This week I had the opportunity to coach players at the 52nd Annual Copa Del Café “Coffee Bowl” in San Jose Costa Rica. This ITF Junior event is a level 1 event and has had some big name winners in the past. I walked up to the “Past Champions” board and was surprised to see how many great players had played this event as juniors. Among those notable past champions/finalists are Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Madison Keys and Noah Rubin.
On the first night of the main draw there was a celebration that took place on center court including a fireworks display and televised matches for the players who were featured to play on center court. It seemed that the level of excitement was off the charts and I imagined that the entire Costa Rican tennis community had come to watch these world-class juniors battle for the title. My mind wandered to the thought of how exciting it would be as a player to be featured as one of the center court matches in front of this large crowd. In looking at the impressive list of past finalists and champions it dawned on me that they all had to learn to deal with that pressure and perform in front of a crowd at events like the coffee bowl as juniors. The ITF junior circuit is the testing ground for future ATP and WTA players.
Center court is where all champions end up. Think of all the pro tournament titles around the world and how in the end the final rounds are all played on center court with a crowd watching. This can be a potentially stressful event in the mind of someone who has never been in that position or has a built up fear about being on a big stage. All champions need to get over the anxiety of playing in front of a crowd if they are to rise to championship status. There is not one national, collegiate or grand slam champion who hasn’t dealt with that dilemma. As a mental coach I have heard players talk about how the crowd affected them in a negative way. “I felt so much pressure to play well” is something that is a common fear. “I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of everyone” is another one.
One of the core mental needs of competitive athletes is the need to be validated by others. How players appear to their peers, coaches and parents can become a big issue in the mind of junior players. This is an aspect of mental development that players need to learn how to manage. Letting go of being overly “needy” to be accepted by other people is the elephant in the room that needs to be confronted. This is where distancing from the “need to win” is huge. Admitting and accepting that you can’t control everything in a match or your opponent is one way of finding the distance that can help you to just focus on your execution and play your very best. Believing that your best is good enough is also a big part of the mindset that will help you to deal successfully with the stress of being on-stage when the pressure is on.
Worthy to Win