Tag: Tennis

Why sportspersons need a sports psychologist early?

Nick Kyrgios
Nick Kyrgios, Australian Tennis Player -Image from The Sydney Morning Herald

The life of a sports person is a long hard drawn battle with the inner self. Left to itself the inner self is a competent master capable of delivering lethal blows that would pulverize the enemy in to submission, but when doubted, this master would be reduced to a humble slave to its pseudo master. By referring it to as the pseudo master, I am talking about our conscious thinking mind and the all pervading real master-as the inner self, that which has an infinite capacity beyond human imagination. More often the human being is a victim of the idiosyncrasies of the thinking mind: the pseudo master who jeopardizes the maximization of  learned potential.

This is what most performers go through, especially so with sports persons- with all their innate abilities, effort, sacrifice, dedication and discipline, the ultimate result is not in line with their dreams, desires and expectations. There is something wrong! Ideally your best performance can be had when you are not thinking and you let your inner self [the subconscious] to do the rest. But is this possible in this world of intense competition, professional goals and big dreams?

The athlete is a victim of his own thoughts that would lead to poor self belief, lack of concentration, performance anxiety, pressure, stress and muscular tension. And it has mostly to do with the realm of the unknown and events that are yet to unfold- that lurking fear beneath – the fear of loss.

Even otherwise, the sports person has issues not related to his game [family, career, finances, relationships, injuries etc] that would heckle him constantly. The life of a professional athlete is a roller coaster ride, with highs and lows- threatened by uncertainty and anxiety- facing lots of pressure and expectations from outside and within.

It is sometimes too much for the individual to absorb all the pressure, however strong he appears to be. Remember, the greatest test for a person is when he is challenged by adversity and setbacks. This is when he looks around seeking professional help and it is then the sports psychologist steps in to perform the role of a friend, guide, motivator, counselor, therapist and a mind trainer.

Besides lending emotional support to the individual in various ways, the psychologist teaches the athlete techniques for enhancing performance-like assisting him to develop positive mindset, to be in the present, focusing on the process, and allowing things to happen. The athlete is also taught with breathing techniques, emotional regulation, handling pressure, goal setting, visualizing a positive outcome and mental toughness.

Recently British Tennis player Laura Robson announced that she is working with a sports psychologist Richard Hampson to help revive her injury prone career.

http://www.tennisworldusa.org/news/news/UK_Tennis/39743/laura-robson-discloses-she-is-working-with-a-sports-psychologist/

Formula one racing champion Nico Rosberg recently disclosed that he had worked with a sports psychologist before winning his first ever world championship racing title. Rosberg has said hiring a sports psychologist was one of the key factors for him claiming the world championship.

http://www.foxsportsasia.com/news/rosberg-on-life-after-formula-1/

Nick Kyrgios, the rising Tennis star, has been found guilty of uncontrolled emotions and bad temperament on a few occasions and has now agreed to work with a sports psychologist to overcome these behaviors.

For years sports psychologists have worked with teams and individuals ranging from recreational, amateur, professional and Olympic athletes- helping them to enhance their performance and lending them emotional support.

Sports psychology and psychological skills training is an important cog in the performance wheel that deserves its rightful place.

M N Viswanath, author of Success Mantra In Sports and sports performance coach, he can be reached at viswanath.author@gmail.com

The book Success Mantra In Sports is available on Amazon and flipkart. To book your copy you can click here, amazon

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Veterans show the way in mind games

Veterans show the way in mind games

The last week of January 2017 has seen some spectacular performances in games like tennis. When I talk of these standout performances I am not referring to teams but speaking about a few individuals who with their actions have made the world stand up and applaud them. I can’t resist but mention the names of Roger Federer, the king of Tennis, Serena Williams obviously –the queen of Tennis, Venus Williams and Mirjana Lucic Baroni. To add to this list of elite performers the names of Martina Hingis and Leander Paes would certainly fit the bill.

Federer on January 29 won his fifth Australian open title to make it 18 grand slams: the highest by any in the world in the men’s category.

Serena won her the Australian open on 28 January 17, to make it 23 singles grand slams surpassing 22 by Steffi Graf. The world record for the highest grand slams for women in the world now stands in her name.

Venus Williams entered the finals of the same Australian Open when she lost to her sister Serena. She has won 23 grand slams that include singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Venus failed to reach a single grand slam quarter final between 2011- 2014 as she battled injuries and suffered an auto immune disease- Sjogren’s syndrome , a disease that causes joint pain and saps you of your energy.

Mirjana Lucic Baroni a woman tennis player made it to the semi-finals of the recently concluded Australian open when she lost to Serena Williams. It had been 18 long years since the last time she made beyond the quarter final stage of a grand slam event [ In 1998 she had teamed up with Martina Hingis to win the women’s doubles of the Australian open].

Martina Hingis a sensational teenage star retired at an early age of 22, only to return to a glorious career in Women’s double and mixed doubles: and is still going strong. She has already been in successful partnerships with two other Indian Tennis legends Sania Mirza [women’s doubles] and Leander Paes [mixed doubles]. Her record stands at 22 grand slam wins – that include singles, doubles and mixed doubles. She is also an Olympic silver medalist.

Leander Paes, probably the greatest male tennis player India has produced has 18 grand slam titles to his name with 8 in men’s doubles and 10 in the mixed doubles categories. He is an Olympic bronze medalist for India.

What’s common in all these greats– they are all over 34 years of age- with Mirjana at 34, Federer and Hingis at 35, Venus at 36 and the oldest is Leander Paes at 43. It was once thought that it is impossible to be the world’s best beyond the age of 30, but the above set of players have defied logic and proved to the world that age is just a number. Over the years, when the teen age players burst in to the professional circuit and caused a lot of upset wins over much established players. The analysts said that the physically challenging games like Lawn Tennis are a youngster’s game and the seniors beyond 30 years didn’t stand a chance. The purists are now forced to sit up and take notice of the happenings. The average age of professional players has risen from 25 few years ago to 28 years for men and 26 year for women in the current circuit. There are more players over 28 years of age now in the top 20 than before.

The secret of greatness: Great players have known to possess qualities like : ability to work hard, dedication, determination, mentally toughness, hunger and passion for excellence, internal motivation, to be able to enjoy what they are doing and a burning desire to be the best in business. The ageing bodies, slowing reflexes, staleness, adversities, nagging injuries, poor performances, and lack of continued motivation have forced many older players to move out paving way for the younger crop to continue the legacy they left behind. But Federer and co, have managed to sustain these qualities that took them to echelons in their sport, despite the setbacks that came to them in different forms at different point of time. They have bounced back with renewed vigor, every time people said they were finished. The message is clear-True stars are never finished and they shouldn’t be discounted. Many of these players are still have the fire in them and not ready to call it quits.

What is the secret of their longevity?

Though the game of tennis has remained the same: technically, advances in technology [ Quality of racquets, and shoes] training equipment and sports sciences- nutrition, mind training has taken the quality of the game to unthinkable levels. In a way these advances in technology and training have definitely helped the players in the advancing years of their careers. I have listed the factors that have helped these players to be the best, beyond the age of 30.

  1. Advances in technology: offering a range of high quality shoes and racquets that are lighter but generating more power than before. Hence the player’s effort is reduced to a certain extent enabling him to conserve the strength and the stamina. High power racquets have made the game more aggressive. Defensive game and longer rallies are a thing of the past unless the players are evenly matched.
  2. Experience:  Countless days of relentless deliberate practice, exposure to tough match situations on number of occasions, ability to play the big points under pressure based on their past experience has given these senior athletes have given them an edge over their younger compatriots.  Experience has taught these older players on how to be more strategic and tactical.
  3. Emotional control and self awareness: this ability is what separates the quality players from the lesser known’s. It is said competitive sport is all about controlling emotions and be able to remain calm and relaxed mentally under pressure. The senior players have mastered this ability to remain on top despite their advancing age.
  4. Physical conditioning: Professional players in most sports pay a lot of attention to physical conditioning in order to remain in top shape these days. Tennis professionals are no exception to this. They can afford to travel and train with their fitness coaches and this has given them bonus to stretch their bodies beyond the expected tenure. The quality of gymnasiums with advanced training equipment and scientific training methods and coaching standards is at the core of their longevity in a physically taxing game like tennis. This perhaps is the number one secret to their longevity.
  5. Style of play: the earlier style of play was mostly the serve and volley style and trying to reach the net at the smallest opportunity. But the present trend is mostly a baseline game, where players run more across the court from the base line than up and down towards the net. In this way they conserve their energy for the longer games.
  6. Taste of success: the younger days of professional sport is all about making money, more and more of money with fame and security. But, with advancing years it is more of ego– a quest for excellence and wanting to be the best. Having tasted success they do not want to give it away in a hurry. It is all about achievement motivation- wanting to push the boundaries of human endeavor and achieve more- Roger Federer and Serena Williams are a great example to this.

Federer and Rafa Nadal who have achieved in their life didn’t have to fight like men possessed against each other on 29 January at the Australian open – but they did wanting to prove  superior to the arch rival.

  1. Enjoyment of the activity: Success comes to you as long as you don’t feel it is a burden and you continue to enjoy the activity. That is what the greats have learnt to do – to be in the present moment and play as if tomorrow does not exist.

Zlatan Ibrahiminovic, at the 35, the Manchester united super star footballer, Al Hydari the 44 year old Egyptian goal keeper, Rangan Herath  at 38,Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni at 35 [ cricketers] are on the other side of 35 but continue to make news.

The age of an average human being has increased all over the world so has the life of a sportsman and woman in their sporting careers. The older the better- may the tribe prevail.

Look forward for the feedback, write to mnvnath@yahoo.com.

( M N Viswanath, author – Success Mantra In Sports and Sports Psychology Coach)

Great comebacks in world of sports – Fairytale stories of cricketer Yuvraj Singh and tennis sensation Mirjana Lucic Baroni

1-desktop7To some it is a dream run of long careers and to others it is a short aborted career, but for many, it is a vanishing act at some point of time – only to return from exile and extend their careers.

The world of sports has witnessed great comebacks from tennis players such as Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Kim Clijsters and Mirjana Lucic Baroni [current sensation].

Mohinder Amarnath a former Indian cricketer was famous for his comebacks. Yuvraj Singh is another currently making news after his sensational comeback during the last few weeks. Likewise, there are a few other athletes from other games too, who have returned successfully to competitive sports after long layoffs.

Of course all comebacks have not been great, it has given heart breaks to a few such as Bjorn Borg and Justine Henin [tennis], Mark Spitz and Ian Thorpe [swimming], Mohamed Ali [boxing], Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson [basketball] Mike Powell [athletics- track & field] and Michael Schumacher [formula one racing].

January 2017 has witnessed two sensational comebacks in cricketer Yuvraj Singh and tennis player Mirjana Lucic Baroni. Yuvraj, now 35 years of age, scored 150 in the second one-dayer and 45 in the third one-dayer against England, while Mirjana 34, has made it to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open 2017.

Both players are known for their never-say-die attitude, mental strength and optimism. They faced strict, demanding and ill-tempered fathers during their younger days. While Yuvraj survived a cancer scare after 2011, Mirjana’s life was riddled with personal trauma, financial constraints and injuries.

Ever since his return to the Indian team, the dashing all-rounder’s tenure in the Indian team has been a roller coaster ride: he has seen himself frequently in and out of the Indian team. It has been 18 years since Mirjana has made it to the quarter finals of a major tournament [as on 24/1/17]. As a 15-year-old teenage prodigy, she won a WTA tour title and also the junior girls’ singles at the Australian open. She then teamed up with the young Martina Hingis to win the doubles title in 1998.

Her life has been a fight against adversities, financial constraints and frustration due to disappointing performances. In fact, Yuvraj Singh was thinking of retirement at a time when he was recovering from cancer and struggling with his fitness. But, he shelved his plans of retirement and challenged himself to get back into the team.

Yuvraj is always known to be a tough cookie- he still had a lot of cricket left in him and a burning desire to get back to International cricket. He proved himself in the domestic circuit scoring 672 runs in five games that forced the selectors to impose faith in him and paved the way for return against England. The rest is history.

Mirjana’s performance in the ongoing Australian open is highly impressive as she has beaten the likes of Agnieska Radwanska and Jennifer Brady on her way to the quarters.

Sporting history has long brought to light instances of elite sportspersons having retired early with a lot of game still left in them and then trying to forge their way back to competitive sports: the results have been a mixed bag of success and failure.

Elite athletes retire early for different reasons:

  • They may have reached their pinnacle and achieved the highest: as a result there is no motivation to achieve
  • Adversities of different kind, such as the loss of a loved one, accidents and serious injuries.
  • Relationship issues
  • As victims of substance abuse
  • Sudden slump in performance etc. There are several instances when they have been left out of their national teams due to poor performances: this is when they try to force a comeback.

Why it is a mixed bag in the form of results when they make such comebacks?

Competitive sports is a hard uncompromising arena where lots of hard work, sacrifice, sweat and tears goes into the making of champions, coupled with a burning drive to succeed.

When a person goes into complete retirement and a long layoff follows, the intensity in the feelings that bring about success takes a plummet and it is extremely difficult to derive the same psychological mindset that once made them a champion.

There is a huge physiological impact also with the body becoming slow and muscles not getting the exercise they need to stay in shape. Bjorn Borg, Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe and Mike Powell made unsuccessful comebacks after a long cooling period from their game.

It is possible for a player, who, at his peak was forced in to oblivion to stage a comeback if he continues to put in the necessary efforts and associate himself with the cutting knife competition of the modern era, even it were at a lower level. The athlete needs to adapt himself to the changing scenario mentally, physically and strategically with his advancing age and mind.

It is a miracle to get back to your winning ways after your farewell, so think twice before you want to return because it takes a lot from you to do so.