A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Damien Lafont from Vida Mind wrote an amazing article about Stan Wawrinka’s mental conditioning. It was an amazing success on social media gaining over 130 likes and even more impressively, over 150 shares! Just in case you missed it, here it is.
Behind Stan’s rise – Mental Conditioning
While experts have been raving about his improved mental strength, not many know the man behind Wawrinka’s fine-tuned resolve. Utah-based Badri Narayan is the mental conditioning coach of the newly-crowned French Open champion.
Badri has been quietly, yet closely, working with the Swiss tennis star for five years, but the contract he has signed with the player doesn’t allow him to divulge the details of the training. He works as a sports psychologist consultant/mental conditioning coach for players on the ATP and WTA Tours.
Apart from Wawrinka, Badri is reportedly working with America’s John Isner and Japan’s Kei Nishikori. Badri has also worked with some of the big names in Indian cricket.
“If you look at the history of elite players, though winning is important to them, the primary focus is on the process, being in the moment, staying in tune with the strategy, being aware of the most important things like footwork, balance, watching the ball, breathing. These elements to the mind appear uninteresting, but that is where true mental training comes into the picture. Look at the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Winning is a result of simulating various scenarios – Imagery plays a very critical role for these players. They see these situations in their head and also visualize themselves responding appropriately to these challenges. It takes repetition, patience and practice till it becomes second nature for you. One cannot just show up at an event and think they will be able to do it. One needs to simulate all these real time scenarios on the practice court. One needs to take practice points as serious as the real ones and make sure you are playing the ball and the strategy more than the score.”
“Tennis, being a very individual sport, requires tremendous mental discipline. In a match, it is the work that a player does in both mental and physical training off court/on court, that gets him to where he needs to be.”
“Mental conditioning is about embarking on a process-driven approach towards excellence rather than a result-oriented approach. It involves an intricate system where the athlete breaks down his processes into little goal affirmations. Players who I work with come to me with a result perspective, often frustrated about things that don’t work for them, and there’s the disappointment of defeat that goes with it. My job is to break down this black and white big-picture approach, based simply on whether the player is winning or losing, to a more step-by-step process.”
Question – How common is it for the top players in the game to use mental conditioning coaches today?
Badri – “The pressures of professional tennis like any sport is a lot. Tennis on the court , you are by yourself. You have to be a problem solver. For that to be done, you need to observe and understand what is going wrong where.. There is no one there to help you. You have the obvious pressure to win , outside pressures, own expectations etc. Top players understand the importance of this challenge and therefore are more inclined to place extra importance on mental discipline and conditioning. They treat mental conditioning as a very important aspect of the training process. Competition is like a mirror. It shows what you worked on and what you didn’t and what you need to do. If you haven’t simulated pressure like situations in practice and come out victorious , how do you expect yourself to do it in the heat of competition. Some Players use Mental Conditioning coaches exclusively. For some, coaches do both technical and mental conditioning. It depends on the level of challenge faced and how honest players become about their mental state and what it takes to over come those challenges.”
Question – For effective results, how long do you think it is essential to work with a player?
Badri – “On average a mental skill takes about 4 to 6 months to be integrated into your training system. I would recommend atleast a year or so. Because if you become relaxed, confident, less serious, trusting your instincts, being non-judgemental and intelligent between the ears, you have conquered the greatest inner obstacle which naturally will take you to external success. It is not easy but worth it.”