My series, "5 Ways to Save Rafa Nadal," is ending on a high note--with Nadal's 1st round win in last night's BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
After some heart-breaking losses at the start of the season, Nadal returned from the Argentina Open a few weeks ago with a tournament win under his belt, and a newly ignited sense of indestructibility. What changed?
Did he get medical treatment?
Did he change his style of play?
Did he finally read my blog?
It appears that he found a new super-power...CONFIDENCE.
In last night's match at Indian Wells, Rafa lost a total of only seven points on his service game, and won 96% of his first serve points. (He was at 67% for the entire Australian Open...). We know Nadal is exquisitely gifted physically as an athlete. Clearly he appeared at Indian Wells a new man. (And it wasn’t because of the shorter shorts…again). What if he found another super-power for his superhero arsenal? Something not rooted in the physical, but in the mental?
For elite athletes confidence is a tricky thing. The mind can "out play" the body on any day. Tennis commentators speak of players being their own worst enemy, and "beating themselves" on the court when their confidence, not their physical skill level, is down the tubes.
Let’s address the confidence issue. Clearly Nadal has all the skills to be a champion. At the Australian Open after his loss to Tomas Berdych he admitted that he “needed something more to be more competitive … it is obvious that before I didn't play with the right confidence, with the right intensity.”
Jimmy Connors provides great insight, as he once said, "The whole thing is never to get negative about yourself. Sure, it’s possible that the other guy you’re playing is tough, and that he may have beaten you the last time you played, and okay, maybe you haven’t been playing all that well yourself. But the minute you start thinking about these things you’re dead."
Research has shown that the ability to cope with pressure and anxiety of this kind is integral to the elite athlete. So here is my suggestion: let’s have Nadal doing some mental workouts…Yoga. Pilates. Gyrotonic. Tai Chi. These disciplines were invented to increase mind-body connected-ness, especially to connect breath, the force of life, to movement. Or how about the ultimate mind sport...MEDITATION?
Nothing beats sports performance anxiety like meditation. At this point in a super-athlete's career, being successful IS all in his head, and his biggest opponent may be himself—his body already knows what to do. Getting his head screwed on right can be the first step to recovering one's confidence. Athletes train their bodies for performance; but they need to train their brains for performance, too. How often do we even think about training our brain?
Training Nadal's brain for victory could be the key. Psychologists agree on at least 5 traits elite athletes share: self-confidence, will to win, concentration, persistence and competitiveness. Mediation could help Nadal with his concentration and his confidence; to be comfortable "in the moment". He could use it to learn how to cope with his distractions; handle his anxiety and to know where he is today and where he wants to be tomorrow. And to keep the bad guys on the other side of the net--and the blue meanies--out of his "kitchen." Meditation worked all sorts of miracles for Phil Jackson and his L.A. Lakers; and for the Chicago Bulls when he was at the helm. He has the championship rings to prove it. No doubt--it will work for Nadal. In fact, it might be working already.
Stop Everything and try it yourself.
Slow down for 15- 20 minutes. Focus on the void. Let thoughts come in and out of your mind. Practice the joyfulness in your breath. Use mental images or a mantra to deal with your own distractions. Meet them head on. Center yourself in the midst of any surrounding…whether it is a crowded street or a desolate forest. Find your flow, your calm and your peace.
You can do this anytime…anywhere. Or at Studio DelCorpo…our meditation class is coming in May…stay tuned!
BRILLIANT. EASY. BESPOKE.