By Emilio Sánchez Vicario, CEO & Founder at Sánchez-Casal Academy.
#6 The past puts pressure on us and the future puts pressure on us; so be completely present in the present. This is your actual state from where you will be ready and excited to face challenges ahead (Emotional).
In many of my conversations with players at any level, the mention of “pressure” appears: “I felt under too much pressure”, “The pressure meant I couldn’t move”, “I completely froze under the pressure, I didn’t know what I was doing any more” … These are some of the examples of the effect of pressure, which on top of everything, usually manifests itself at the worst times, when nobody asks for it.
I remember a colleague, Fer, who laughed and nick-named pressure “The Little Dwarf”. He said that during one of his four hour games, when he was about to serve, he saw the little dwarf sat across the court, waving his arms and shouting at him “I’m over here, don’t pretend you can’t see me!”, and then “bam”, he made a mistake. It was a simple way of explaining how the feeling of being under intense pressure occurs when you think too much about the result, and lose sight of what has got you to that point.
There are different types of pressure:
- Media pressure, caused by the media, television and what appears in the press.
- Public pressure, when you are playing an away game or at home, and you don’t want to have to admit defeat in front of your spectators.
- The pressure of the past, a painful memory etched in your mind of how similar situations ended.
- The pressure of the future, which comes from expectations and thinking too much about the result.
- Intrinsic pressure, which makes you doubt a pillar inside you, for reasons that aren’t to do with your sporting life.
In the year 1992, in Sidney, I had just won one of the most important hard court tennis tournaments of my career, in the final against Thomas Muster. I think that at the time I was playing the best tennis I could. I moved to Melbourne full of enthusiasm, I won against Cash, the local tennis hero, I went through several rounds and came against my next rival, McEnroe, to whom I had lost in the US Open the year before when he won first two sets against one, 4-4 in the fourth set and a double break point.
The game started in reverse this time: McEnroe won two sets, I won the next two, he ended up at 5-2 in the fifth with match point, I returned to 40-15, and after almost five hours of play I hit my first double, lost another, but from that point onwards decided to stop and think about how I had prepared, and what had got me to this point. I managed to win a great point and match point, I stopped again, following my plan, I served well towards the net, but he hit the ball back towards my feet and it was out. My head exploded, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to carry on, and could only think of other opportunities I had missed in the past. I froze, I lost my cool, I wasn’t thinking straight, I made two mistakes, 6-6, the game finished, his claws came out, never mind my best tennis any more, my past caught up with me, and it still hurts that I ended up losing 8-6. I remember this defeat as the worst in my career, I have never forgotten it, it has burrowed so deep into my memory. The truth is that I regret it so much that I never once created another chance for myself to win at the Grand Slams. Looking at it, there was a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ to my defeat.
The pressure of the past is difficult to bear. You have to find the routines you’ve practiced and utilize them in these moments, and realize that the most difficult task is stopping yourself from freezing up. Think positively about using the tools which have got you to this point, how to organize them, how your physical fitness allows you to utilize them, and use your mind to believe in the opportunity, trust in it and enjoy the moment. I tried to do all of this, but the magic of tennis is that at times, although you’ve done everything right, your opponent can also play outstandingly and give the best of themselves – as he did in my game.
The most common type of pressure is that of the future, when the only thing you’re thinking about while you are competing is what will happen if you win, when you are overthinking about the victory or about a dream which at the time is very far away. What we usually do is look for a reason, an excuse. In the courses we give at our International Coaching Institute (ICI) we call these justifications “THE IT’STHATS”: it’s that the wind was high, it’s that the ball was in but they called it out, it’s that the other guy was lucky, it’s that… We could spend all day writing a thousand excuses.
Players who find themselves in these situations when the little dwarf arrives, or feel under considerable pressure and look for an excuse to feel better, are not facing up to reality. Those who are able to recognise pressure but not engage with it, or silence the little dwarf, are the ones who are able to enjoy those situations, and compete with their best foot forward and jump into battle. If they’re successful maybe they will win a prize and grow, but best of all they will have given the best of themselves, facing up to the pressure, and in the best of cases, they’ll get the result they want.
It’s really that, quoting Albert Camus, “True generosity towards the future lies in giving everything to the present.”
Emilio Sánchez Vicario
CEO & Founder at Sánchez-Casal Academy