Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Breaking the Hold

An interesting example of cost-benefit (or coping versus growing) played out at the 2021 US Tennis Open in New York. In a match between Andy Murray and Stefanos Tsitsipas, a bathroom break became the center of controversy. Murray’s take on the moment, captured with a tweet the next day seems, well, interesting:

“Fact of the day. It takes Stefanos Tsitipas (spelling, Andy’s) twice as long to go to the bathroom as it takes Jeff Bazos (spelling, Andy’s) to fly into space. Interesting.”

Murray further emphasized his point by juxtaposing two emojis that I will leave to your imagination. I imagine the tweet sounds even more amusing (perhaps the source of spelling) when you hear it in your head with his Scottish accent.  

The source of the controversy has little to do with escaping the Earth’s atmosphere or movements of other kinds. It has to do with the assumption that Stefanos went into the stall for relief of a different kind in the form of texts from his father (and part of his coaching team) observing at courtside. You can’t get coaching in men’s tennis–although it happens. The point here is the use of the restroom and data plans. Tsitsipas allegedly has done this (the stall tactic and the stall text-ic) on other occasions. The reason we have to label this an “assumption” is we only have evidence of a missing player and a texting father courtside and the need for a change in game plan. Correlation? 

Here we meet the point of cost-benefit, and it’s where the overreach of coaches and parents becomes apparent. While the prohibited coaching might have influenced an outcome, the pursuit of the outcome became imbalanced in multiple dimensions. In other words, sacrifice the means for the ends.

And for what ends? What is lost when a player can’t think and adjust for himself, who needs to be told what to do? Who relies on coping via externals rather than developing internally? Who can’t self-regulate, be resilient, and handle the moment–in other words, has a process (means) that needs some upgrading?

Here’s where it gets a bit absurd. What’s the product? What are the ends? Titles? Money? Ol’ Stefanos has 7 singles titles and boatload of dough. So, what is the end that so overshadows the means? And, more importantly, is the end game clear? Winning at all costs is costly…

With a wide enough perspective, the ends do become transparent. Who remembers Pete Sampras and how often does his name come up in today’s conversation? Who remembers the products of his great career? Who among the thousands of fans attending the 2021 US Open even cares? Pistol Pete has 722 career winds, 64 singles titles, 14 major titles, and held the number one ranking for 286 weeks. If Pete wasn’t your hero, chances are you won’t know this. He was my tennis hero and I only knew that he won a lot and was number one for a long time. But I do remember how he played and represented himself. In other words, I remember the qualities–the means–that gave rise to his greatness.

My sons speak of Pete in the same time frame as Babe Ruth. Old! But tennis ends early for young men. Best to pay attention to the means…

The most important takeaway is: the process produces the product. If you gain the product, but the process is tainted in a manner that does not appreciate the quality of the process in the future, then chances are the cost is too high, the benefit cheapened. 

The moments when the process is refined to the level of the champion and the elite is done in the quiet moments of reflection and thoughtful dialogue, or under the fire of pressure and challenge. It’s an inward process that requires a structural change that can’t be accomplished from outside-in. It requires synthesis without the energy wasted on subterfuge. There’s a price to pay in both cases.

We don’t know the truth about what happened in the bowels of the stadium. But some do. And it’s worth talking about even if it’s in the form of just talking about the idea because you must choose to cope or develop at key points in time. If the stands-to-stall coach session isn’t true, I’m glad. If it is true, I wonder why at his age, father Tsitsipas doesn’t know better than to treat his son like he’s playing a 12 and under junior tournament. 

I have hope, though. After all, if we broke the hold of gravity and sent a ship into space…

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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photo credits: Unsplash.com