How do we quantify and measure 'mental toughness'

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by BTURNER, Aug 4, 2018.

  1. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2007
    Messages:
    4,567
    Location:
    OREGON
    Literally everyone these days seems to concur that the WTA is full of mentally weak players, who lack the mental and emotional spine of those of yesteryear. I can't count the number of posters sneering that Serena 'era' is compromised by mental midgets and the chorus gets boost from former players like Navratilova etc.

    When asked how one knows, posters suggest all you have to do is watch the sport being played ,and see how quickly yesterdays upstarts, fall away and how few can stay competitive for major titles.

    I think what we are referring to is a composite of these elements that are combined: mental toughness = sustained concentration/focus + sustained emotional control + a capacity to compartmentalize + maintaining and calibrating optimum intensity + a capacity to tweak any and all of the above, to maximize physical control and performance under diress or stress.

    Well I don't watch, but I have to ask if there are statistical measures we can use and study comparing individual mental strength and then extrapolate in larger analysis on top ten players or the tour to accurately determine whether mental fragility is our suspect. What am I supposed to be noticing and how can I concretely connect the patterns to this ephemeral concept?

    If I am suspicious of arguments that some eras are weaker than others, I am even more suspicious that we accurately identify and quantify a particular culprit.

    Whenever there is a big point or major moment in a tennis match, someone inevitably performs better than another, and thus there is a winner in the mental toughness wrestle, and a loser. I see a zero sum that does not change with eras

    Maybe we are misguided or not vigorous in questioning what we are seeing is mental weakness.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2018
    Mr.Lob and FedFosterWallace like this.
    #1
  2. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    I think the primary measure of in-match mental strength (career-wise toughness, e.g. ability to come back from devastating loss and tough periods, is something different) is the difference between a player's performance on particular points with respect to their significance in a given match: how it affects the frequency of unforced errors and ability to get the 1st serve in (that can be measured statistically), shot selection and the quality of the shots themselves (no stats, have to rely on careful observation). It's far too broad a concept to measure definitely, though, with only some specific stats available.

    Ability to keep intensity is an important factor as well - happens often enough that players wilt after losing a tough set. I remember this year Kasatkina-Muguruza in Dubai was a classic mental win. Garbie was clearly outplaying Dasha for almost two sets, her 1st serve was very tough for Kasatkina to deal with and she didn't face a BP after the first game, then Mugs finally breaks in the 2nd set and immediately gets broken to love with 4 UEs, breaks again, gets broken again right away as her 1st serve fails her; they play a very nervous tiebreak, which Darya ends up winning after saving 3 MPs, and Garb implodes completely and UEs herself into oblivion. Final scoreline: Kasatkina wins 3-6 7-6(11) 6-1. That's what a choke essentially is.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2018
    BTURNER and FedFosterWallace like this.
    #2
  3. Q&M son

    Q&M son Professional

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,031
    Location:
    Trenque Lauquen, BA, Argentina.
    Simply. You can't.
     
    Sport and pc1 like this.
    #3
  4. xFedal

    xFedal Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2014
    Messages:
    4,769
    What about this years Wimbledon semifinal between Rafaole.... Was there most clutch match.... Novak showed great mental toughness...
     
    #4
  5. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2007
    Messages:
    4,567
    Location:
    OREGON
    Then this whole idea of mentally tough players and mentally fragile ones, is left to our imaginations and some intuition. We are left deciding its like obscenity. We can't define or quantify it. We have to know it when we see it. That's just not good enough to minimize generations of top players as mental midgets. as many of us have done here at TW.
     
    #5
  6. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    Hey be careful there! You might offend someone’s idea of how great their favorite is.

    I think there are two ways you could measure mental toughness in a match. One is the players performance on specific “big” points. I don’t mean whether they won or lost those points but did they double fault or hit an unforced error? Those two things are almost always a matter concentration and nerves (at least on big points).

    Another way you could measure it would be to log and describe a players response to adversity. Do they change tactics or play hard when down or do they pack it in?

    The whole mental toughness thing smacks of chauvinism to me. When a player like Kyrgios packs it in he’s just a bum or unmotivated or whatever. But when Safina DFs a match away it somehow speaks to the whole WTA. You’ll notice no one ever has said that a certain era is weak or lacking mental toughness on
    The men’s side. Former players like Shriver and other commentators feed this concept and it takes on a life of its own. Former players are especially harsh critics of current players. Ever watch Bill Walton call an NBA game? The whole commentary can be
    Distilled to “none of these guys could play when I was playing”
     
    #6
  7. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    Hey man give some credit to Rafa. He showed plenty there too. (Note: I was pulling for Novak)
     
    #7
  8. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    The post-Big3/4/5/7 gens on the men's side are certainly lacking some mental strength, that's not just a WTA thing. Of the 1989-95-born notable players, Raonic is the only one with decent clutch skills IMO, but he is plagued by injuries, as is Nishikori.
     
    #8
  9. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    Perhaps. But I NEVER hear analysts saying that. But it seems that the WTA has lacked “mental toughness” as long as I’ve been following tennis which is going back to 1992.
     
    #9
  10. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    Maybe we needn't care what the talking heads say, they are paid to promote the game, often by pandering to the audience, rather than do in-depth analysis to find the truth.

    Mental weakness is more obvious on the women's side, though, since women in general have considerably weaker serves and strokes than men (to be previse, either equally reliable but weaker, or in some cases equally strong but less reliable), so few(er) of them can mask impending doubt with a couple of big serves and forehands to finish points quickly before extended rallies reveal lack of steady rhythm due to uncertainty.

    Most players on either tour will always look like chokers compared to the big champions, anyway. We grow accustomed to the clutch displays of great players, forgetting that it's an exception rather than the norm.
     
    #10
  11. boredone3456

    boredone3456 Legend

    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2007
    Messages:
    8,321
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    In regards to the bolded this may not be true in commentary during matches, but there are quite a few threads and posters on here that do say just that.
     
    #11
  12. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2007
    Messages:
    4,567
    Location:
    OREGON
    Your first method is quantifiable, your second is not so much. There is no way to 'log' and describe a response to adversity as 'playing hard' or not, but you can statistically quantify shots that may reflect a change in tactics. Its more complicated if that change of tactic involves a change in the pace of shot, or a pattern of a series of shots consecutively as opposed to placement or spin of single shot or the final shot.
     
    #12
  13. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2007
    Messages:
    4,567
    Location:
    OREGON
    Others will say going for that big serve or forehand boldly enough to win a short point reflects mental toughness rather than a weakness. It means that the bigness of the moment and pressure does not compromise on the integrity of shot selection assuming that it is consistent with winning tactics. You are not far from equating 'mental toughness' with conservative play Are saying that Navratilova and Graf were not mentally tough when they won big points quickly with their weapons of choice, as Austin and Evert were with longer rallies ?
     
    #13
  14. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    You must have misinterpreted me. Ability to mask doubt (with big shots or otherwise) obviously constitutes mental strength, since that means being able to keep up good tennis despite lacking confidence at this moment. If you've been doubting your rally strokes, but managed get a big serve in and tee off a weak return for a winner, that's great since you were able to avoid having your ground game tested.

    What I meant is that since men hit stronger, they are more likely to come up with big shots under pressure and thus conceal the confidence dip, while women have to rally more and longer on average, so any mental lapse is more likely to be punished, therefore, the difference in mental composure between ATP and WTA players may be less significant than it appears to be initially.
     
    BTURNER likes this.
    #14
  15. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    I do think that ability to consistently sustain extended rallies in crunch time even when lacking a singular surefire weapon at the moment speaks of extra mental focus/fortitide; no coincidence that the clay GOATs (Nadal, Evert, Borg, Rosewall even) are also touted as some of the mentally strongest players in the game. Nadal has a singular weapon in his forehand, but when it's not up to deciding the point outright with sheer force, he rallies extremely well to get the necessary opening.
     
    #15
  16. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    Well obviously one of the top players of all time is going to be mentally tough.
     
    #16
  17. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    Going back to the original post, if we are going to seek to quantify and objectively measure mental toughness we need to narrow our focus. I say look at the big points/games in a match. Generally people can agree on those. Break points, set points, tie-breakers, match points. Then look at what happened on those points. Did the player in question win said point? If yes, was the point won via winner/forced error or did the opponent hit a UFE? You can then assign a value to those events.

    For example:
    Winning the point (regardless of method) +1
    Losing the point (regardless of method) -1
    Hitting a winner/forcing an error +3
    Hitting an unforced error -3
    Double Faulting -100

    You could then add a multiplier so let's say being down match point is worth triple points, down set point worth double. Being up match point/set point is only double. etc. You could also add a multiplier if it's simply a big game, say serving to stay in the match gets 1.3x regular scores.

    Obviously I'm making this up as I go but you get the point. If we could pull this off we could bring the same schism to tennis that baseball already has (sabermetricians vs. the ole eye ball test).
     
    #17
  18. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    It seems to me that if they want to promote the game they should spend less time dissing the current players and the entire WTA more time reminding everyone at home how difficult it is to do what they are doing. FWIW I can't stand most tennis commentary. The other night I watched a match on ESPN that for some reason had no commentary, just the on-court audio. Oh it was awesome.

    And yeah, for most good players choking isn't really an issue but anyone can have a bad day, especially when facing a great champion. It's when it becomes habitual that they become chokers. Of course, those players don't stick around very long.
     
    #18
  19. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    There are just far too many variables involved, with different kinds of errors (not all forced/unforced are the same, far from it) and different scorelines (by sets, games and points - up/down a set, up/down a break, serving for set, trying to break to get even, game point, break point, deuce, 30-all, 15-30, 0-30 - which significance does each scoreline situation bear relative to others?).

    A comprehensive analytical system for a very complex game that is tennis would require concerted effort of the powers that be, but they don't appear interested at the moment. Some statisticians have dabbled in tennis analytics, in particular Jeff at tennisabstract.com, but they are only scratching the surface. Many multipliers and coefficients should be tweaked and tested against actual match stats en masse to find the optimal algorithm.
     
    krosero likes this.
    #19
  20. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    A lot of players with choking tendencies fare just fine because they are good enough to beat most opponents without getting into tight spots. Heck, the man largely considered GOAT is fairly underwhelming under pressure (still better than average I suppose, but not up to goat standard for sure), yet he's just so good he's had the most success anyway.
     
    #20
  21. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    I don't agree. An unforced error is an unforced error. Whether you went for too much or got tight and underhit, if you have the shot on your racquet and you missed, that's a mental error.
    Great champions focus and don't miss shots on key points. Why not track that sort of thing? It would yield some interesting statistical fruit.

    As far as the circumstances go, it could be limited only to game points. So while being down 0-30 3-4 is obviously a pressure situation it is only the game point that really matters in the end.

    It would take a lot of time and effort but a dedicated person or team could totally develop an algorithm to create some sort of UMTR (Ultimate Mental Toughness Rating) stat that could follow a player around. I can see it now, Pam Shriver is at the table and she's like "Look at what happened in that third set, she typically scores a UMTR of 57 in an average set, but in this one she scored -15. You can't play like that and expect to win"

    If one of us is a university professor or something, this could totally become an area of research since you would have access to free labor (students) who could do the time consuming data entry/analysis. It could then be sold to the ATP or ESPN or something. Isn't that how a lot of these sports metrics get developed?
     
    #21
  22. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    Perhaps, but your statement indicates why we need this. Perhaps he is waay better than average in pressure spots, or pedestrian. No one really knows.

    Since I assume you are talking about Fed his success is owed to his longevity and consistency. He has rarely been injured and almost never lost before the semis of any event for a decade. Surely he must have faced multiple pressure points in every match and won the vast majority of them. True he has cracked at times, but wouldn't it be fascinating to know how he compares to Nadal? Or what about how Lendle compares to Borg. Which brings in another possibility. The magnitude of the event/purse could be considered. Surely a slam final is a bigger pressure than first round of a challenger in a public park.

    There could even be a points race and the player with the best UMTR could win a bonus at the end of the Tour Finals.

    This discussion isn't so much about who does the most winning but how this very big concept in tennis could somehow be measured. Just because someone does the most winning doesn't mean they are the best in any statistical category and vice verse. However, since this concept is so integral to tennis analysis it seems to me that giving it a serious, objective look is worth the effor.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2018
    krosero likes this.
    #22
  23. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2006
    Messages:
    7,489
    Fascinating discussion and I agree the state of tennis stats is in its infancy and far from what it could be. That's partly due to the lack of accurate data, which means that those of us fans who are interested in stats spend an inordinate amount of time simply getting accurate data. But the effort is completely worth it.
     
    #23
  24. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    So whose gonna take this on? I am not greedy. I suggest that everyone who contributed positively to this discussion be given a 1% stake in the value of the product for all perpetuity.
     
    #24
  25. BTURNER

    BTURNER Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2007
    Messages:
    4,567
    Location:
    OREGON
    I do think that the purpose of my thread is beginning to be realized. We are focusing on how to measure what we so often claim as ' just obvious'. I think we are a little too quick to dismiss what happens before that 'big point' as reflecting part of mental toughness. Sometimes the process that denies opponents much access to big points has to have a mental component as well. I am surprised about the lack of comment on my definition. I don't know if that means assent or disinterest or that it is too abstract to think about on a hot day.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2018
    pc1 likes this.
    #25
  26. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    I think EVERY point in tennis requires absolute focus both physical and mental. It’s part of the reason why I love it and find it so hard.

    But I think we all agree that you play and feel different at different points. I chose to limit my idea to game points because we can all agree that they are the critical ones. After all you can’t have match point at 15-15.

    Otherwise you get too bogged down in the details of a specific situation.
     
    #26
  27. AnOctorokForDinner

    AnOctorokForDinner Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    2,933
    Location:
    Moscow
    You can't oversimplify everything like that and expect decent results (lol). Everything should count if we want an algorithm with 95+% accuracy, i.e. a reliable formula, else you'll get another ELO (no version of tennis ELO could correctly predict over 80% match results, some form ranking I say). I could write a post on it, but not right now.

    Easy to say we need a mental strength metric - you're far from the first - but oh so tough to do. That should be a team effort, but one cannot be found thus far. I'm not the programming type, btw, just a fan with a penchant for stats and observations.
     
    #27
  28. WestboroChe

    WestboroChe Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2017
    Messages:
    611
    Ok so if my suggestion is too narrow for you then suggest the next step. However I think you’re discussing some sort of predictive algorithm which is not what I was describing. I’m simply looking to add some sort of statistic that players could accumulate over the course of a match, tourney, season and career that would provide insight into their successes and failures. So for example player x does more winning or wins against player y more often even though he has a lower objective mental toughness measure it might provide insight into how that player wins or can be beaten.

    Seems to me a coach or academy director would love to have this sort of data.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2018
    #28

Share This Page