On Monday, famed Scottish tennis player Andy Murray faced Kevin Anderson, a South African player with nine years of professional experience, for a spot in the US Open quarterfinals. After an incredibly long match (over four hours), Murray lost to Anderson, ending his streak of making it through to the quarterfinals in all of the 18 Grand Slam tournaments in which he’s competed. After the match, Murray explained how disappointing it was to lose, particularly breaking his streak of making it to the quarterfinals, stating that, “Obviously that’s many years’ work that’s gone into building that sort of consistency.” He was questioned about whether or not his grueling competitive schedule throughout the year might have contributed to his loss that night, and Murray responded, “It was more playing against Kevin on the court of that speed, and with him serving as well as he does, it’s a tricky match. It comes down to a few points in each set. He managed to get them today.”
Murray’s comments touch on an important factor that influences performance: consistency. This includes consistency in training and in competition. Consistency is part of what separates good athletes from great athletes, and it starts with preparation. As he stated, Murray’s overwhelming success is a product of “many years’ work” and dedication to developing his game. Use this as a lesson. Take advantage of the time you have to train. Before you practice, set one or two goals to try to achieve during the session. This will help you stay focused and driven. After the session, take a minute to reflect on what you did well, what you want to work on, and how you plan to improve it next time. Make an effort to repeat the things that work for you while also continuing to improve your weakness. Consistency in training transfers to competition.
You have to be able to consistently manage emotions and recover from mistakes and setbacks in order to be successful. Murray explained that the match came “down to a few points in each set,” so, there is often little room for error. Training is the time to develop effective habits and reactions to both the highs and lows during competition. In training, deliberately practice your composure by using cues like “here and now” or “next point” to help you refocus on the present moment after a mistake or a good play. Get used to using centered breathing or self-talk, for example, to help you stay clam if you feel overly excited or nervous. Find what works for you and use it over and over in training until it becomes automatic. That will help you be able to rely on those habits to consistently come into play during every point. Of course, Murray’s loss demonstrates that even if you prepare well, you still have to compete with an opponent. He recognizes that it was Anderson’s serve that made the difference. By recognizing the strong points and how well his opponent played, he is better able to manage the loss. He can continue to train consistently and with purpose in order to be as prepared as possible to compete.
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