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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.

Pressure is Earned

Finishing under pressure.  It is what separates good players from great players. Unlike other sports, tennis players have to win the last point, they have to finish. If a basketball team is up by 20 points with a minute to play, they do not need to keep hustling on defense or keep executing on offense (although the coaching staff would certainly want them to do both). The player in the lead is playing with all the pressure, while the player who is behind is playing pressure-free. Have you ever noticed how your opponent plays the best point of the match when behind set/match point?  As Agassi pointed out in his book, there is an unstoppable force that exists when nearing the end of the match; either a force that is pulling you closer to the finish line, or the force that keeps you from it.  When the force pulls you closer everything is going well, you can do no wrong.  But when the force is against you it feels like nothing you do will get you closer, you can do nothing right.  

So how do the best players in the world finish?  In the 1988 US Open finals, Mats Wilander said he served and volleyed on match point because his hands were shaking so much from the nerves; he knew he would tighten up even more if he played from the baseline.  Todd Martin worked on getting his thoughts more structured and present-focused in the months after his loss to Mal Washington at Wimbledon (Martin held a 5-1 lead in the 5th set before losing 10-8; he had two chances to serve it out). Martin began seeing himself play against Richard Krajicek in the finals, and ultimately he lost his focus and choked. To answer the question above...the pros work on it. They get nervous just like you do, they get tight in big moments just like you do. But they get to work on developing the skills to overcome the nerves and this is what separates them from their peers. They find effective ways to manage the nerves and the pressure, and quite frankly, they learn to handle it better than everyone else. As famed tennis coach Chuck Kriese always says, "Pressure is a privilege." To be in a position where you feel pressure means you have done something well to get to that point. You are in a position to win. Finding your own answer requires 1) awareness of which situations bring about the most pressure, 2) trying different strategies to better deal with this pressure, and 3) being in a position to win and face the pressure. 

Approach the end of matches with a new mindset and arm yourself with new ways to perform under pressure. Your opponent will usually play better when behind, so it will take you raising/maintaining your level to finish. Here are a few ideas to implement in your own game: 1) keep your intensity higher than your opponent's with positive reactions and a strong walk, 2) focus on how you like to play and win with your strengths, 3) do the work in between points by executing your routines and relaxation skills, 4) reframe how you look at pressure and change the dialogue in your head (from "I am so tight", to "I've earned this pressure") and 5) fully commit to each shot (hesitation or second-guessing only increases the nerves). Some players never learn what pressure is all about because they are rarely in a position to win. Struggling to finish matches is actually a great sign, as it means you have put yourself in a position to win. But to go from good to great you will have to eventually find what works for you when faced with these situations. Earn the pressure and persevere.