Tag Archive for 'tenacia.'

Tennis: the mental approach to the match

One of the main reasons because so many young people who want to pursue a tennis career instead undergo continuous failures lies, in my opinion, in their excessive expectations and the desire to show off a brilliant style of play that they are not able to support. Federica Brignone, bronze medal  in the giant at these Winter Olympics, said that it’s needed “work and mental strength.” Unlike, be prisoners of the expectations and focused on brilliant play are exactly the opposite, because they distract the players from what has to be performed during each point.

Expectations - They are destructive. On one side is too trivial to remember that you want to win the match, because we assume that no one starts a match with the goal of losing it. This idea should remain in the background of one’s mind, if not out, since it does not help the young to be focused only on the next point. For the young tennis players, the first thing to learn is that there is just the next point to play and they must be prepared to play it according to the match momentum. Think beyond that point means to remove concentration and determination in the present and put it in the foreseeable future that cannot be controlled, because at the moment it does not exist.

The play - Many young people are focused on the play and when you ask them how many times they have achieved this strategy, they respond that only rarely they were able to follow it, even just for the duration of one set. In my opinion, they fail because they start from a wrong assumption. To show a play style is a point of arrival and not of departure, it will be achieved through a mental journey which they are not yet able to support. Furthermore, to think about the match is an abstract concept, they need to be focused on the specific actions that, instead, should make in trouble their opponents. So, really, the players think too much and in a global way and they are not oriented to how to perform the next step.

Roberta Vinci in the match won against Serena Williams, said her thinking about the game was: “Run and throw it in there.” What do these words mean?

Run - Put in evidence you need to be fast and this physical readiness starts from the mental readiness, which triggers the reaction. This behavior happens in receiving when you are on the front of your feet ready to shoot forward and in the continuous “hopping” showed by the  champions also during the warmup. Tennis requires to be fast and, typically, this is lost when we are losing, the speed slows down we get depressed and the mistakes grow up.

Throw it over there – It means to play a deep ball without running excessive risks, waiting for the opponent mistake or the right moment to close the point. This approach to the match highlights the personal toughness in pursuing the own goals, maintaining the control of the game. Otherwise the tennis players may tend to slow down too much the play rhythm or to speed up the game, looking for brilliant shots to quickly close the point.

Then the match is a continuous succession among these moments:

  1. be fast
  2. to hit the ball that
  3. must be deep and
  4. play with the opponent at least 4/5  shots to make the point, and
  5. use the breaks to relax and
  6. refocus on next point
  7. to be fast again …

 

The culture of mental toughness

The development of mental toughness has often been regarded as a strictly individual factor and we have few information to understand how the sport organizations show and build their culture of toughness and how this promotes the athletes’ toughness .

The article by Eubanks, Nesti e Littlewood (2017), A culturally informed approach to mental toughness development in high performance sport, IJSP, 48, 206-222, revived some new insights about this topic.

The purpose is to explore the importance of culture in the development of Mental Toughness (MT). This is done by means of a critical review of the current literature that exists in relation to the conceptualisation, definition and development of the concept. We argue that despite recent advances in our understanding, most research into MT has focused on the characteristics of mentally tough individuals. Although important and useful, the role of the environment, culture and context, and how these impact MT and its development has been given somewhat less attention and is perhaps not well integrated into practice.

The notion of Mental Toughness (MT) being broadly represented by “the ability to achieve personal goals in the face of pressure from a wide range of different stressors” (Hardy et al., 2014).

One of the criticisms frequently levelled at psychology as an academic discipline is that it often focuses on the individual, and forgets, or ignores the environment within which the individual exists.

Culture may be best seen as the hidden yet influential force, involving core values, beliefs, and traditions that operates as a type of soft power, which shape the working practices, ideas, strategies and philosophies of groups and individuals.

Weinberg et al. (2011) focused on the views of ten National Collegiate Athletic Association head coaches, who reported that a tough physical practice environment, a positive men-tal environment and an environment that provided mental toughness awareness and learning opportunities were fundamental to MT development.

The authors said that is clear that the optimum environments to build MT are those that are imbued with a challenging and stimulating culture, where personal responsibility is emphasised in all things.

 

Toughness makes the difference between winners and losers

I was asked what is the decisive psychological characteristic for an athlete. My idea is that there are many skills that must be developed from the basic ones (self-control, imagery, constructive self-talk and learn from experience) to advanced covering such as stress management and the attention training to those relating to the lifestyle of the athlete.

But what makes the difference between winners and losers? Their reaction to competitive pressure, challenges and mistakes.

The psychological ability that emerges in these moments is the toughness; we can even call it perseverance, grit or resilience. Basically it means to compete or train at the best even after an error occurs, when tired, in times of greatest stress, when aware that you must do absolutely the best.

If they are not supported by toughness the other psychological skills will get worse. An athlete can have a good self-talk  but in decisive moments if not supported by toughness, his/her self-talk can become negative. An athlete knows what to look for and how to adapt him/herself to the race situations, but faced with an unexpected can lose this ability, if it’s not supported by the toughness, which is the conviction to be able to compete at the best in these moments too.

Therefore the question is: how and how often is trained this skill?

Be focused to be tough

... the most important aspect of mental toughness in Tennis !

The focus is on the present. To show a consistent focus during all the points means be tough.

The winning athletes’ main competences

The psychological skills the athletes must show in competition and in training are often difficult to list, because the risk is to do a very long and too generic list. Nevertheless, today I would like to try to identify, from my point of view,  the skills that can represent milestones in the athletes’ sport careers.

  • Self-control – it means knowing what are the behaviors to put in place to address the competition requests. The self-control requires respect for opponents; at the same time the athletes must be the leader of themselves, to overcome the difficulties posed by the races and opponents with the aim of providing the best performance.
  • Readiness for action – the athletes are persons oriented to act and therefore they must be ready to kick a ball, pulling a shot, to run in a precise rhythm, to anticipate opponents, to start rather than conclude effectively a race and so on. Readiness goes with high levels of situational awareness: the athletes have to know what to do at any given time and do it at their best.
  • Toughness and resiliency – I did not completely understand the distinction between these two psychological concepts, but I believe the athletes should continue to do the best even when they are tired, when all seems lost, during the decisive moments, at the end of the race, when they feel confused but know they have prepared an action plan for those moments.
  • Attention – Robert Nideffer said the attention is the only important thing in the decisive moments. I agree and, that is the reason, I consider it as the ability allowing to lead the mental commitment. The athletes have to know what to look for, knowing when to use a broad attentional style oriented toward the environment rather than a narrow attentional style, more focused on very few external factors. Without proper attention they cannot understand what is going to happen and to move in advance.
  • Optimism – The explanation of the performance results is an important factor, because it determines the expectation in relation to the future competitions. Humans are often engaged to explain their positive and negative results. It is therefore essential, the athletes develop an optimistic perception of their performances, because if they explain the positive results in term of luck or lack of competent opponents is unlikely they improve and gain a winning mind.

Love the challenge and be tough

Juventus low motivation

In soccer, the sport competition is a situation where the performance of a team is compared to the standard required for that event. In addition, each team should show on the field the desire to overcome difficulties through collaboration among the players, while to the opponents should be dominant the competitiveness. Certainly a team needs talent players but nobody definitely win if there is no integration amomg the players’ behavior, if it lacks the group cohesion. These concepts are not to be thought of as good intentions, general and non-specific, because they are the basis of the winning teams. If you apply these principles to the present condition of Juventus it’s evident, at a glance, that the behaviors of the players in the field do not match, if not in small part, to these simple rules. It lacks the so-called team spirit and a united group, which are important objectives to address effectively to cope with with a  challenging season and highest level. We do not forget that the motivation should be a psychological dimension always present and independent of the quality of the game. Indeed, precisely when there may be uncertainties or difficulty performing the work required by the coach, as it’s true for Juventus at the start of this season, it becomes imperative for the players to be on the pitch with the fighting spirit and tenacity required to whom is part of a team. It’s maintaining high the motivation to play that the players, the team and the coach could think only about the technical aspects of the game and not on the misbehavior of the team, not so motivated in the field. In moments of crisis it serves the leader, Allegri, send a few ideas that are clear, specific and perceived by players as achievable since the next game. The team needs to know that it takes time to improve the collective quality of the game but that combativeness and toughness are mental qualities that should be present until the next match. Otherwise Juventus will continue to play with the excuse that if the team does not have a good play or it’s few time that the players are together, this approach will determine the lack of confidence in following the instructions of the coach. In addition, the core of the team represented by the defense players as a whole has done little to show on the field this attitude and to motivate their mates, they will have to commit much more. Juventus now has a team humiliated by the superficiality with which it approached this new season. The biggest mistake by the managers was to say it would be a transition year, thus giving players the perception that it would not be so important to maintain the standards of the past. Now they have discovered that losing the games, because of the inability to be a team and to react immediately to mistakes pleases no one and leading the team into an abyss; we’ll see if they will be able to motivate everyone to play with the right intensity to show the capabilities of the team. The task of Allegri is not only technical but he has to help the team to change emotional minset, he will have to explain that there is no excuse for anyone in the field and that it serves combativeness and toughness.

The team psychological skills

The team psychological skills I think most influence the play and the performance are the following.

Collaboration – Each player has the responsibility to actively contribute to the team cohesion. This attitude must be trained every day, it’s the structure that supports the team and it’s based of relationships among the players, the coach, the technical and health staff and the managers. It’sessential that everyone in the team has a well defined role and specific goals. Each player must accept his position and be committed and engaged. Who was not convinced must quickly clarify his position, otherwise he will not engage fully in the team.

Fighting spirit and toughness – In every game are positive and negative moments; the team as a whole has to find the positive in the difficulties and the team skill is to think that this is the time to demonstrate the ability to resist and then to behave in combative and tenacious way. Concentration and self-control in the field must serve to moderate the excesses of aggressive behavior that can result in impulsive and too fouled behaviors.

Concentration – it means to do the right thing at the right time. It concerns to follow the guidelines coming by the coach but also the management of the thoughts after a mistake, in times of increased pressure of the opponents, in the crucial moments of the match but also after scoring a goal we should not relax but stay focused.

Competitive stress management  - Emotions are difficult to manage effectively and this is why so often limit the performances. There are those felt by the young players, who have to learn to manage their role not only in the game but also in daily life and there are those of the more experienced players, who must also continue to maintain their  emotional commitment balanced. In connection with the game it’s necessary that everyone can find the optimal emotional condition to start the match well. The players should identify what are the emotions that allow them to play well and those which hinder them,working to consolidate what it’s good.

Self-Esteem – I often say to the athletes I work with that to be a champion it takes courage and humility. Courage to think that I can achieve great things with the team, so have confidence in me and at regards of the teammates, and then have the humility to commit myself every day to achieve this dream, step by step. To accomplish this task is not easy, because it’s easier to dream without engaging or to try to do the best but without an idea in the mind of what / how he’s doing. In a team confidence it’s not just a personal issue but it’s also a collective factor to build and to keep growing.

The mental skills of the EG winners in Baku

Attending at European Games in Baku, I learned once again that in order to provide a high level of performance, that is, to perform at the best of your ability are necessary patience, toughness and motivation.

Patience is needed to get in that state of mind which the athletes have to repeat during the event what they have been prepared in training. When you are not in this state of mind it’s easy to become impulsive, rushing the action or to slow down for fear of making mistakes. In either case the athletes make a mistake and lose the movement fluidity, speed and accuracy.

Toughness is necessary because in every race there are hard times and mental and physical difficulties to be overcome successfully. Tenacity indicates how the athletes are combatives and persistents in this attitude throughout the race. In times of increased competitive pressure or after a mistake they have to work  to quickly find the optimal mental state to pass this obstacle. Many athletes instead fall into this trap, because they do not accept the difficulties and therefore not undertake to reset the mind and with patience to find the best state before continuing. They are not ready to continue, thinking instead that these mistakes should not happen and then they do not put in place a plan to correct immediately.

Motivation is necessary because it’s an expression of the intensity with which people want to achieve a specific goal. To compete the intensity must be at maximum, otherwise the athletes can not engage with patience and tenacity. International athletes want to win but some of them remain focused on this idea rather than focusing on what to do to achieve this goal. If stalled in the first phase, the motivation is nothing: it’s like to have a powerful  revving engine without to put the gears as it should.

Toughness during recreational activities

We often speak abou in ret toughness in relation to athletes’ performances, but we must not forget that it’s a skill psychological very useful for people who do recreational sports as a leisure activity. In particular, it’s used to support these different situations:

  • Manage emotions and the body activation in difficult moments
  • Feel fully involved in the activity that is taking place
  • Do the exercises as a pleasant challenge
  • Recognize and appreciate the beneficial effects of the persistence of this habit
  • Perceive the physical effort as needed to improve the personal and social well-being
  • Recognize and appreciate the little weekly improvements
  • Support motivation when tired