The “Inner work” of Sport Psychology
Novak Djokovic: ‘My greatest achievement is my open mind’
To be world class at anything it takes more than natural skill, it takes physical, personal, spiritual development and a healthy relationship with one’s own ego to begin a fulfilling journey to greatness – something we are all capable of, given we know how to use the appropriate tools.
But how does someone go from growing up through a civil war, experiencing routine bombings and food shortages, go on to become one of the best tennis players of all time?
Novak didn’t have the traditional upbringing most tennis players do, filled with anger and resentment from his early years; his first battle would not be to master tennis but to master his emotions.
It would have been so much easier for him to sit with that pain and bitterness, yet he was able take these raw emotions/early traumatic experiences and transform them into good.
This is really the epitome of resilience–
“Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.”
He credits this transformation to a non-judgemental awareness of human nature, being able to forgive (but never forget) and appreciating the value of human life. By seeing how disposable human life could be and knowing how the effects of growing up in a war torn country would affect his tennis, this spurred him on even further to show the world anything is possible.
Now, this isn’t to say every aspiring young athlete should visit a war zone to aid his or her development. That would be foolish. However, it does point to a greater underlying message that harbouring or holding onto negative emotions will hinder one’s own growth. Take the story of the snake and the saw for example which Djokovic feels resonates with him the most from his experience.
“One night a snake, looking for food, entered a carpenter’s workshop. The carpenter, who was a rather untidy man, had left several of his tools lying on the floor. One of them was a saw. As the snake went round and round the shop, it climbed over the saw, which gave it a little cut. At once, thinking that the saw was attacking it, the snake turned around and bit it so hard that its mouth started to bleed. This made the snake very angry. So the snake decided to roll around the saw as if wanting to suffocate it with his whole body. As the snake squeezed the saw the snake got hurt even more. Because of that, the snake thought it had to attack harder so it squeezed even more but it ended up being killed by the saw!!!”
Sometimes we immediately react in anger to hurt those who have harmed us, but we realise later that after all we are hurting ourselves.
Novak is clear that it was the overcoming of these early significant experiences that had the biggest impact as far as his life is concerned. If he let himself be the ‘snake’ in this instance and his resolve to be drained, he never would have been the successful tennis player he is.
This evolution didn’t stop here and Novak’s personal and spiritual development has continued throughout his career. He’s a regular practitioner of yoga, working on his ‘inner game’ and implementing psychological skills training. He’s always working at fine-tuning his habits, reducing the distractions around him and improving his intimate relationships. He reflects on whom he is, why is he here and if he’s in control of his life. He visualises his tennis matches before he plays them and believes his match preparation is where the majority of his work is done. It is this holistic approach to balancing his professional, personal and spiritual life that has contributed his mental stability on and off the court.
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Based on an interview between Novak Djokovic and Jay Shetty