Having had the opportunity to participate in many championship games, matches and series in team sports like the NFL, MLB, NHL, and the NBA, and in individual matchups like championship boxing WTA tennis, the mental game is the unseen aspect of sports that is rarely appreciated.
Whether a team event or an individual matchup here at the U.S. Open, the competition usually comes down to which team or athlete breaks down first mentally. As Richard Williams, Serena's dad, has said before, "when you are out there, you are all alone with your opponent."
I saw this concept first hand in 1982 working with then world light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks. Can you only imagine what goes through the mind of a boxer during a fight where you are getting points for number of head shot and the quality of said head shots? Is that not what the Saints were recently penalized for related to the bounty issue?
What is going on in the boxer's mind when you are trying to defend against those devastating shots.? My job was to make my fighter not only have the ability to become more effective at hurting his opponent but also avoid incoming blows.
In world-class tennis, where you live by the one or done rule, every match along the two-week slam road is a championship event. The real key is if you make it to the finals that you do not experience a let down emotionally.
From my experience, it comes down to making your opponent do one thing - THINK. If you make your opponent think, then you have taken away the most precious weapon - instinct. To protect from that downfall, you must have three attributes on board. The first is focus - the ability to see you opponent's next move before he or she does. Wayne Gretzky was a master of this ability as I saw it from my 10 years working for the St. Louis Blues.
Second, you must enjoy what you do, which means you must have passion - a life force that allows you to reinvent yourself on a daily basis. And third, you must be able to eliminate the collateral clutter - your personal life - that tends to surround athletes and people.
If you would like to learn more about passion, motivation,and stress management, you might check out my new book, "Stop Renting Your Health. Own it." I devote the first two chapters to health ownership. But the same applies to where I am now at the U.S. Open.
Tomorrow, my thoughts on the game and what we can all learn both good and bad.
-- Mackie Shilstone
Executive Director of the Fitness Principle with Mackie Shilstone at East Jefferson General Hospital and fitness coach to Serena Williams, who has advanced to the finals of the U.S. Open.