Sports Psychology Column – Apr 1, 2003 – By Dr. John F. Murray – It’s been a while since I’ve posted an article! It’s great to be back this month to talk about sport psychology in Delray Beach, the closest tournament to my home, for the third straight year.
I recently attended the International Tennis Championships of Delray Beach. Writing about this event and working with players here the past few years, I think I’m starting to enjoy Delray Beach more than the US Open! The tennis is so up close and personal, players, coaches and fans intermingle freely, and the practice courts are as interesting to watch as center court on Sunday. Thanks again go to Co-Tournament directors Mark Baron and Fred Stolle for this gift of superior tennis, and to Lisa Franson for her wonderful efforts and for keeping us all in line in the media center.
Some of you may have noticed the increase in awareness among players and coaches about the essential role of sport psychology in player development and performance. Everyone is collaborating to offer the best in mental training to the players. Players benefit most from a team strategy where coaches, parents, sports psychologists, physical trainers, and others work more as a team for mutual success.
I’m always refining my understanding of what it means to perform well mentally. Much of this is acquired through talking with the best players and observing their play. Last year in Delray Beach, for instance, players shared their insights with me about how to close out a match, something I call the “killer instinct.” This year, I looked for action, watching for on-court examples of mental strength. I’ll share these in the article. Let’s take a look at how players in this year’s singles matches displayed or failed to display six of the important psychological skills. Whether you’re a coach, player, or parent, these examples will help you reach a higher level in all your pursuits.
Robert Kendrick displayed enormous heart and passion, winning six straight matches and reaching the semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Jan Michael Gambill. He truly seemed to be having fun out there with his winning personality and love of the game. His talents will only get better with than kind of attitude. Passion is a good starting place for many accomplishments.
Paul Goldstein, Michael Llorda, Ricardo Mello, and Robert Kendrick all showed amazing resiliency in bouncing back from the adversity of losing a set to qualify for the main draw. Goldstein earned his berth by roaring back from a first set loss to win strong 6-0, 6-1 against Frantisek Cermak. Kendrick overcame a first set loss to Michael Russell, Mello recovered from a second set loss to Jose De Armas, and Llorda came back after losing 1-6 in the first set to Alex Bogomolov. These players are all filled with an abundance of resiliency. The message is to never give up – no matter what the score – and see adversity as opportunity.
It’s very important to keep the emotions in check – and anger is a common problem at all levels. In first round action, Nicolas Kiefer became visibly angry a few times on critical points against Jan Michael Gambill. Leading 2-1 in the second set, his obvious anger disrupted his play and lead to two careless errors on ensuing points. Later with the score tied 4-4 he again lost his cool, smacking flowers with his racket. End result, Gambill’s relative emotional control persevered, and Jan Michael went on to win his second Delray Beach title.
Marcello Rios made it to the semi-finals with a fine display of focus, taking out Morrison, Verkerk, and Lee before succumbing to the surprising Mardy Fish. One could see the focus in Rios’ eyes the moment he stepped onto the tournament site. He looked like a man possessed, on a mission to win! His focus continued well into the tournament as he resisted visual distractions left and right, he held off serving and returning until he was completely ready, and he controlled his eyes in between points be focusing on the strings. Proper focus needs to be practiced just like a forehand or backhand.
Mardy Fish, for his part, gained a ton of confidence from the support of his friends, family and local buddies painted with the letters F-I-S-H-Y in a cheering section. He earned his first final of his career and gave Gambill a run for his money in the second set. In the press conference following the match, Fishy showed why he is a force to reckon with for many years to come. He was not only confident on court, but modest in describing his abilities afterward. This talent will continue to rise.
Flavio Saretta seemed to lack killer instinct after winning the first set in the quarters against Gambill. Many would later say that he tanked the final set which he lost 6-0. While I am not one to judge whether this is true or not, it was curious that Saretta’s head dropped, his intensity wavered and his sense of urgency in the third set appeared nonexistent. When you are up you have to know how to close out an opponent. When you are down, keep on fighting. Love challenges, especially when the going gets rough, and you’ll be in a great place mentally.
If you want a suntan and some great tennis in March, come down and to the International Tennis Championships. Delray Beach is a great resort town by the sea with cozy restaurants and a European downtown feel. The tennis is up-close and excellent. Keep pushing your mental skills to a higher level and I’ll see you again soon!
This was an article on sports psychology.