Given we are deep into Olympic selection for many sports, it is an appropriate time to consider the opportunities that life offers outside of sport, to develop perspective but also to help sport performance.
I have just finished reading Rafael Nadal’s book, Rafa: My Story, and I cannot stop talking about many of the valuable lessons gained from this read (just ask the athletes I work with!).
There are loads of books, articles, videos, training courses, and online material that profess to unlock the secrets to success with step-by-step guides to being successful and how to get the most out of yourself, but there is a lack of material and information on how to handle high achievement whilst staying ‘normal’ or ‘grounded’ or ‘nice’ or ‘friendly ‘or simply ‘a good bloke’, in Australian parlance.
Nadal may just be a great example of this. Throughout the book there is a strong theme of family and friends and a life outside of his sport, which undoubtedly helps his performance on the tennis court.
He has fun with his support crew. They truly enjoy spending time with one another and they have this ‘one in, all in’ mentality with most of the activities that Rafa engages in.
“Whatever we do, we’re all in it together.”
He has worked hard as has his family to ensure that he remains the same person with the same values that he was brought up with. As opposed to abandoning the core values that his parents instilled in him, he has stuck to them.
He loves his family and friends and they are held in high regard. He fosters strong relationships with his family and friends such that he has an extremely meaningful life off the tennis court. There is an absolute unconditional relationship between Rafa and his social support system.
“That’s why Toni, Titin, Carlos, Benito, and Tuts must be friends as well as professionals, why I need a team around me sensitive to my way of being as well as diligent in their attention to my needs, why I want my family close by.”
He has interests away from tennis that also allow him to switch off from the mental demands of being a professional athlete. He loves going out to party with his mates, playing golf, fishing, and watching his beloved Real Madrid play.
“.. I also need to switch off and have a good time and party till late or play football with my cousins..or go fishing, the perfect antidote to the all-action stress of tennis. My friends back home mean the world to me, and not to go out with them at night to our favorite bars in Manacor and Porto Cristo would mean losing, or at any rate diluting, those friendships. And that would be no good, because if you are happy and have a good time, that also has a positive impact on your tennis, on your training and the matches you play.”
He thrives on enjoying the experience of his chosen career. There are countless references to the ‘bonuses’ of his professional life.
“We might have stayed in a hotel in Flushing Meadow, avoiding the traffic on the drive to the tennis center, but to compete in the US Open and not stay in Manhattan was to miss out on too much fun.”
He is gracious. In particular he sings praises of Federer and Djokovic. He acknowledges and respects his competitors’ strengths. With this he appears to embrace the on-court battle that exists between himself and his competitors. He acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the net and then, with Toni, develops game plans ready for the pounce when they meet.
“..it means that I treat everyone with respect and never succumb to complacency. It may be the reason why I rarely lose against players who, by their position in the rankings, I should beat.”
He embraces competition. The way that he applies himself in training and the way he has learnt to prepare himself to compete. He tries at all times.. mainly due to Toni’s constant reinforcement of the ‘never give up’ mentality..
“What you can never allow yourself is to fail because of loss of will. You can lose because your rival played better, but you can’t lose because you failed to give it your best. That would be a crime. But you won’t do that, I know it. Because you always do give your best and today will be no exception.”
He accepts that his job has responsibilities when it comes to pleasing fans.
“.. trying to behave like a normal person and pass by unperceived on a stroll down Fifth Avenue is, as I know from experience, mission impossible. It’s no use complaining about this, any more than there’s any point in getting irritated when rain stops play. It goes with the job and you accept it.”
Overall, there is an appreciation and reliance on the strength of the mind. This is great news for us at Mental Notes as we too believe in the unlimited capabilities of the human mind!
To finish off, here is a one of the most poignant insights into Rafa’s mind:
“I learned you always have to hang in there, that however remote your chances of wining might seem, you have to push yourself to the very limit of your abilities and try your luck.. the key to this game resides in the mind, and if the mind is clear and strong, you can overcome almost any obstacle, including pain. Mind can triumph over matter.”
This brief review provides a glimpse of what you can expect when reading Rafa: My Story. The overwhelming theme throughout is that Rafa’s success has not only been achieved through the dedicated systems he has in place on the court, but the life he has off the court, away from the high-pressure life as one of the world’s best professional tennis players.
We believe that life outside of sport is a vital factor in ‘managing the imbalance’ in the lives of high achievers. Mental Notes has a workshop series, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, that is tailored towards those high achievers aiming to have an increased understanding of themselves, with a specific focus on the challenging mix of how to achieve and be ‘a good bloke’!
Andrea Furst PhD | Sport & Exercise Psychologist MAPS