Whilst I believe that the game of tennis is unique in helping us develop a set of key life skills that are defined by the Everyball 4R's (Respect, Responsibility, Resilience, Reflection) these same 4 R's serve as a developmental model for helping us become psychologically more robust, grittier and tougher to beat.
Much like the kinetic chain is a sequential transfer of energy through a system of body parts (knees, hips, shoulders, elbow, wrist - loosely speaking anyway!) so mental toughness follows the sequential embodiment of the 4R's. I'll be exploring this over the next few days.
It all starts with RESPECT.
Our ability (yes respect is a skill) to respect ourselves, others and our differences, officials, the game and it's uniquely brutal yet also forgiving scoring system. As competitors it's our ability to respect our opponents and what they bring to the court.
So often I'll hear junior players, having just lost a match, say: 'oh, he/she was such a hacker!'. They clearly failed to respect their opponent's qualities and in doing so, never game themselves the opportunity to compete. Failing to respect is preparing to fail!
Respect is closely linked to humility and you don't have to look any further than Rafa Nadal as a role model for this. In his book Rafa writes:
Another thing about watching my matches again closely, dispassionately, is that in appreciating and respecting the skill of my opponents, watching them hit wonderful winners, I learn to accept losing points against them with more serene resignation. Some players rage and despair when they are aced, or when they are the victims of a magnificent passing shot. That is the path to self-destruction. An it is crazy, because it means you believe yourself to be capable, in some kind of ideal tennis world, to subduing your opponent's game from start to finish. If you give your opponent more credit, if you accept that he played a shot you could do nothing about, if you play the part of the spectator for a moment and generously acknowledge a magnificent piece of play, there you win balance and inner calm. You take pressure off yourself. In your head, you applaud; visibly, your shrug; and you move on to the next point, aware not that the tennis gods are ranged against you or that you are having a miserable day, but that there is every possibility next time that it will be you who hits the unplayable winner.
He goes on:
Understanding the importance of humility (born out of respect) is to understand the importance of being in a state of maximum concentration at the crucial stages of a game, knowing you are not going to go out and win on God-given talent alone.
Rafa respects his opponent's by bringing 100% energy, effort and focus to every match he plays, sincerely believing that if he doesn't he'll end up on the losing end.
Choose Respect as the foundation in your journey to becoming a grittier, tougher competitor.
Next up, Responsibility.