I was 14 years old, Number 1 in Australia for my age for the past three years. I’d won an international tittle and it was time for a real test, my first big trip to the British and Scottish Junior Tittles. Part of my preparation was a week’s training in Belgium beforehand to gain some experience, acclimatising and an opportunity to get some coaching advice from a coach that had been very successful in player’s achievements.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. We met and were quick to get onto the court, warmed up and then began feeding on the forehand. He dropped, I drove. As we worked the drill, he began to break everything down, my swing, grip, footwork, timing – all of it. He was so direct in his approach, sugar coating nothing, something I was not accustomed to. Within half an hour I was so overwhelmed by the negative comments. I began crying, which continued for the remaining 30 minutes of the session. He never once responded or backed off only added more notions of what was wrong, but not explaining how to change or how to fix it. No drink breaks, no reassurance, nothing, just straight clean cut critiquing.
I hated every minute and consider it to be one of, if not the worst coaching experience I ever had. I had pre-arranged for two more sessions, which were quick and I’ve also never been back.
I learnt something from this horrid experience however, not everyone will support you and want the best for you. There are those who would rather tear you down. Now whether he meant to do this or maybe he was testing my limits, bringing me back to earth or something, who knows. Having been the best junior in Australia and unfortunately with a lack of competition I had a false sense of security of my standings in the world (hence the trip) but it was effective. The next week I went on to win the Scottish Junior Open and competed very well at the British Junior Championships. Afterwards I returned to Australia with a new perspective and knowledge of how much work it’s really going to take to be successful.
The experience gave me a thicker skin and I learnt to make my own decisions about what advice I listened to. Working closely with a psychologist over the past couple of years has taught me many ways of how to deal with taking criticism. Everyone has a tolerance level and some are higher or lower depending on their self- esteem and confidence in what they are trying to do. One thing we did was called ‘filtering’.
Filtering to me is one of the best things I’ve gained from psychology. Imagine this, draw a small circle and then draw a larger circle around the small one. The small circle represents your personal core values and the large circle is your filter. The outside circle is a metaphorical barrier, it’s when people say something to you and you can choose to let it inside the circle or block it out.
It doesn’t mean you ignore the advice, it means you listen and actively choose whether to absorb it or not. If you decide to let it in the circle it will have an impact upon your core values and what’s important to you. If you block it out, then it disappears.
Decide your core values and try applying the filter yourself. See what feedback you receive and how it affects your inner beliefs. Was it a positive or negatives result?
The idea of using a filter doesn’t just apply to sport and coaching criticism. People pass judgements, thoughts and opinions everyday about everything in life, so being able to select and process what affects us is important to maintain an open, healthy mind and true core values.
My ability to control and be aware of thoughts I’m letting in my mind affecting my core values has gotten stronger. It’s all about the awareness. Knowing what is good and bad and turning the bad into constructive thoughts.
Crucial to sport is being strong minded, the value placed on taking in knowledge and learning is the only way to improve, so I suppose if that was the intended lesson from that week in Belgium, then I would say it was genius!
& That’s My Athletes Mind…