1/ I’m here, I’m ready, I’ve got this! Back yourself
I remember standing on the Advantage side of the tennis court of a national tennis tournament in the quarter finals against the 4th seed. I’d beaten a seed already in the round of 16 and was a dark horse with no track record. I lost the first set in a tie breaker and took confidence in knowing it was tight but it was all starting to unravel in the second… At 5-2 down I wasn’t ready to go home and before I knew it I was facing match point, receiving serve thinking “he’s going wide for sure, back yourself, step in and crush it down the line”. He served a bomb wide, I stepped in and crushed a two handed back hand up the line for a clean winner and my opponent called “let”. Fuck (I thought, how could that kick serve possibly have clipped the net? What a wanker).
The mind games, cheating and external factors that are present in tennis matches and sport are remarkable, and there is little you can do. So you learn to move on and control the control-ables or you become effected by them, lose focus and lose the match. With a heart rate of up around 180 beats per minute, chest thumping, sweaty palms and an unwillingness to just roll over, I stepped up a second time to receive serve at match point down. I cleared my mind, got present and thought to myself “Step in, take it early, crush it up the line”. He went wide again, I hit the exact same two fisted backhand even harder than the one before it for a clean winner. I pumped my fist, encouraged myself for being so positive and managed to fight my way back from 6-7 2-5 and match point down to win 6-7 7-6 6-4 and find a place in the semi finals.
One thing I learned from playing competitive tennis for 10 years was that the past does not equal the future. In other words, just because the other player had a higher ranking than me when the match started, a better track record than me, or was playing better tennis than me up to that moment or point, none of that really mattered. What mattered was, who could back themselves and deliver, now.
2/ Do not fear the killer python, get curious about it?
Screaming, sweating and in a world of pain was a common thing for me as a 14 year old when I would be face down getting treated on my physic’s work bench for my latest injury. Whether it was overactive quads, tight gluteus maximus or unbalanced back muscles leading to nerve pinching elbow pain something was always screwed up and I never knew how to fix it. One of the worst feelings in the world is that feeling of being useless or broken and its hard to stay focused and like you are moving toward your athletic performance goals. Some people whinge and moan about being injured, it becomes their story that they tell everyone and injuries have become some type of killer python that no-one wants to ever encounter…
Unfortunately they happen, even if you are not lifting like an idiot. Injuries happen and they will either deter you from ever being involved or light a fire or curiosity in you that leaves you seeking answers and progress.
When your focus is “No, no, no, I’m injured, I’m screwed, I’m an idiot” then you’ve dropped the ball. No progress is going to come from that and even when you resolve the injury if being injured to you means being an idiot then you will probably never do very well in sport or achieve very much. You must have a healthy respect for yourself and be prepared to learn along your journey of physical development.
Injuries are often the bodies greatest teachers, when the body says fuck you, don’t treat me like this anymore, you have to listen because it hurts. Injuries are there to help us to treat our bodies with respect and as we increase the demand, load and frequency of training we must also increase the recovery, mobility, rest and education we have to support such demand.
Ideally you will manage your training in such a way that injuries are rare. Should you be suffering from one now, perhaps consider new possibilities:
– What can I work on now instead to become a better athlete? – What was weak before that I can now strengthen? – What is there to learn from this so it doesn’t happen again? – Who else can benefit from this with me?
Its amazing how its the things the everyday person sees as a set back or a reason to stop is actually the very lesson that takes the inspired, curious athlete to the next level.
3/ Be organised
It was my first time in Berri, South Australia and I was at a reasonably high level tennis tournament where the athletes who were 800 in the world or below were chasing points and trying to better their world ranking. I was 17 years old and there to try and qualify for the tournament. I arrived with my mum a day early to get used to the conditions and energise my legs after spending 8 hours sitting in the car from Melbourne. Mum and I went to the courts early and I was too embarrassed to hit with my mum, however I was also sitting at the courts fearing that no-one would hit with me. I had my own self esteem issues at the time, I was in the company of players that I considered better than me, older than me and more experienced that me but mum convinced me to ask around for a hit. I walked the courts with my head down and eventually watched a group of 3 for around 10 minutes before asking them can I join in? They said What? I repeated a little louder, can I join in and after they all looked around and at each other for a few seconds, one replied yeah okay. I breathed a sigh of relief when he said yes, then for the next 5 minutes the lads started teeing off forehands at me, hitting guard and deep and I was shanking the balls everywhere. My arm hurt from not warming up properly and 5 minutes after joining them the lads said, we are done mate, good luck tomorrow. Needless to say I felt worse than before the hit. I’d barely hit one ball in the court and now I had 3 people in the tournament laughing at me and how bad I was. Tells you a bit about how I thought back in those days.
The next day I did everything I could to prepare properly for the match except find a hitting partner. It was probably the worst preparation I could have. Going into a tennis match and barely hitting a ball for 36 hours. I did do a couple of runs, footwork drills, visualisations and lots of prep match stretching and affirmations and managed to play a pretty good 3 set match that day. Unfortunately it wasn’t good enough and I learned that being prepared and organised matters. We plan our tournaments 6 months in advance, our fitness programs 3 months in advance, organised hitting partners weekly and it comes to a tournament and I had no pre match preparation. Now that I think back, its pretty silly.
How can you apply this? Whether you are competing or not, treat your training like a competition:
Think about what you want to achieve
Consider the actions you need to take
Surround yourself with elite coaches and thinkers
Network with others involved
Treat every day like a competition, plan, prepare, execute.
Life starts to look pretty damn good when we prepare for success by being organised in a way that leads to great performance. When we back ourselves even when the chips are down or the moment is big, we will handle it, that we are here, we are ready and we have got this opportunity to be a winner, to be our own hero. Life starts feel great when we no longer fear what we don’t know and turn our focus to every day becoming better.
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