One of the key attributes to being mentally tough is to have a Powerful Inner Belief System. In my work as a Mental Performance Coach I teach athletes how to build the self-belief that they have more potential than limitations. Believing that your upside potential outweighs your limitations is a necessity in overcoming the many challenges that athletes will face in their competitive career.
On Sept 2nd at the US Open tennis tournament, there was a David vs Goliath match-up that caught my attention. 5’7” Diego Schwartzman’s from Argentina showed how his inner belief system carried him to perhaps the most notable win of his career to date beating 6’ 6” Alex Zverev in four sets. Diego was asked in the post match press-conference how he was able to stand-up to opponents much taller than him. “I do not think about that” was his response. In other words, in his mind it’s a non-issue and he is not comparing himself to players who may be bigger, stronger or faster than he is. So one might ask, if he is not thinking about the size or strengths of his opponents what is he thinking about? His response to this question was, “I have my weapons on court and I focus on using those in the right way”.
Another interesting question directed to Diego was, “Do you take joy in beating opponents who are bigger than you?” His response told the story of his mindset regarding this, “Not at all. People have told me it was going to be very difficult to make it in professional tennis because of my height. They were just being honest with me. They were not trying to say I should stop competing but that it would be very difficult. I really don’t think about it that much.” He clearly is the type of person who can accept comments and criticisms from others and internalize it in a way that isn’t threatening to him but rather motivating. In my opinion, the way Diego thinks is a large part of why he has been able to look past his limitations and succeed in building his strengths. This mindset serves as a positive example for how to build your inner-belief system. The world may shout out, “You are not enough!” You can choose to look past disbelieving comments and press forward with a “David like” confidence in what You believe is possible.
Schwartzman described how he rely’s on his strengths and one of those is his return of serve. “I have a lot of confidence in my return and I studied many videos of Alex Zverev serving to be prepared. I was thinking about how I was going to take my chances when they come.” This is exactly what Diego did to get the upset against the #6 seeded Zverev. When I heard him start talking about how important his return was my mind was drawn to a common thought about what creates winning tennis. The saying goes, “the two most important shots in the game are the Serve and the Return”. If a player can neutralize a big serve with a solid and deep return it evens the playing field and gives the less powerful serve a chance at getting into a winning position. Like other notable former great returners like 5’10” Jimmy Connors and 5’11” Andre Agassi, Schwartzman has created a strength in his playing arsenal that is a key shot needed to stand up to the big servers.
Now that Diego has made it through to the quarter-finals he was asked in his press-conference what he thought was possible from here. His inner-belief blurted out without hesitation, “Everything is possible. I will take my chances when they come and go for it.” Now he faces the #2 seed tennis superstar, Rafa Nadal. “I think I have a chance against Rafa. I need to study past matches when we played. You never know when the next opportunity comes and I NEED TO BE READY. I have not beaten Rafa before but I do have the confidence to beat him.”