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)

But since their professional separation, Becker has had a whole lot to say about his former charge.  Within a month of their break-up, Becker was accusing Novak of being too “timid”, “defensive”, and “passive”, following the loss to Istomin.  Becker often turned to Twitter to share some of his more cutting remarks with his followers.  Not all of his comments were harsh, but always he came across as doubting.  With time it became difficult to determine if Becker ever even believed in Novak.

Becker’s public criticisms confirmed an image of Novak as vulnerable.  You could practically see the other players baring their fangs.  But, as his vocal criticisms mounted, Becker started seeming like a bad boyfriend who had been dumped and who was going to make damn sure that he took every ounce of your self-esteem with him, along with his dirty laundry – unless of course you considered taking him back.

What happens when someone who has assisted in building you up begins to break you down?  And what kind of a person does it take to do that?

Let me answer the second question first.  In my opinion, it takes an utter narcissist.  It takes someone who sees your success only as a reflection of their worth, praising you (i.e., their work) when you shine, and dragging you down when you start being perceived as unworthy.
But I also believe that it was this very narcissism that made Becker such a powerful contributor to Novak’s success.  For a magical period, they likely became two narcissists symbiotically feeding off each other, each one seeing in the mirror of the other a reflected image of brilliance.  But how sustainable is narcissism as a path to success?  And what does all of this have to do with Agassi's new role?

(Part 2 of 3)

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