Like many others, I sat glued to the TV screen while Johanna Konta played brilliant tennis to become the first British player since Virginia Wade in 1977 to reach the semi-final at Wimbledon.
Konta has always been dedicated to tennis, she picked up her first racquet at the age of 8 and by 9 she ‘wanted to be number 1 in the world’. But a combination of dedication and technical skill is not enough to win world class matches.
Several commentators have said that it has been Konta’s ability to control her nerves that has been the secret of her rise over the last 2 years from a world ranking of 146 at the start of 2015 to her current ranking of number 7.
For example: Marion Bartoli, 2013 Wimbledon champion: “Konta has been able to really stay in her bubble. She just plays so much within herself. She doesn’t want to have even more pressure from the crowd.
“She’s taking applause, which I think makes the opponent really feel the pressure, but Jo wants to stay within her tennis. I think with the history of her not being able to deal with the pressure, she found this new way to deal with it within herself. That’s why she’s in the semi-final.”
And Annabel Croft, former British number one: “Not even a flicker of emotion from Jo, that’s how she can cope with it.
“I have seen her have some meltdowns when under intense pressure, but she has learned. She has been done as much work on the mental side of her game as she has technique.”
So I was intrigued to find out how Johanna had conquered her nerves. I found the answer in a recent interview Johanna gave for the Daily Telegraph. Konta is quick to acknowledge the help she received from her Spanish sports psychologist Juan Coto, who she started working with in 2014.
She says ‘Most importantly, he got me into the habit of using mindfulness and of trying to keep myself in the present, through being aware of my breath, my physical being – that does centre you. It also disassociates you slightly from when you are in a stressful situation on court. It teaches you good perspective.’
I can only imagine the pressure of playing on the centre court at Wimbledon. How easy it would be to be distracted by the shouts from the crowd, to remember what went wrong the last time you played a particular player or to imagine what could happen.
Once a tennis player loses their focus, they have lost the match. They will start to make mistakes and when a match is as close as that between Konta and Halep, one mistake can make the difference between winning and losing.
Many high-level sports people use mindfulness to help them to stay calm and focused. Tom Daley, Laura Trott and Kobe Bryant, to name but a few. Mindfulness can help us all to stay focussed on whatever is really important to us.
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