Wellness Wednesday: As Tennis Star Novak Djokovic Notes, There Is a Connection Between Mental Toughness and Success

Novak Djokovic

Wellness Wednesday: As Tennis Star Novak Djokovic Notes, There Is a Connection Between Mental Toughness and Success

Anyone familiar with tennis or tuned in to the ongoing Australian Open in Melbourne knows Novak Djokovic is the definition of a legend. The Serbian tennis star is ranked No. 1 in the world and has more Grand Slam titles than anyone in history. Last month, Djokovic gave an interview with 60 Minutes about his career. Perhaps one of the most intriguing segments of the interview is when he discussed mental toughness and how it plays into his success. “Even though there is no physical contact in tennis,” Djokovic said. “There’s still a lot of eye contact.”

The same thing can be said about swimming. Take the classic ready room, for example. With eight swimmers sitting (or standing) around, locking themselves in for the upcoming race, it can be easy to get intimidated. Maybe the guy next to you is significantly taller than you, or the girl across the room keeps repeatedly slapping her muscles. How you react to these kinds of situations is critical for how you perform in the pool. Do you let the competition make you nervous and psych you out? It takes a good amount of mental toughness to focus on yourself and not worry about what anyone else is doing. The ability to block out distractions in the ready room is a key component of championship-caliber swimmers.

So, you survive the ready room, and you’re prepared to race…almost. It’s time for the walkout. The music is blasting (maybe you were even lucky enough to pick the song) throughout the pool deck, your teammates are screaming, and the crowd is going wild. The race you’ve put hours upon hours of training into has finally arrived. All of your hard work has led up to this moment. Feeling overwhelmed may be inevitable. Some athletes crumble under pressure, while others thrive. Where you fall on this spectrum is determined by your mental toughness. Do you allow the heat of a moment to make you nervous? Or do you turn it into fuel for a great race? Elite swimmers know how to transform pressure and nerves into a source of excitement.

Being mentally tough is easier said than done. Djokovic stresses that someone isn’t born mentally tough. Rather, athletes must train their minds just as they train their bodies for peak performance. While it may be easy for outsiders to claim to “stay positive” when things are hard, Djokovic recognizes that this is difficult, as doubts and fears are natural. He says that athletes should allow themselves to feel their emotions, but quickly move on from the negative ones.

“I acknowledge it (a negative thought or bad match; in the case of swimming, a bad race) but then I’m able to bounce back and reset,” Djokovic said.

The best athletes know how to not stay in negative emotions for too long. So, the next time someone’s psyching you out in the ready room, remember that it’s okay to feel the nerves and intimidation. However, think to yourself: “I’m just as prepared for this race as they are. I earned my place here, too.”

It has been said that swimming is a mental sport. While physical training is extremely important, being mentally sharp is just as critical. By training the mind in addition to the body, like Djokovic, swimmers can take their performance to the next level.

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