01/07/2013  -  11.25

Andrew Lane, Professor of Sports and Exercise Psychology


Wimbledon time, and up go the hopes that the 77-year wait for a British male champion will end this Sunday.

Once again, this year’s hopes rests on the shoulders of Andy Murray. Last year it was a case of “so near yet so far” at the Wimbledon tournament, but at the same venue he won Olympic gold. More than ever expectations have been ramped up. With the weight of the nation's expectations on his shoulders, how will Andy Murray cope?

First, he has got to "play the game and not the occasion"; that's a bit of a cliché but one that perfectly describes the mind-set required. This seems an obvious point; however, at match-point there will be an invasion of emotions that could colour his judgement. A wave of anxiety can have a paralysing effect, so he might need a strategy to help him cope.

Our research has found that an intervention strategy called "if-then" planning to be particularly effective. The "if" is the barrier to achieving your goals, and the "then" is the solution to overcoming this barrier. When put together "if-then" plan kick in automatically - the person has a solution he wants at the point where he wanted.

How many times have you thought to yourself "I wish I would have done this" or "I wish I would have done that" when faced with a particular challenge? Tennis players tend to have a number of pre-set routines to help ensure consistent performance, and so a reminder to go through such a routine might be helpful.

Second, he should try to imagine how it will feel like as he walks onto the court in the final. He needs a shot of anxiety. He has played in a Wimbledon final and Olympic final, and he has won a grand slam. He has experienced intense emotions in the competitions that count and importantly, has performed successfully in these hotbeds of emotion. 

Of course both suggestions are easy to do in principle, and harder to do when it matters. However, if you see the mind-set needed to be successful as one that can be developed through training, then it's possible to improve the mental game; this point applies to all levels of competition and situations where performance can suffer as a consequence of an invasion of unwanted emotions.