Saturday, June 3, 2017

Agassi’s role: ‘Mentor’ or ‘Coach’?

The problem with being the best is that it becomes almost impossible not to become utterly narcissistic in the process.  The belief that you are the best in the world may result in you becoming so damn full of yourself that you might just unthinkingly grab the camera out of your wife’s hands to better make kissy-faces to your audience – and forget to thank her for the daily grind of helping you with your mission.

I believe that every extremely successful tennis player risks becoming utterly narcissistic.  Heck, I almost became a narcissist myself after I finally won my first league match!  I lost my head for a moment and started telling our opponents how thrilled I was that I had finally won a match, naively expecting them to actually be happy for me!!  It took a minute for me to realize that they could actually give a crap, especially after having just been informed that they had lost to a typical loser.

Unsurprisingly, an increase in the genuine belief in oneself also naturally follows expert levels of accomplishment.  But, over time, this may be followed by expansive egotism as others keep reminding you of how great you are, as they elevate you to heady levels of regard.  It becomes hard to resist the lure of narcissism as a by-product of stellar success.

(Part 3 of 3)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

‘Coach’ Becker and the problem of narcissism

It is without a doubt that Boris Becker brought his own brand of magic to the Djokovic team.  I call it magic because that is what the psychological advantage often feels like – a magical touch that was either not there before, or had not been there for a long time. 

When Becker arrived in 2013 to Team Novak, it took them all a minute to adjust and figure out what they could achieve together.  By 2014, they had figured it out.  Then ensued three years of undeniable brilliance.  During this magical period, Djokovic won six Slams, three majors, 14 masters, a Grand Slam, and the coveted #1 ranking.  He also married his childhood sweetheart, and they had their first child.

But by the end of 2016, Djoko’s phenomenal run was spent.  After tumbling unceremoniously from #1, he split with ‘coach’ Becker, explaining that they had achieved what they had set out to achieve together.  He also alluded to “private issues” which everyone assumed to be marital in nature, though, to my knowledge, he has never confirmed this. Jelena certainly seems to have remained a fixture in his life.

(Part 2 of 3)

Monday, May 29, 2017

What does Agassi really have to offer Djokovic?

It’s pretty clear that Novak Djokovic has been going through a mental (and possibly physical) slump ever since finally winning the French Open last year.  It’s almost as if, having achieved the Grand Slam, he has struggled to hold on to the motivation to keep striving. 

This is likely because, psychologically, it takes a different kind of motivation to keep striving after one has achieved than is needed to achieve in the first place.  Early achievement is often driven by blatant hunger.  But once that hunger has been satisfied, it is important to shift your psychological motivation in order to keep achieving.  The old strivings fueled by hunger may no longer work once one has been satiated.  Djokovic seems to be a good example of a player who may be trying to figure this out.

(Part 1 of 3)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Investing in the Olds

There is something to be said for continuing to invest in talent and experience.  I can think of few fields in which the more experienced masters are pressured to get out to make room for the young.  Sports can be desperately cruel.  Tennis has mastered the art of rejection because of age.

In this tennis is no different from Hollywood.  The movie industry is littered with the career corpses of actors who can no longer pretend to be ingénues.  Take Jennifer Lawrence, who went from playing 16-year-old Katniss to a 40-year-old mop sales woman.  There is no room in movies for the Olds.  Or maybe just for Meryl Streep.

But Meryl is a fantastic actress not just because of her talent but also because of her tremendous experience. The more you do something—especially when you have a talent for doing it – the better you become, and the more confidently you perform.

Sadly, there have been many tennis careers in which talent was clearly wasted on the young.  When such players retire, I say good riddance.  If you can’t appreciate the talent and opportunities you have been bestowed, I won’t waste my breath applauding you. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Honoring the Olds

This was a beautiful weekend.  Yes, I am pleased with the results.  I couldn’t handle it if Rafa had crushed Fed – never mind Fed’s breezy insistence that getting to the finals was winning enough.  I would however have been fine if Venus had beaten Serena, but only because it was Venus.  But in this Fed happens to be absolutely correct – Venus making it to the finals was winning enough.

This was a beautiful weekend, characterized as it was by a celebration of the Olds.  Long-term readers of this blog will know that I have long argued against the pressure placed on aging players to submit their retirement papers.  Like Marion Bartoli promptly did after finally winning Wimbledon, and who seems to have remained a confused mess ever since. 

Retirement, ideally, should never be rushed.  Yes it’s all well and good to go out on top.  But that does not mean that you should make a mad rush into the decision to give up a career for which you have worked very hard for many years.  Marion’s mad rush to retirement has never made sense to me.  I wonder if she regrets?  Will Ni La regret?  We know that Clijsters did because she came back to the sport after having her first child.  We know that Kimiko Date did because her phenomenal return turned out to be inspirational. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

OCD or self-calming rituals?

In his autobiography, Rafa has denied any engagement in superstitious behavior.  He also denied using his rituals to intentionally waste time by giving himself a breather.  He refuted any notion of engaging in these quirks in order to deliberately irritate and thereby distract his opponents.  Instead, he described his rituals as mechanisms to help him focus on tennis.  His rituals serve the purpose of keeping him mentally balanced and sharp.

What others see as irritating quirks, Rafa described as what I would label efforts at self-calming or self-soothing.  The psychobabble term for this is ‘emotional grounding’.  Grounding rituals are activities that individuals repeat with the exclusive goal of getting themselves in the right mindset in order to perform their best. 

Grounding rituals are useful in many situations, not just performance-related ones.  For example, individuals suffering from bad nightmares associated with combat trauma may use grounding rituals to help them to reduce anxiety and terror.  When awakened by a nightmare, the individual can be instructed to sit up in bed, plant their feet on the floor, and repeat out loud: “I’m sitting on my bed; my feet are on the floor; I’m breathing in and out”, over and over until the anxiety passes and the ghosts of the past release them.  That is a grounding ritual, intended to help manage anxiety.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

OCD or just superstitious?

I’m watching the Australian Open and enjoying every moment of the brilliance of so many of these tennis players, talented newbies as well as rejuvenated Old Farts.  Yes, I hope that Serena doesn’t get too distracted by pending marital bliss to not hoist another trophy and make some more herstory. 

And no, I am not surprised that Isner and Djokovic have been bounced.  Isner’s continued reliance on a serve and a forehand will only help him to make pointless history for long-assed matches against journeymen.  And Djokovic needs to take a second look at his diet.  For someone who has become the health guru of the tennis world, dude seems to be bordering on anorexic, and had the low energy to match.  Kudos to Istomin and his mommy/coach.

But I got up particularly early this morning to watch the match between Rafael Nadal and Marcos Bhagdatis.  I wanted to see if Rafa was back.

As expected, much of the commentary focused on Rafa’s compulsive and obsessive rituals.  Yes I have been guilty of making fun of Rafa’s ass picking in the past, but this morning I watched with genuine compassion for someone who may be struggling with a serious mental health challenge.  Rafa is showing signs of significant stress – he is losing his hair and dude looks ragged.  Something seems off.