What makes a true champion?
A true champion is someone who wins under the harshest of pressures and nearly always delivers when they need to.
So what defines a true champion? What makes Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Tiger Woods win time after time with what looks like and inability to choke? The strong trend and correlation between them all is an indestructible confidence, frightful competitiveness and an unshakeable trust in their game.
These global phenomena are seen in every generation. I believe strongly that the champions are made in the training hall, not by the number of hours they train but how they apply themselves is what sets them apart from the rest.
Second to all of the above they have the ability to turn it on when it most counts. Djokovic time and time again looks on the very brink of defeat entering the all-important 5th set of a very important match, but converts it so effortlessly to an easy 6-2 win, without any hesitation. How?
Have a goal every session
Many of us train but just go through the motions and swing our arm, in the hope we will feel good at the end of the session. Make sure you put emphasis on a particular outcome you would like to achieve at the end of the day however big or small, then monitor progression and adapt goals accordingly.
Competitive approach and targets
When doing a simple drill, think about a match play scenario how you would feel doing this rally in a match. Set yourself a specific target (“I must make 10 shots on the table, any less is unacceptable and consequently I would lose if I didn’t make them”). Play games with your opponent or in your own head by carrying out the exercise but score it from 9-9. All these things will help you perform when the pressure is on.
Do the small things in life right
How many of us leading up to a tournament have the right diet or the optimal amount of sleep or carry out a perfect strategic physical programme? This type of practice will set you apart from the rest. Running on Christmas day, making sure your bat is right, having your bag ready the night before so your mind is clear and not anxious, preparing healthy nutritious snacks for throughout the competition day so you maximise your energy levels. All of these mentioned will help build your confidence, as the saying goes
“fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.
Tactics and forward thinking
So leading up to the tournament you are playing great often better than you have ever played before, but all of a sudden come tournament day you feel like you cannot play. This is not a coincidence; this is the power of the mind. When practicing we feel free and relaxed and we often think of other things even when practicing. However when we enter the playing hall our focus suddenly becomes very introvert and all of our focus is on ourselves, how we feel, how we look etc. Try to turn your focus on your opponents, have a clear tactical strategy for everyone you play. Don’t think about rhythm when warming up, turn your focus to how am I going to win the point, what serves should I practice, which direction should I play. This way of thinking will in turn take all your focus away from yourself and allow you to play on instinct which is what you know best as this is what we all do in the training hall.
OK so by now you probably know by reading this, I believe greatly in the mental side of the game.
By following the advice listed above, and practicing in the right way, this will help build your confidence. This will allow you to think “I deserve success as much as anyone, so I can do it”. It will also prepare you for very tight moments, for example when its deuce, you will be used to putting yourself under pressure, as you do it in training every day, in the right way!
If you have a problem with nerves, or struggle to perform at your best when you most want to, or you always seem to play better in practice and just wish you could do the same in a tournament, or if you are coach looking to create the next superstar, I hope this has helped.