The French Open Tennis Finals were played last weekend in Paris and both the Women’s Singles and Men’s Singles Finals were surprisingly one-sided wins.
On 10/10/2020 (I love to write that date😊) an unseeded player ranked #54 in the world, Iga Swiatek from Poland, defeated the #4 player in the world, Sofia Kenin. In all 7 of Iga’s matches that led to her winning the title, her opponents never won a set.
Iga’s Fourth Round match against world #2 player Simona Halep, was breathtaking to watch as she defeated her with the shocking scoreline of 6-1, 6-2. Simona played very well; Iga just played even better on the day. Perhaps she played “out of her mind?”
The next day, #2 player in the world, Rafael Nadal from Spain, won his 13th French Open final in 15 years, defeating the #1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic with the lop-sided scoreline of 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. This is incredibly difficult to do; to defeat Djokovic in this way when he is playing at his best.
How did Iga, and Rafa, win such one-sided final matches?
I thought that would make for a great inquiry into the parallels between these high-performance athletes, and professional coaches! What can be learned from aspects of their mental and physical practices? For example from what I’d call their;
- Presence and Focus
- Preparation and Practice
- Know your Limits
Presence and Focus
I titled this article, “Coaching out of your Mind” because it often seems that high performance athletes are so present that they aren’t in their mind. The state of “Flow” has been studied and written about, so I won’t write much about that here. Here is a link to the originator of this concept.
To coach out of your mind you have to train your mind. Emotions are also a big part of mind training too (I wrote about Coaching emotions and feelings last month).
Being “in the flow” is both simple, and complex. Being in the moment and staying in the moment is challenging, and all of us have many times in each day where we are fully present, and equally many times when we are not present. The difference is noticeable to others. High performance athletes (and coaches) are those that are more present more often with what is happening in this moment. Rather than mentally ahead of themselves (thinking about future moments), or mentally behind themselves (thinking about something that occurred in a past moment).
I’m currently participating in my Bikram Yoga Studio “30 classes in 30 days” challenge (via zoom right now due to the pandemic and this means anyone anywhere in the world can participate too!). Yesterday the teacher called my name saying, “Carly we’re not on to that posture yet.” I was “shocked” back to the present, as I realized I had stopped following her instruction and mentally was thinking about something else. The impact was that it was obvious to her I wasn’t present in that moment. This is a normal human experience 😊.
I use my 12+ year Bikram Yoga practice to almost daily hone my focus of practicing staying in the moment. It’s a form of “Preparation and Practice” for me as a coach and as a human being (more on that in the next section of this article). It’s “funny” to me when I find myself, or the teacher does, not present, in that moment.
Here’s a recent photo taken in my home courtyard😊.
Watching high performing athletes you can most often tell when they get caught up in their mind, as their play is affected. All of a sudden they are missing shots they weren’t missing. Nothing has changed in their capability; just their mental focus. And their emotional connection to the moment has shifted too. Emotions that support being in this moment are different for every athlete and person. Yet “neutrality” is a place to start from, so you can respond in this moment without being “hooked” into being too excited or too anxious. There’s a “sweet spot” of emotional connection.
Iga Swiatek is only 19 years of age, and has hired a Sports Psychologist for 2 years already to help her with her mental and emotional character. She credits her success not only to physical preparation, and coaching skill development, but to how she keeps her mind (and emotions) prepared, focused, and staying present in this moment.
Preparation and Practice
One thing that stands out to me about all professional athletes that stay at the top of their game is they never stop practicing and preparing. They don’t just learn the skills of their sport and say, “Hey I know how to hit a ball and never have to practice that again.” They get to the top of their sport and stay there through their various preparation practices and they continue to prepare and practice, every single day or week. They also have a professional coach to help them with continuous improvement, and well as self-care practices for their mind and body.
Rafa is known for playing every single ball in practice the same way he plays a professional game. He never stops practicing, and with the same intensity he has in a match. He is constantly preparing himself mentally and physically. Before a match, Rafa studies what he knows about his opponent, and then practices shots so he is prepared for the type of player he is about to face. He knows his strengths, while also “flexing” and increasing his capabilities to adapt to conditions, whether that be the style of play of his opponent, the weather, time of day, or what else is happening in his life that could distract from being in this moment.
Rafa also makes sure his equipment is working for him, that his tennis racquets are strung to the best tension for his type of play. He is fastidious in his routines in matches, placing his specially prepared hydration drinks exactly the way he wants them. If you’ve ever watched Rafa prepare to serve, he has a very specific routine that is his way of preparing himself mentally. He has a way to prepare himself when he is about to receive a serve from an opponent. Some would call it obsessive-compulsive, but for Rafa he knows what works for him and does that no matter what other people think.
Know your Limits
Rafa has had injury issues throughout his career, and it’s not for lack of preparation, resources and knowledge of how to take care of his body. Many times his body had “spoken” to him, through injury, that it needs time to rest.
Rafa has accepted this is part of his unique nature, and knows that he needs to listen to what his body needs and takes time off more than many other tennis players. Rafa also has people in his life that love him, support him and who want the best for him. There are likely people who want his time, attention and energy who aren’t good for him.
Rafa is the one who has to listen to what his body and mind need, to rest and recover as he needs to. He has to say “no” to people, and to opportunities. My observation is he has learned not to compare himself to other people as he knows his body, mind, and emotions are in a unique combination for him.
What are the parallels for Professional Coaches?
Presence and Focus – for coaches
Engage with daily practices to support you to stay in this present moment more often, including non-shaming ways to get back to this moment. You don’t have to berate yourself, perhaps simply go “Oh! I’m not present! How fascinating!” That will bring you back to this moment.
I say to my mentor coaching clients that if I can take one, slow, consciously deep breath in and out, I’m fully present in this moment. More than one deep breath is a bonus.
I also say that “Coaching begins from the very first breath” that you are in connection with your client. How present are you from the second you are voice-to-voice or face-to-face (by video or in-person). So many coaching opportunities are missed by coaches because they aren’t present from “the very first breath” of the session.
Preparation and Practice – for coaches
- Participate in ongoing training to develop your coaching skills.
- Participate in mentor coaching programs where you have your actual coaching sessions reviewed by a qualified mentor coach against coaching skills, and/or the ICF Core Competencies.
- Learn about the latest human development concepts that are transferable into coaching. For example, Emotional Intelligence is now part of coaching skills training (and the ICF Core Competencies). There is the field of Neuroscience which gives us more information about brain function as it relates to performance, and more. Neurolinguistic Programming and Appreciative Inquiry are other “bodies of work” that are incorporated into coaching skills and core competencies. All of these are useful to learn so you have more capability, like Iga and Rafa have.
Know your Limits – for coaches
Know your mind, emotions and physical needs so you can determine the best way to maximize your unique “vehicle” called “You.” I’m an early morning person, so I’m in my office around 6am. But I’m finished by 4pm and off to a Bikram Yoga class to stretch my body, relax and refresh my mind. I have many self-care practices.
Know the type of clients you love to work with and focus on those. Know when a client is no longer best served by you, and lovingly refer them on.
Know that is you aren’t taking care of yourself, it’s very hard to be fully present for others. As the airline saying goes, “In case of emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others around you.” We shouldn’t be waiting for an emergency to take care of ourselves, so we can be more fully present for those we serve.
A final word from Rafael Nadal
“I think the doubts are good in life. The people who don’t have doubts I think only two things; arrogance or not intelligence.”
This article written by Carly Anderson, MCC
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