The first area I will cover in detail is the most important; I always say to the player nothing happens neck down unless a lot happens neck up. The picture below is of Maria Sharapova, no doubt one of the toughest competitors on the tour, her life experiences have created a tough and intelligent athlete, an athlete who went on to win the greatest titles in the world of tennis, because of what she was capable of through her mental strength.
Using the mental skills programme has without doubt made it possible for me to achieve the coaching and management successes I have had. Not only have these skills supported athletes that have had a very balanced journey through their development lives, but also athletes who were not so lucky and needed much more intensive support in this area.
Often I will ask older athletes who never quite reached the level of sport they had dreamed of “What let you down, where did you feel the weakness was” 80% of them will respond with weaknesses that stemmed from the mind.
Developing Strong Character
As a coach or parent, we need to help the athlete develop a strong character, solid emotions and mental skills from a very young age. You have the opportunity to support your player in this immensely important area; it will pay dividends in the future.
The image below is probably one of the greatest examples of creating the environment that affects the athlete; without doubt Uncle Toni was a master at this. But one thing I know for sure, for an athlete to be affected by the environment, they first must have the strength to survive the hardships and extreme overloads of the environment. Rafa had the inner strength and the immense will to survive the tough experiences which Uncle Toni unleashed on him, together they brought unique skills and character to the table and the rest of course is one of the greatest tennis stories in history.
On the tour, I had a few personal experiences of the man, all I can say, through these experiences is that Rafa is a very special human being, a person who developed an extreme level of athletic mental strength and character, but a man who has retained a humbleness and politeness that is rarely seen amongst “The Normal” of us, let alone a sporting superstar!
I want to strongly emphasise, those who have taken this subject seriously and have committed to training their minds, have transformed their training and competitive lives, athletes from club to officially-recognised world class athletes, including:
Competing At The Top Level
Athletes who I had the privilege to work with, those who struggled for many years to break out of regional level sport and earned their international badges and who are now competing at the top of their sport.
- Those who have won multiple National titles.
- Those who have twice won double Commonwealth Gold medals (individual and team) in their chosen sport.
- Those who have won European titles and world medals.
- Those who have prepared for the greatest tournaments in the world, Grand Slam main draws and the Olympics.
- Thinking about psychology as a parent or a tennis coach is not about becoming a psychologist; it’s about addressing areas of psychology that are massively important to the player and their performances. Psychology can be as much about how the parents, coaches and the team around the player think and act as much as about the player and the way they manage their mental skills.The meaning of psychology is quite interesting and very much reflects what I like to refer to many times during chats and training. It means the study of the soul and the spirit. Every athlete will need their soul and their spirit when training and competing; these words are used very often by coaches or commentators on television, “they’ve given their heart and soul out there”, “what spirit they have shown”.This spirit comes from without and within, from the environment, team and training venue and ultimately from what the player was born with and what they have developed from their life experiences, environment and the people around them.Below are images from without doubt the most famous family in tennis, The Williams Family. These images below clearly show how those around a player can be very important to the mind-set of the player. Serena here is shown surrounding herself with her mother, father and friends. This has been important to her, and has obviously played a part in the person she is today.
I would like to tell you about an experience I had at an AMS presentation at Ipswich Town Football Club, it was an open event, for any parent, coach or athlete that was in the sporting business. I finished my presentation and this complete stranger approached me afterwards, a father of a local athlete and asked for my personal support. What happened over the next two years is an example of what can ultimately be achieved by commitment and the power of the mind.The father seemed to have exhausted all development avenues and could not elevate his daughter out of good standard club level. Her dream was one day to be selected by her federation to compete at a major National arena and win a gold medal and National title, compete to challenge for a position to represent her country and eventually compete against the best in the world. Many ridiculed her dreams and made fun of her because they believed that from her level, her dreams and expectations were unrealistic.I’ve got to admit, it was a big ask, but I watched a lot of video footage, had a number of meetings with the athlete and family and came to the decision, it was difficult, but definitely not impossible.I identified straight away that this athlete had very low confidence and self-esteem, it was limiting her potential, and over time with support she rebuilt herself, from the inside out, physically and mentally. I am very proud to say that she DID get selected and won Gold at the National championships, gained selection for her country and competed against the best in the world with her countries badge proudly displayed on her kit. This is an incredible story, and it was an incredible experience for the athlete and for me, but what it does prove, is anything is possible if the potential is there and you are willing to work as hard as you can and for as long as it takes.The image below is of Li Na, in 2002 she left tennis to study at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) this was an unusual decision, but she did complete her bachelor’s degree in journalism. At this point who would have thought Li Na had the potential to rise to her highest ranking of No.2 WTA in the world and also win the biggest prize in tennis, a Grand Slam title. Ultimately, she committed, prepared her mind and realised her tennis dreams, her story is quite amazing.
Head Coach AMS Tennis