What Novak Djokovic Can Teach Us About Mental Fitness

Defending champion Novak Djokovic attributed part of his victory to his ‘mental stability’.

Mind It
3 min read
Defending champion Novak Djokovic attributed part of his victory to his ‘mental stability’.

“When the crowd is chanting Roger, I hear Novak.”

The 32-year-old tennis player, Novak Djokovic, said after his historic win against ‘people’s champion’ Roger Federer in Wimbledon finals.

“It’s hard to not be aware of the crowd. You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise. Of course, if you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps. When you don’t, then you have to find it within, I guess.”
Novak Djokovic

In calling this match the ‘biggest mental challenge of his career’, the 32-year-old champion suggested that mental strength and courage might just be as important as physical expertise in sports.

‘The Pressure is Real’

How you deal with pressure could determine your performance. 
How you deal with pressure could determine your performance. 
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Vaibhav Agashe, sports psychologist and mind coach, explains that one cannot undermine the pressure that athletes go through.

“Every player feels pressure at some or the other level. The results might heavily depend on how that pressure is handled. Denial is not a good way to deal with it. Accept that there is pressure, but train yourself to focus on the task.”
Vaibhav Agashe

On Djokovic’s experience, he agrees that a lot of cheering for the opponent may make it difficult for a player to concentrate on the game. In such cases, it’s best not to focus on the crowd.

“These are real situations. You can’t control the crowd. Yes, they may like a player better than you. But if you start focusing on them, your performance would get affected. So instead of fighting it, just accept it and channelize your energies at the sport.”
Vaibhav Agashe

Djokovic attributed a major part of his victory to his ‘mental stability’: “I just try to never lose self-belief, just stay calm, just focus on trying to get the ball back.”

FIT spoke with Shayamal Vallabhjee, a sports scientist and performance coach, who asserted the importance of confidence and self-belief in athletes.

“Athletes have to be masters of re-channeling energy. Crowd energy is one type, but they even re-channel their anger, frustration and happiness to make them more productive on field — with pinpoint focus and zero distraction.”
Shayamal Vallabhjee

He added, “As a sports scientist, I have to ensure that my athletes walk on the field with a very high level of self-belief, because in the field of sports, that is everything.”

Individual Sport Versus Team Sport — Is There a Difference in Pressure?

Does being in a team reduce pressure on individuals?
Does being in a team reduce pressure on individuals?
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Experts believe it is difficult to say one type is better than the other in terms of the amount of pressure.

Agashe suggests that it is actually a bit complex. Even though in individual sport, the player is alone to bear the pressure, he/she also has certain advantages.

“The results are totally in your hands. You can decide what you want to do, how you want to take the game forward. In team sports, while you have people to share your stress with, you also tend to depend a lot on other players’ performances,” he said.

“Emotions are contagious. If everyone in the team starts freaking out, it affects you too. The captain’s and the coach’s role becomes important. Keep talking to the players to help them cope with pressure.”
Vaibhav Agashe

Mental training and conditioning could help. Coaches, parents, and sports psychologists can help sportspersons stay grounded and deal with stress, anxiety and even defeat.

“But this needs to start early. You can’t train a person one day before the match. Acknowledge the role of counseling and mind training, and provide them with these inputs when they are very young.”
Vaibhav Agashe

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