How Andy Murray can cope with diminished expectations

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By Andy Lane, Professor of Sports Psychology, Institute of Human Sciences, University of Wolverhampton.

Just like any athlete that comes back from injury, Andy Murray is in the period of uncertainty of ‘How long have I got to go?’ How much can I put upon my body and asking himself ‘Am I enjoying playing tennis at this level?’

You have to remember the lifestyle of a touring top tennis player is pretty brutal. Playing the tennis is one part, but moving from hotel-to-hotel and country-to-country is tough going. That can be exhausting in itself and therefore the appetite to give it everything needs to be really strong.

When Murray is on court he should not forget his achievements - not that he could, anyway. They are his backbone, his strength, the things that no-one can take away from him. They are his identity and make him a special person.

That CV shows the mental toughness he needed to achieve his grand slam titles and Olympic gold medals. He should remember how he got to the top. Remembering you are the same person is a really powerful thing.

What Murray is doing in realising how to cope with lowered expectations on court is commendable. He is saying to himself: ‘I’m going to focus on the process of playing good tennis rather than setting targets of victories or results’.

Murray doesn't know how much his body will be able to hold up so he can play top-level tennis.

But that makes things tough. Tennis is so outcome focused, and every point you either win or lose. You can play well in matches and still lose heavily, which makes it harder to draw positives.

You can have measures of how well you are playing and his team will have all that data. That is a positive way of looking at things. It sets out the expectations, partly to himself and also to everyone else, that his return will take time and his focus is on improving with every match. He will accept that there will be times he will lose. That is to be expected after the year he has had.

Murray is doing well at managing the expectations put upon him by others, too, and, in doing so, creating a narrative of how it is going to play out. He is also demonstrating his lighthearted side on his social media channels.

He has shown his emotions in post-match interviews but this does not make him weak. To display your emotions post event is a powerful communication to the public. It makes him more relatable.

  • Andy Lane is Professor of Sports Psychology at the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Wolverhampton. 
  • This blog originally appeared in The Telegraph.

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