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In the "Now": From Negative to Neutral

In the "Now": From Negative to Neutral

“You have to be positive.” This is a statement almost every athlete has heard at some point from either their coaches and/or parents. But how can you suddenly be positive when consumed with frustration and a negative inner voice? Is it really that easy? The simple answer: no. The more complex answer: No, and failing to shift from negative to positive can lead to more frustration and negativity. This article offers a different perspective on making the jump out of a negative frame of mind. Instead, make the jump from negative to neutral first. For example, is it really possible to go from saying “I am the worst player here. That was so stupid” to “I can do it. Things are going to be better”? And even if the “positive” statement comes out, does the athlete really believe it? This gap between what the athlete is really feeling versus what they are telling themselves can lead to a progressive downward spiral.

Use “neutral” statements

Neutral statements are directions with no emotional attachments (neither positive or negative). Think about the simple tips you receive from your coaches. What are they telling you to do? “Win with your strengths and find your way to the net”; “Play ‘x’ pattern and find your forehand from the middle of the court”; “Take more time before playing the big points.” These are all examples of simple, “now focused” statements. Create your own and be prepared to launch when you feel frustrated.

Time is your biggest ally.

An angry/frustrated athlete tends to speed up and play faster and more out of control. Their awareness of time is lost and replaced by a negative inner voice that directs their behavior. Simply taking more time allows the jets to cool off and can give the frustrated performer a moment to shift his/her attitude to a neutral space. Consider placing a towel in the corner and use it as a reminder to slow down, or create a simple “power statement” like “1, 2, 3, let it be.”

Deploy the chute before it’s too late!

Negativity breeds negativity. As the saying goes, “Bad habits are like a warm bed on a cold morning - easy to get into, hard to get out of.” Ultimately, your responsibility is to manage how loud the negative inner voice gets, and redirect it to a controllable aspect of performance. Allowing one bad play to fester opens the door for more to follow. Start out with giving yourself a limit: for example, no more than 5 negative statements per practice/match/etc.

Prioritize your inner voice! What you say does matter and does influence your performance. While it may be challenging to jump from negative to positive, the move from negative to neutral is within reach.

3 Ways Champions Succeed in the Face of Adversity

3 Ways Champions Succeed in the Face of Adversity

Adversity is a necessary part of sport. Without challenges there are no opportunities to grow, to learn, to develop. In essence, without adversity where is the fun? Yet many athletes view adversity in a bad light and as a result they are not prepared for when it comes. Below are three ways champions succeed when challenges and adverse situations appear:

1) Champions accept what they can and cannot control. They do not get hung up on things they are unable to do anything about. For example, when they make mistakes, they are able to hit the reset button and move forward. They have trained themselves to let adversity come and go, without it negatively impacting their performance. Instead of trying to control the outcomes, or even the past play, champions remain focused on their own attitude, effort, and emotional response to things that happen on the field or on the the court. 

2) Champions see adversity as an opportunity. Elite athletes seek out challenges because they represent opportunities to overcome obstacles, to persevere, to achieve something greater; in short, the fun is in the struggle. Challenges bring out a champion's competitive spirit, which in turn brings out the best performances.   

3) Champions do the next right thing when faced with adversity. Have you ever seen a great player make a mistake? Sure you have, but watch what they do NEXT. More often than not, elite players find themselves making big plays after poor ones. They move on to the next play and put 100% of themselves into the challenge. Champions do the next right thing, which means putting the past to rest and refocusing on the upcoming opportunity. 



Do you have the "stomach for losing"?

Do you have the "stomach for losing"?

I’m not going to lie, I had some nightmares about this heartbreaking final. You don’t want it to happen again. So I was really focused on going into this match. I really wanted that win.
— Felix Auger-Aliassime (2016 US Open Boy's Champion)

Just a few months ago, Felix Auger-Aliassime had 3 match points in the final of the Junior French Open, where he eventually lost 8-6 in the third set.  Fast forward to September and Felix is a Junior US Open champion at only 16 years old.  This time, the final had little drama, with Felix winning a 6-3, 6-0 match that was never in doubt.  The quote above offers a glimpse into Auger-Aliassime's mindset and motivation and how he used the French Open heartbreak to propel himself forward.

Roll with the Losses

One of the most important skills an athlete needs to have is the ability to roll with the losses and maintain confidence and motivation. As former top 10 ATP player Todd Martin once told me, "If a player wants to be great he has to have the stomach for losing."  Especially in a sport like tennis, where there is only one player who does not lose in a tournament, having the skill of resiliency is what will eventually separate the good from the great.  But like every other skill, building a resiliency for losing must be developed, starting with an understanding of what to take away and what to toss. 

Spend your Losses Like Cash

I have a saying that a player should spend his losses like cash, meaning that he/she needs to find the value (what to learn from the loss) and use the information to move on.  I find that most players hold onto losses way too long and do not focus on the information that really matters (i.e., what needs to improve, how to prevent the mistakes in the future).  Although Auger-Aliassime was holding onto his previous loss in the finals, he directed it in a positive manner; he used it to propel himself to a higher level and take advantage of the next opportunity. In essence, he allowed the loss to motivate himself to be better.  

Put 100% of Yourself into Preparing for the Next Challenge

I shared an article a few weeks ago about former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy and how he handled being fired in Tampa. In short, he talked about turning 100% of his attention and effort to his new team (the Colts). He would use everything he learned (both good and bad) from his time in Tampa to become an even better coach in Indianapolis. This is a great approach and is how I coach players to work through their mistakes and losses; PUT 100% OF YOURSELF INTO PREPARING FOR THE NEXT CHALLENGE. The longer a player stays in the past the less time he/she has to start getting ready for the next match. 

Take control of your training and mindset. The choice is yours how to move on during tough times. Believe in yourself and trust your abilities.