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Breaking Through Losing Streaks

Breaking Through Losing Streaks

Every athlete will go through a period when they find themselves in a slump. Vince Spadea once lost 21 straight matches on the pro tour. Aratxa Rus lost in the first round in 17 straight tournaments at one point in her career. Ouch. There are other losing streaks, of course, such as Andy Murray losing 4 Australian Open finals to Djokovic. This is one of the most common topics that athletes bring up during training: How can I break this losing trend? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

It's Easy to Complain, Hard to Find Answers

Get all the complaints out of your system, and after you do, it's time to buckle down and search for answers. I find that players struggle to get out of the complainer cycle, and as result are late to arrive at the doorstep for change. Ultimately, this is a choice you have to make; engage in finding problems or engage in finding solutions. Take Andy Murray's press conference after his Australian Open loss to Djokovic (the year Novak appeared to be injured during the start of the third set, then rolled back to win in 4). The press were hounding Murray with questions related to Djokovic's apparent gamesmanship. Murray never took the bait, and actually placed blame on himself; he stated there was a 10-minute stretch where he lost his focus and he did not recover until it was too late. The easy way out would have been to point fingers and place blame somewhere else. Instead, Murray shouldered responsibility and put himself in a position where he could move on.

Dig for the Positives Hiding in the Junk

Below is a short article on how Grigor Dmitrov worked through his struggles in Grand Slams. The main take-away? He recognized that losing early in tournaments gave him extra time to train, and thus, extra time to get things right. A coach once told me, "You are either getting closer to the answer, or you are getting farther away. You never stay in the same place." Dmitrov was moving forward, even though the results were slow to catch up. He continued to develop his game, focus on his strengths, and create solutions where problems existed. This is a mental attribute that Dmitrov has developed; the ability to be honest with himself, but also find a positive (which represents a launching pad for moving forward).

Lay it All On the Line, Every Time

This is essential if you want to get out of your funk. By laying it on the line, you give yourself an opportunity to evaluate your current standing, as well as what you must work on next. I see players struggle and go into tank-mode, which creates a crutch for excuses to follow. Be consistent in your effort during competition so you can gauge your progress.    

Confidence Comes from Knowing Your Game, Knowing Your Strengths

Simply put, you have to know who you are as a player (game style, purpose, personality, strengths). More often than not, a player going through a losing streak tends to make things too complicated, or has drifted away from his/her game style. Be the best version of yourself! Therefore, take the time to sit down and write out what makes you, you. Write down your game style, your on-court personality, your strengths, etc. In doing so, you can create a road map for getting back on track.

Commit to The Struggle, See the Bigger Picture

Commit to your struggle and realize that these phases are there for a reason; to challenge you as a player, to challenge you as a person. In looking at these times as opportunities to develop, you build resiliency and a tolerance to withstand even greater challenges. Be sure to surround yourself with positive, tough coaches/players who will keep you accountable. Keep searching, keep grinding, keep moving forward. 

As we end 2016, take some time to reflect on your year and also start mapping out 2017. What do you need to improve? What are your goals? How will you achieve these goals? Where do you want to be a year from now? Good luck and happy training.

Finding the Small Wins in a Loss

I have been working hard for a long time. I said enough about the nerves. I was nervous during the matches last year. Working hard every day slows that down... The victories help. Still not 100% perfect, but it is much, much better.
— Rafa Nadal after winning Monte-Carlo

Nadal's win in Monte-Carlo represents his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title since 2014, and more importantly, represents a return to championship form that he has been lacking over the past 2 years.  Injuries, age, and a surging Novak Djokovic have not helped Nadal's road back to the top, but here he is once again holding the trophy in Monte-Carlo and marching his way to Paris.  It took a champion's mindset and approach to fight through the struggle and the setbacks, and Nadal's experience is full of learning opportunities for all players.

One of the most common questions I get from players is "I am working hard, but why aren't the results coming?" These are players who are returning from injury, making changes to their games, or who simply have not broken through the way they thought they would by that point in their careers. Regardless of the situation, the message is pretty much the same; each time you step onto the court is an opportunity to go out and get a step closer to where you want to be. Find the small wins in the losses as a way of maintaining and building your confidence; in doing so, your mindset will become more engaged in personal progress and finding solutions. 

If you go back through Nadal's press conferences over the past year, you will hear him working through this process of finding small wins.  In Buenos Aires and Rio, Nadal lost two three set matches, and while he was not happy with the outcomes he was pleased that he kept competing through his struggles. This year at Indian Wells, Nadal pointed out that even though he is losing to Djokovic, the fact that he is going deeper into tournaments to play against him is a big step forward.  Further, he noted that he was gaining more confidence in his forehand, and he was more competitive against Djokovic than in prior meetings. Not surprisingly, Nadal stated his forehand and level of competitiveness were the main reasons for his success in Monte-Carlo. 

Maintaining confidence is an active process, especially when going through difficult times. If you choose to focus on the negatives, you will keep finding the negatives at every step along the way. By finding the small wins in the losses, you train your mind to sift through the negatives and locate what you can build upon and what you can control.   

The opportunity hiding behind adversity

Three and a half hours, 7 match points saved, injury timeouts for cramping, 95 degree weather, and a great opportunity. This was the setting in the semi-finals of a 14-and-Under Super National event. Down 6-1, 5-2, 40-15 after only 35 minutes, my player, who I will call "K" was struggling mightily. After a great win in the Quarters, in which he played very well, his game suddenly abandoned him in the Semis. But resiliency kicked in and K saved four match points in the 5-2 game. His opponent tightened up and cracked open the door for a comeback. Over the next three hours, K would go on to save three more match points, win the second set in a tiebreaker, go up in the third set before getting tight himself, deal with a long injury timeout from his opponent for cramping, and ultimately drop the deciding set 6-4. His opponent would spend part of the evening in the hospital getting IVs, and would amazingly show up the next day and take the title. K, even in the loss, would be left with something equally great; recognizing the opportunity hiding behind adversity.    

Later that evening I asked K what was going through his head during that 5-2 game, facing two match points. His response; "At first I was just embarrassed at how fast I was losing, so I just tried to hang on as long as I could to make it look better. Usually when I get that far behind I am not able to get back into it, but I kept telling myself I could do it this time. At 3-5, I was still way behind, but it was at that point when I started believing that I really could come back. So I just thought of it as a challenge and I kept pumping myself up after each point. I lost but I felt like I did something I had never done before." It was in that moment that K saw the opportunity, which had been disguised by the challenge and adversity he was facing. The opportunity was to overcome a challenge, to prove to himself that he could come back, to fully commit to the competition in front of him. If K had simply rolled over or quit competing at 5-2, he would have never experienced the emotional and physical roller coaster ride. Further, he would have missed an opportunity to learn something about himself and become a more resilient and confident player in the process. 

How do YOU approach adversity and challenge? How do you view situations like playing the #1 seed first round, or having to play in windy conditions, or having inconsistent play during matches? If you are willing to redefine what "challenge" means to you, then adversity can represent an opportunity to learn about yourself, to experience new things, to persevere, to build confidence, to develop new skills.  Start thinking about what adverse moments impact you the most. Is it playing on certain surfaces or in certain conditions? Is it playing against grinders or counter-punchers? Is it dealing with weather delays or injury timeouts?  Identify what challenges you the most and then come up with solutions to more effectively deal with those situations.  Shift your mindset, focus on a positive approach, and then act on it.