Tennis plays a significant role in our household. My 10-year-old son is arguably the world’s greatest fan and an encyclopedia (or Wikipedia) of tennis facts. Even at his young age, I tell Scott he should join the commentary box. He’s also a solid player himself, competing in tournaments with the annual highlight being the Brisbane International, where kids get to compete alongside some of their idols.
A key aspect always taught to Scotty is tennis is as much a mental as a physical game. It’s the reason I’m a proponent of encouraging sport for all three of our children. It teaches them about failure, stress and resilience.
While Nick Kyrgios is known as Australian tennis’s bad boy for his temper, many commentators say he has redeemed himself throughout the summer of tennis. In August, Kyrgios was fined a record $113,000 for a full-on meltdown at the Cincinnati Masters.
His heartfelt response to the bushfires, pledging to donate $200 for every ace he served towards the relief appeal and encouraging other players to do the same is admirable. But, and there’s a big ‘but’, at the Australian Open there were still moments when Kyrgios lost his cool. While pulling himself together, he still smashed his racquet against Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, third set tie break after losing a point.
Even two players known for their calm demeanour, seemed to feel the heat at the Australian Open this year. Roger Federer let his temper get the better of him during the third set of the fourth round of the Australian Open. According to commentators, the Swiss tennis star let out an ‘R-rated German word’ after hitting the net on a return shot.
Spaniard Rafael Nadal, known for taking it slow between points, got angry at the chair umpire when hit with a time violation after a gruelling 19-point rally on his serve midway through the second set. On a hot Melbourne night, he also got upset the airconditioning next to his bench wasn’t working.
However, experts seem to agree that there is hope for 24-year-old Nick to learn to cope under pressure. Indeed, there is hope for us during those moments where we feel we’re in a boiling pot.
Brookfield Tennis Centre coach Costa Skopelitis, who has been a pro player himself, coached professionals and is now coaching my up and coming tennis star, says a lot of the time it comes down to keeping ego in check.
He says it’s rare to see Nadal or Federer openly show their frustration and they still always show respect for their opponent.
“I work to teach kids to be humble whether competing or training and have a healthy respect for your team around you and opponent,” he says.
“The person on the other side is trying as hard as you and if you watch Federer or Nadal be interviewed after a match, they always praise their opponent or say how their upcoming match will be tough.
“They give their all and play as hard in the first round against someone ranked 500 as in a grand slam final against someone in the top 10.”
Costa says there are many life and leadership lessons kids can learn in sport, including about seeing the bigger picture and knowing there’s no such thing as perfection.
“Many tennis players try to be perfect all the time and strive for the perfect shot and then every point they lose leads to frustration,” he says.
“There’s no such thing as perfection you can always improve but never perfect it.
“It’s also about your philosophy, and I tell kids tennis was around long before they were born and will be around when they’re gone so you need to accept there will always be someone greater than yourself.”
Jo Lukins, author of The Elite: Think like an Athlete, Succeed like a Champion has a PhD in psychology and more than 25 years working in the elite sport and high-performance area.
Dr Lukins says the challenge with frustration is that it can detrimentally affect our clarity of thinking.
“Frustration develops when our behaviours/actions are not in keeping with our expectations, and we become annoyed and irritated,” she says.
“Our ability to then process, work through that and re-shape our thinking in a helpful way becomes critical – it’s all about our self-dialogue.”
Dr Lukins emphasises the importance of mindset and reframing a situation while implementing coping techniques.
“I give the example of my 8-year-old and I standing in line for his first proper rollercoaster ride and physiologically our reactions were probably the same – but it was our interpretation that was different,” she says.
“Heart rate was up, pupils dilated, sweating, but one of us hoping we would survive and the other having the best day of his life.
“It is our reaction that we can have the greatest control over, often anxiety is excitement in disguise.”
To counteract a negative reaction, Dr Lukins suggests a series of simple techniques that help you reassess the situation.
“Breathe and acknowledge what is happening and if appropriate step outside of your circumstance, take a walk or have a cup of tea,” she says.
“Review what is happening to you and seek support from others.”
Dr Lukins says it’s important to learn from experience to build up resilience.
“What could you do differently next time? How are you better for the experience?”
McDonald Inc. Founder and leadership coach Sonia McDonald says changing behaviour can take time but learning to master being calm under pressure is vital for leaders.
“It’s all about changing your neuropathways and having an understanding of this is important for leaders,” she says.
“When you are demonstrating strength as a leader, it is contagious, and you can process things more logically and make better decisions.
“Learning techniques around how to build resilience, like breathing counting to five, squashing negative thoughts, managing self-talk is beneficial.”
I have a feeling those yoga and meditation classes I’ve been sending the kids too are a good investment.