Emotional Intelligence and sports performance /

Winning at Wimbledon – 3 Essential Emotional Intelligence Skills Driving Success

Since 2002 when the Aussie – Leyton Hewitt – triumphed over David Nalbandian to claim the coveted gold trophy, the male winner of Wimbledon has come from 1 of 4 players. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have each won on multiple occasions and in the process, have displayed some of the most astonishing performances the sport has ever seen.

During their domination at the top of the sport, there has been a lot of discussion about their performances and the key ingredients which have enabled success. Pundits, journalists, coaches, ex-players, current players and Joe Bloggs have all attempted to pinpoint the aspects which have given them the edge, year-on-year.

Each player has developed their own trademark attributes. Federer’s laser-like serve, Nadal’s wand of a forehand, Djokovic’s agility and speed, and Murray’s consistent backhand have been discussed on a regular basis. In other words, there has been a lot of noise around the physical and technical attributes that have contributed to their success. However, not as much has been said about the mental skills, which enable the other performance components to operate in harmony.

At times, we have heard people talk about Federer’s mental strength, or Murray’s emotional resilience, to bounce back from heart-breaking defeats. But those same people who have admired the physical and technical attributes of these tennis greats, will likely have spent less time analysing the emotional skills which have been built over the years. Skills which have undoubtedly contributed to their sustained success.

So, what are some of these critical skills? And how can athletes - both young and old -, develop them to enhance their chances of achieving greatness? The remainder of this article will provide insights into 3 specific emotional intelligence competencies, and give tactics and strategies to help build them.

1.        Self-Confidence 

Self-confidence is the emotional component of an athlete’s personality and the most important factor in determining how they think, feel and behave. Emotionally intelligent athletes accept and respect themselves and essentially like the people they are. They are confident in their skills and talent and believe in their ability to perform at high levels.

Self-Confidence is built on the twin emotions of self-liking – liking and accepting who you are – and self-competence – a feeling of being on top of a situation and possessing the skills and resources to manage life’s challenges.

How can athletes build it?

  • Self-confidence comes from within and is fundamentally a relationship that you develop with yourself. How you feel about yourself is within your control. By altering the inner beliefs of the mind, athletes can change the outer aspects of their lives.
  • Replace negative self-talk with positive – over time, this helps to bend internal beliefs about your ability to perform at a high level.
  • Suspend judgment of yourself and let go of the idea that you need the approval of others to feel accepted.
  • Practice imagery - make sure it’s in depth, see and feel yourself performing well in competition.
  • Preparation is key and will give you a greater sense of control over your performance – rehearse all elements, such as: specific skills and plays, effective responses to setbacks, and the emotions associated with successful performance.

2.        Focus

Emotionally intelligent athletes have the ability to maintain focus and avoid distractions that can interfere with optimal performance. They are able to sustain concentration and stay centered, regardless of what is happening in the competitive environment.

How can athletes develop it?

  • Concentrate on the process of performing rather than the outcome of your effort – you can’t control whether you win the event, but you can control how you perform.
  • Let go of mistakes and past failures and do not be distracted by looking too far into the future – instead, stay in the moment.
  • Engage in a regular mindfulness practice – neuroscience has indicated that just 10 minutes per day enhances attention and the ability to sustain focus when under pressure.

3.        Self- Control

Athletes who have developed self-control have cultivated the ability to regulate their emotions and stay calm when under pressure. They are able to stay motivated and persist in the face of frustration and adversity. They manage their shifting moods, to maintain composure and an optimal level of arousal, enabling them to think clearly and act appropriately.

How can athletes develop this skill?

  • When under pressure, focus on what you can control; become task oriented and concentrate on the immediate performance demands rather than what causes you anxiety.
  • Respond rather than react to difficult situations by introducing a pause before committing to an action.
  • The immediate reaction of an athlete’s mind and body when experiencing adversity might be to feel uptight and tense. Take a few deep breaths to regain composure. Controlling emotions at this stage enables you to maintain a clear mind and remain aware of important information that is critical to delivering optimal performance.

Training the mind to perform optimally under pressure is just as important as training the body to increase strength, or fine-tuning the mechanics of a specific skill. In fact, more often than not, it is mental strength which decides the outcome of pressurised sports competition.

Before you go...

If you found the content in this article interesting and would like to discuss mental skills training in some more depth, then please feel free to get in touch at joe@rochemartin.com.