Wednesday, 10 July 2013

To be a champion forget about winning

It was fantastic to see Andy Murray finally make history by becoming the first British Men’s Champion of Wimbledon for 77 years. One of the crucial elements of his success in the last year has been down to the work he has done with his coach Ivan Lendl on the mental side of his performance. In previous years, he struggled with a consistent mindset and allowed his emotions to take him over. The thing that struck me in particular this year was his resilience, most notably illustrated in his match against Fernando Verdasco in the Quarter Final match where he came back from 2 sets down.

There was, however, a crucial point in the Final when it almost went wrong. With a seemingly impenetrable lead and serving for the match he worked his way to 3 match points. To everyone watching the Wimbledon Championship was now a certainty. Surely! However, the great champion Djokovic had other plans winning the next 4 points taking him to break point. If Djokovic had won the next point the whole match may have had a very different outcome.

So what nearly went wrong? Well, Andy gave us an insight into his thinking at match point in an interview the next morning.  “When I went to 40-0 up I was thinking in my head “I am about to win Wimbledon”, so very rarely would you lose your serve from 40-0 up, and then a few points later I am facing break point.”

What this tells you is that his mind was on his outcome not on his performance. Winners do not think about winning they think about performing. To be a champion of any sport it is important to be able to get yourself into what athletes often refer to as the ‘Zone’ or ‘Flow’. The ‘Zone’ is when performance is unconscious, you trust your skill and you are completely absorbed in the task in hand. This essentially means being in the present and taking one point at a time. If you think about winning your mind goes into the future which takes you out of the ‘Zone’ and makes your performance more conscious and mechanical. In extreme cases this can lead to ‘choking’ when a performer becomes over conscious and loses trust in their skill and is overcome with nerves. This happened to Jana Novotna in the 1993 Wimbledon Ladies Final when she had a point on her service to go 5-1 up in the final set against Steffi Graff only to freeze, serve a double fault and then go on to lose the remaining games in less than 10 minutes. Fortunately, Murray managed to show his resilience again by getting back to focusing on one shot at a time and getting himself into the ‘Zone’ to finish of the match.

So, if you want to win, forget about winning and focus on performing.

Andy Barton