Tennis can be such a solitary sport, which can get into the heads of even its most elite players.

Majors, just like big moments in our own lives, can bring with them a level of spotlight and accountability, not to mention finality in results (you can’t turn the clock back, no matter how good your back-hand!). It’s easy to see why mindsets can be challenges at an extreme level.

That’s the focus of today’s Clutch! as the Director of Sport Psychology at Intensity Tennis; International High Performance Specialist for UN, Sport, and Arts, Nikola Milinkovic takes us back to the 2012 US Open.

The athlete: Mardy Fish

The performance: 2012 US Open

What they did

The American right hander started to experience severe anxiety during a 3rd round US Open night match against Gilles Simon.

Night time matches at any major are a special moment for fans, but can be hugely stressful at the same time for players.

That’s what happened to Mardy, as he found his mind spiralling out of control and focusing on everything that was happening around him, except the match itself. His usual calm game had gone, and he was on a clear path to an early tournament exit.

However, by focusing entirely on his mindset, he was able to trust his training and physical conditioning in those moments, and somehow win it.

As he describes it ‘the entire experience was a blur, I was anxiety-ridden’.

The expert’s view: what can we learn?

Professional athletes are usually perceived as super human – people who move the very limits of high performance.

They are certainly role models for skill mastery, physical conditioning, and proper nutrition, but, what about their mental and emotional development?

Mardy’s third round loss of focus is no different than a Broadway performer, a CEO giving a presentation, a firefighter, or an ER surgeon having to perform on the spot, in a highly stressful situation.

We experience similar emotions when we find ourselves performing in a big moment, and even though athletes go through intense training to push through moments like that, at the end of the day, they are only human.

Mardy’s story reminds us beautifully that this is simply so…

To show weakness, we’re told, in so many ways, is to deserve shame. But, I am here to show weakness, and I am not ashamed. I’m writing this to tell people that weakness is okay. I’m here to tell people that it’s normal. And that strength, ultimately, comes in all sorts of forms.

Addressing your mental health is strength. Talking about your mental health is strength. Seeking information, and help, and treatment, is strength.

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