|11-20-2006, 12:35 PM||#1|
Hall Of Fame
Join Date: Feb 2006
Uncovering Agassiís Mental Edge - article
Uncovering Agassiís Mental Edge
By John F. Murray, Ph.D
He gave his absolute best on the court, played with a flair and grace that few will match, and kept giving fans what they wanted long after his body said stop. In a grateful spirit for his many lessons of passion and competitiveness, letís have one more tribute to the legend that was Agassi.
I was always aware of how great Andre was. He appeared calm under pressure, ripped the ball from corner to corner with amazing power and precision, and displayed tremendous sportsmanship. But I had never spoke with him nor coached against him until this year Ė his last year on the tour - at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
I was working that week with Ramon Delgado from Paraguay. Ramon beat Bobby Reynolds in the first round before we both looked up on the large drawsheet and saw the name ďAndre AgassiĒ as the upcoming opponent. Time to get to work!
Delgado was a great mental training student. He kept cool, stayed resilient and focused on each and every point win or lose, and fought like crazy. Ramon won the first set over Andre and had two match points leading 6-5 in the second set. It was at this point that Agassi put on his superman cape and showed why he is legendary. He had done it so many times before, but this was the first time I had viewed it as a competitor Ö and it was simply awesome! Facing repeat match points against the Davis Cup star, Andre narrowed his focus to a laser-beam quality, surprised Ramon by serving-and-volleying when he had stayed back all match, and hit consecutive winning volleys on the outside of the lines for winners. Andre won the match. Ramon was devastated Ö and I was heartbroken for him. But inside I also knew that I had just seen one of the greatest tennis players of all time do it again.
After the tournament, Delgado thanked me for the coaching, and said he played well, but no sport psychology in the world that day was going to overcome this legend. The only thing Ramon could say when I saw him later, and asked him about Agassiís play on those two match points was ďunbelievableÖjust unbelievable,Ē and those words just about sum up Andre! In my eyes, he is right up there with Joe Montana, Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Jordan.
But why was he so great? He did not have Ivo Karlovicís height or Pete Samprasí serve. A significant part of his greatness can from his mind. Letís take a closer look at what made Agassi so mentally refined.
Reviewing Agassiís on-court performances and listening to some of his post-match comments sheds light on the mindset of a very rare player who constantly found ways to play smart tennis.
Agassiís service and groundstroke accuracy were usually dominant. He did not serve with the velocity of Roddick, but he found the corners, hit aces and winners, and reduced errors. Coaches are right in saying that consistency is still a huge weapon in tennis! Consistency in making the correct decision on where to hit the serve. Consistency in executing the shot. Consistency in hitting more winners than unforced errors. Consistency in being Agassi.
Agassi was also more aggressive than most opponents on his groundstrokes, more accurate on his approach shots, and dominant once he got to the net. The bottom line is that Agassi played better tennis. But what was going on in his mind? What attitudes did he take to his matches ó long before he hit any balls? This is the unseen advantage that is often forgotten.
Letís examine some comments he made in post-match interviews:
Turning Adversity into Advantage
Agassi viewed strong wind and other potential distractions as advantages. He once said, "today was certainly a great day for me, serving-wise. I think specifically because it was breezy. Any time you can get a good percentage of first serves in, especially on key points, in windy conditions, it's a big advantage. I did that well today." What an amazing attitude. Something we can all learn from. Rather than making excuses, he realized there is indeed a silver lining in every cloud!
Staying Hopeful and Confident
The way we frame things is often more important than the supposed reality. Agassi stayed very positive in his thinking. Once, asked about the upcoming clay season, he said, "I feel great about how I feel mentally Ö very positive going on to the clay season, hopeful that everything is going to stay together." Henry Ford once said "whether you think you can or think you canít ó you are right." Most people in Fordís day asked why cars were necessary when there were horses all around. Agassi thought like Ford did, and how you should too.
Not Over-thinking in a Match
Despite all the great mental tips and suggestions, once a match begins itís auto-pilot time. Itís much better to just play tennis and let habits take over than to over-think. Agassi once said, "I try not to assess how Iím playing until after the fact. And then after the fact, I can look at it and be objective."
Focusing without Fear
Agassi knew what it meant to stay focused without letting fear intrude. In discussing the number of matches he had to play in a row once, he said, "there's nothing really about it that you worry about getting through so many matches, so you just focus on executing opportunities that you do get and try to create as many as possible." So many players worry. Keep it simple and keep the focus on what you are doing now.
Remaining Extremely Confident
Agassi assumed that someone else was going to have to play well to beat him. Listen to his comment: "I'm thinking about preparing myself properly to be at my best for Paris; to make somebody play a great match to beat me. It's as simple as that." Wow. Enough said.
Throw out all the mental tips in the world if you donít work! When asked if he had found the fountain of youth and was just not telling anyone, Agassi smiled and said, "No, no, it's hard work."
Agassi won our hearts and minds throughout his career. He blew away opponents with both physical and mental superiority, and he seemed like a good guy on top of all of that! He loved his fans and so his fans loved him back. If you look at his accuracy and consistency in executing shots, then review his attitudes and insights, you realize that the mental game is much more than a few clever tips to play smart tennis. The thoughts, feelings, habits and sensations always control the actions. When it all works together brilliantly, you get that one-in-a-million guy named Agassi. He was a legend. I was fortunate to meet and try to out-coach him, without success. His example lives in all our future lessons. Thanks Andre!
|11-20-2006, 02:16 PM||#4|
Join Date: Jul 2005
I like Andre as much as anyone, but when it comes to the mental edge, I must say that Sampras clearly had the upperhand (and that's in addition to having the superior serve and volley).
|11-20-2006, 09:00 PM||#5|
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: New York City