Are you a consistent tennis player but can’t seem to play well in major competitions? During those big competitions, do you become consumed with self-doubt? Are the expectations of winning too great for you to perform well? Does your performance unravel at major tournaments leaving you with the thought, “Here we go again?” When a tennis player has difficulty breaking through to the next level, it can be difficult to imagine a way through it. Doubts lead to negative thinking, anxiety and fear of failure, which greatly affect a player’s physiology and ability to perform optimally. Playing with doubts can make competitions overwhelming and unenjoyable for an athlete.
Andy Murray, tennis player world-ranked No. 3, had experienced a lot of success in his career. Despite his ranking, Murray was unable to win at a Major. In 2012, Murray lost in the semi-finals at the Australian Open, he lost in the quarterfinals at the French Open and he lost in the finals at Wimbledon. Murray then found himself competing in the finals of the last Grand Slam event at the U.S. Open against rival Novak Djokovic. During a rest break with the match tied at two sets, Murray gave himself a pep talk while staring sternly in the mirror. The result was his first singles Grand Slam victory, 7–6, 7–5, 2–6, 3–6, 6–2.
The pep talk helped Murray transform his mindset and assist him to focus on winning—something that he does not do normally: “I never talk to myself. Not out loud… That is why that toilet break was so unusual. I stood in front of the mirror with sweat dripping down my face and I knew I had to change what was going on inside.”
Although he was being a little negative, Murray knew he have to overcome his mental gremlins. “I had to get a grip of my mind. So I started talking. Out loud. ‘You are not losing this match,’ I said to myself. ‘You are NOT losing this match.’ I started out a little tentative, but my voice got louder. ‘You are not going to let this one slip. You are NOT going to let this slip. This is your time. You have never been closer than this to a grand slam. Give it everything you’ve got. Leave nothing out there.’”
Murray admitted it felt weird at first but started to feel something change inside, “I was surprised by my response. I knew I could win.” When Murray returned to the court, he felt confident and focused as he continued his positive self-talk. Murray credited his mental game for helping him achieve his victory, “The mind is so important in top level sport, where the difference between winning and losing is so tiny. When I came out, it was totally different.” Murray also gave credit to his coach Ivan Lendl (who experienced similar circumstances early in his career), “I mean, I think he believed in me [Lendl] when a lot of people didn’t. He stuck by me through, yeah, obviously some tough losses the last couple of years.”
How can an athlete gain the killer instinct and break through at major competitions?
- You must recognize you have the ability to succeed.
- You must foster the confidence necessary to compete at an elite level.
- You must be able to manage your emotions and convince yourself that you can win.
- You must focus on the present point.
- You must train and prepare yourself like the champion you want to become.