss to win strong 6-0, 6-1 against Frantisek Cermak.
Kendrick overcame a first set loss to Michael Russell, Mello recovered from
a second set loss to Jose De Armas, and Llorda came back after losing 1-6
in the first set to Alex Bogomolov. These players are all filled with an
abundance of resiliency. The message is to never give up - no matter what
the score - and see adversity as opportunity.
It's very important to keep the emotions in check - and anger is a common
problem at all levels. In first round action, Nicolas Kiefer became visibly
angry a few times on critical points against Jan Michael Gambill. Leading
2-1 in the second set, his obvious anger disrupted his play and lead to two
careless errors on ensuing points. Later with the score tied 4-4 he again
lost his cool, smacking flowers with his racket. End result, Gambill's
relative emotional control persevered, and Jan Michael went on to win his
second Delray Beach title.
Marcello Rios made it to the semi-finals with a fine display of focus,
taking out Morrison, Verkerk, and Lee before succumbing to the surprising
Mardy Fish. One could see the focus in Rios' eyes the moment he stepped onto
the tournament site. He looked like a man possessed, on a mission to win!
His focus continued well into the tournament as he resisted visual
distractions left and right, he held off serving and returning until he was
completely ready, and he controlled his eyes in between points be focusing
on the strings. Proper focus needs to be practiced just like a forehand or
Mardy Fish, for his part, gained a ton of confidence from the support of his
friends, family and local buddies painted with the letters F-I-S-H-Y in a
cheering section. He earned his first final of his career and gave Gambill a
run for his money in the second set. In the press conference following the
match, Fishy showed why he is a force to reckon with for many years to come.
He was not only confident on court, but modest in describing his abilities
afterward. This talent will continue to rise.
Flavio Saretta seemed to lack killer instinct after winning the first set in
the quarters against Gambill. Many would later say that he tanked the final
set which he lost 6-0. While I am not one to judge whether this is true or
not, it was curious that Saretta's head dropped, his intensity wavered and
his sense of urgency in the third set appeared nonexistent. When you are up
you have to know how to close out an opponent. When you are down, keep on
fighting. Love challenges, especially when the going gets rough, and you'll
be in a great place mentally.
If you want a suntan and some great tennis in March, come down and to the
International Tennis Championships. Delray Beach is a great resort town by
the sea with cozy restaurants and a European downtown feel. The tennis is
up-close and excellent. Keep pushing your mental skills to a higher level
and I'll see you again soon!