You might be physically fit and strong, but how strong is your mind? In the competitive arena, if you are not mentally tough, you have neglected perhaps the most important determinant of your success.
Mind training is learning to silence all of the superfluous thoughts you experience when you are trying to concentrate on a specific task. This might be during sport, a relationship, studying, or even running a business. By blocking out the waves of unwanted disturbances that flow through your mind, you will have greater focus and will achieve your goals more readily.
One of my favourite tennis matches, and in my opinion one of the greatest of all time, was the 2008 Wimbledon Final between Raphael Nadal and Roger Federer. There were countless pressure-filled moments throughout the whole match between these two gladiators that tested the mental toughness of these supreme athletes. For me, the ultimate moment came when Nadal earned his first match point.
Nadal led Federer two sets to one, with match point in the fourth set tie-breaker at 8-7. By this stage of the match, the players had been on court well over three hours. This is a long time in any arena, and the players would have been exhausted both physically and mentally. The momentum was with Nadal, it seemed imminent that he would gain his first Wimbledon crown in the next moments. This is what happened:
YOU MUST WATCH THIS FROM 5:15 – AMAZING!
Unbelievably, under the pressure of a rabid Spanish bull (Nadal), Federer still found a way to consolidate one of the hardest passing shots ever attempted. It was not so much that it was a backhand passing shot hit from the very back corner of the court, but rather the enormity of the situation during which it was manufactured. Wimbledon – the home of tennis, the Federer-Nadal rivalry, Federer’s sixth Wimbledon final, Nadal’s first, and the list goes on.
Despite all the distractions during those moments, Federer was able to quieten his mind, empty his head of all his thoughts and emotions so that he could focus entirely on the point. So just how did he do it? How did he maintain the focus required amidst a noisy crowd, the failing light, and intense pressure from his opponent?
The answer is to train your mind in the same way you would train your body. All of the professional athletes particularly in the top ranking spots, be they tennis players, triathletes, or golfers, will be engaged in some sort of sports psychology program, hypnosis methodology and/or visualisation routines. It is these techniques that will teach you to familiarise yourself with the multitude of situations that might arise during competition, and how to relax into the moment when nerves would otherwise drive you to failure.
A good place to start learning about mind training, is with Craig Townsend, director of “It’s Mind over Matter”. Craig has worked in the area of mental training for sport and personal development over the past decade.
I have used Craig’s material for both tennis and running training. As a chiropractor, I have always been keen on keeping my body fit and strong. My knowledge in this field has enabled me to remain relatively injury free and in great physical shape. My experience playing with high level tennis players however, has taught me that there is more to success in sport than just physical fitness.
Irritatingly, on more than one occasion, I have lost to players who were terribly unfit and poorly conditioned for tennis. These losses are always hard to take, particularly when you have put so much effort into practice on court and time in the gym. Yes, there are many variables that contribute to the outcomes of a match – natural talent of your opponent, stress at work or home, old or new injuries, etcetera. If you are a sportsman though, you are most likely playing in a particular age group, grade, league or some sort of general standard of play, where most of the teams or individuals you will face are of similar ability. So then, assuming all things are mostly equal between you and your opponents, what is it that will set you apart? How will you win?
The state of your mind is probably the most powerful weapon you have. By regularly visualizing favourable outcomes, playing over in your head the countless permutations of events that might unfold during a match or a race, and reciting positive affirmations to yourself, all of these habits will ultimately have you truly believe in your ability to win and/or succeed. This continuous positive reinforcement will ultimately change your attitude to reflect a determined and confident individual. Of all the highly talented and successful players I have met and played with, one thing binds them all – a winning instinct.
I firmly believe in mind training as a means to develop a winning instinct. In this way, one day you too might back yourself to go for a low percentage shot like Federer’s backhand passing shot, or some other such courageous sporting move, and reap the benefits.
Incidentally, Nadal ended up defeating Federer 9-7 in the fifth set. When there are two players so equally talented in every aspect, on a given day the only thing that will separate the two will be their desire to win. Who wants it more?
Finally spare a thought for the likes of Muhammad Ali, Sachin Tendulkar, Lleyton Hewitt, Tiger Woods, Jackie Joyner-Kersee – there are so many! What did they all have in common?
*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.