• Andy Johnson

Tenacious and Talented

Alex de Minaur has the mental game to become a champion.

The collective sigh of relief was almost audible in January as Australian tennis fans recognised we might have a real champion to cheer on to victory for the first time in 10 years. Alex de Minaur turned 20 years old last week. He is confident yet humble. He is talented and tenacious. He has character and a great attitude.

Alex de Minaur is now ranked #26 in the world. Exactly two years ago he was sitting at #899. His meteoric rise through the ranks of the tennis world has not gone unnoticed. Last January, Andy Murray commented that he wished he was “as grown up as Alex de Minaur on the tennis court, great attitude”. Fast forward one year and we have Rafael Nadal speaking about him as “one of the best players in the world”. So how does a plucky Australian teenager develop into one of the world’s best players in the space of two years? And, more importantly, why do Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal believe he is a force to be reckoned with?

Talent (obviously). Consistency. Conscientiousness. Humility. Support.

Consistency of effort and routine in terms of preparation, training and mindset is crucial for all athletes. Consistency of performance is what differentiates the good players from the truly great players; just ask Roger Federer. In a 2017 interview he said, “Consistency is a big thing in our sport. Can you serve like this for five hours? That’s the goal.”

At Total Focus, we have been working closely with athletes for the past 3 years and during that time we have been utilising our 60 second tool to record individual attitudes at critical junctures. Interestingly, we have discovered that simply taking the time to complete the 60 second tool on their phone 6 times a week was a strong indicator of success over the season. Consistently completing the 60 second tool, consistently turning up for training on time (even when injured), consistently produced better results. Interesting, eh?

Conscientiousness is generally accepted as one of the five key personality traits recognised in modern psychology (Digman, 1990). It’s also, hands down, the key ingredient for success because people who are conscientious are disciplined, high-achieving and dependable. They have the capability to remain consistent in terms of their dedication and input which, in turn, provides them with the greatest chance of success. De Minaur is conscientious to a fault. He fights for every point in every game. He never gives up on an opportunity on the court.

So, given his conscientious nature, how is De Minaur ensuring that he can cope in conditions of extreme stress? De Minaur says that he recognised early on in his career that he would need support to cope with the huge pressure that accompanies elite sport. This is where the psychologist comes in. De Minaur speaks with his psychologist before every match and at other regular intervals to help build his resilience. He says, “it doesn’t come easy, you have to work on it.” Again, he’s speaking about putting in consistent effort to get the results. It’s one thing to recognise that ‘mental toughness’ is a key element of the game. It is another thing to have the lack of ego that allows him to seek outside support in building that resilience.

Oh, how different from our resident bad boys of Aussie tennis!

BUT let’s not kid ourselves that this is isolated to tennis. Time and again, we have seen talented young athletes who have exceptional skills and seemingly limitless potential just drift away into obscurity. How could we have supported them more both during their sporting days and, equally as importantly, once they have given it away? We in the community – not just in sport – need to make sure that we are supporting all of our young people through the turbulent times of growing up. It’s up to us to normalise the building of resilience and mental toughness so that seeking help or additional support in that area is as normal as going to the dentist (who I should probably see more often too).

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