Mindset Made Simple Tip #111 Watch or listen HERE.
Did you see it? I am certain my neighbors heard all about it as we cheered on Serena and Ajla in Serena William’s final US Open match on Friday night on our back patio.
What a match! It lasted more than 3 hours and both competitors were amazing!
As I watched one of the world’s best athletes (anyone who thinks Serena couldn’t have played any sport at the top level is crazy!) wrap up her career, I couldn’t help but think about the mental side of this match for both players.
Ajla Tomljanovic, ranked #46 in the world was awesome against the long-time #1 and maybe best-ever women’s player.
The rallies at deuce were exhausting. The tie-breaks the same. Serves at 117 mph and returns that made the neighbors wonder what the heck was going on because they drew cheers and “uugghhhhs!”
I kept waiting for someone to crack, and if I’m being honest, I thought it would be Ajla. But she stuck with her plan, capitalized on her conditioning and made shots when she needed to!
The 24,000 fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium were rooting for Ajla’s opponent. Heck, even she said she would have been had she not been playing Serena that day!
How do you maintain your composure when your opponent is playing with such passion and has the emotion of the fans on her side and is setting the tempo so she can catch her breath? You have watched her play since you were 9 years old and know of her amazing ability to take over a match in seconds. To add to all of this, you (Ajla) say "She's Serena. I just thought she would beat me” in your post-match interview, and I am certain those thoughts preceded the match as well!
But the key statement Ajla then made was “so the pressure wasn’t on me!”
It still had to be so daunting for her…and for Serena.
Serena carried the emotion of 20+ years of world-class tennis coming to an end riding on each shot. Every tie break taking more and more effort out of those 40-year-old legs. Feeling those amazing feelings of slamming the ball to the court and letting out the roar of emotion…and thinking at least once that nothing matches that rush, I am sure!!
Can you imagine the thoughts running through these champions' minds other than the ones mentioned above?
I am making these up, of course. Instead of imagining what they would say, think about what you would have been saying!
“If I can break serve here, I can win the match.” Then it doesn’t happen, and we are back to deuce. Ugh!
“If I can hold serve here….” And on and on and on for three hours!
The real battle in this match was in both players’ heads!
How important was following a process and managing self-talk and being present in this match?
If you look at Serena’s quotes from the past, it is no surprise she is a champion. Here are a few examples.
“Overpower. Overtake. Overcome.” – Serena Williams
“When I’m down, I talk to myself a lot. I look crazy because I’m constantly having an argument with myself.”
“Hold serve, Hold serve, Hold serve. Focus, Focus, Focus. Be confident, Be confident, Be confident. Hold serve. Hold, Hold, Hold. Move Up, Attack, Kill. Smile. Hold!!!”
I bet she said that a few times on Friday!
But you can see that she trained herself to think/talk in terms of plans…not fears. She used her own voice, the one she practiced, to keep her on track, regardless of the circumstance.
Instead of focusing on what she doesn’t want, Serena tells herself what she wants to do. Does it always work? Obviously not. But success leaves clues and I’d take her track record any day!
When we are talking TO ourselves instead of listening to the thoughts that float into our heads, we don’t have time to throw in the “what if”, “I hope” and “don’t” statements we so often allow to fill our one-thought-at-a-time heads!
I tell the athletes I work with that they need to be SELFISH with that one-thought space.
That ONE THOUGHT turns into their next feeling and action…and that makes a difference in how they perform at that moment!
We know Serena had a lot going on in this match, but let’s go back to thinking about Ajla again.
This was probably the biggest match of her career.
I bet it was the largest stage she has played on outside of her quarterfinals match at Wimbledon.
But this time, the world was watching…and hoping she failed.
What can we say about her mindset?
She couldn’t calm the storm she found herself in the eye of or influence the sentiment of the moment. She could only control how she reacted to it all.
She kept her pace, stuck with her routines, managed her frustration, talked to herself, …and the umpire…and made shot after shot.
Maybe she realized what MBL All-Star Sean Casey thought as he faced the likes of Randy Johnson and Greg Maddox. Once the ball is in the air, it doesn’t matter whose hand it came out of or whose racket hit it, it is you against the ball.
Serena standing on the other side of the net, the crowd, the umpire, the millions watching on TV all had no direct influence on how Tomljanovic approached and contacted the ball.
That was all her…the ball bounced off the ground just like every other day she has been on a court.
Granted, it may have had different spin and speed at times, but it was the same color, and the court was the same size, as was the ball. And she has hit the same shots a million times.
Her only job was to prepare herself to return the ball to the best of her ability. What happened after it left her racket was out of her control. Would it hit the line or float a centimeter long?
Would Serena get to it or not?
Tomljanovic’s job was to control her approach mentally and physically and finish the shot. After that, it was what it was!
She made shots that should have been winners and weren’t. She made shots that Williams should have returned and didn’t. Had she become overly frustrated about either, the next shot would have been affected for sure!
Each shot has a life of its own. We take it. It is in or out. And we move on…unless we dwell on it and let it affect the next.
Think about this.
You hit a shot. It is out. You think it is bad.
Your opponent thinks it is good.
The umpire doesn’t care. She just calls it out.
Same shot. Three different thoughts and feelings about it.
The shot isn’t good, bad or indifferent.
It is just out. That’s it!
Tomljanovic must have understood what Serena said in the past, “I can’t pay someone to rewind time, so I might as well get over it.”
Good or bad. It is done. And the only way it can affect the next one is if we let it!
Most of the shots we miss are not because of a purely physical mistake.
Most mistakes happen because we think too much about what just happened or what we need to do…or not do…and we change our approach and our physical state.
We can make the shot. We usually miss because we rush, pull our head, try to over-power it, or focus too hard on keeping it in the court…focusing on the outcome or avoiding past outcomes… and that changes our swing.
The point is, this was a match for the ages playing out in amazing fashion, but it first played out in the heads of the incredible competitors.
Serena was battling emotion in present time and about the future and the past.
Ajla was battling one of her idols, the crowd and her own emotion.
Both handled it all like champions.
I am certain their habits, routines and practiced self-TALK (not self-listen) helped them trust their talent and training and put on a show for us mere mortals!
How we manage our mindset matters in how we allow ourselves to use our training and talent.
Wouldn’t have been amazing to be in the heads of these amazing athletes on Friday?
I guess we will just have to settle for emulating them…and becoming our best instead!
Manage the moments and have a great week!
P.S. Contact me at any time to talk about how we can help your athletes through my 5 Minute Mindset™ program and customized team sessions to keep them on track in their mental game. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 234-206-0946.
Certified Mental Performance & Mindset Coach
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