An Inside Look at the Brain of a Champion by Vic Braden
This column originally appeared in the February issue of Florida Tennis magazine. Publisher Jim Martz and author Vic Braden gave me permission to reprint it (that doesn't sound right given the website format, does it?), and I think it contains many insights pertinent to those interested in player development on the junior level.
I've been spending a great deal of time these last few years trying to determine what makes a champion and whether we can predict that one has the potential to be an international champion.
I have had discussions with neuroscientists, a brain typist, a tennis playing psychiatrist who has done more than 28,000 brain scans, famous coaches and pro players. The bottom line is that there has been progress in understanding how a champion's brain works, but there are still many unanswered questions.
I have to go back to my years of assisting with the management of pro tours. I'm currently archiving 50 years of film, over 30 years of video and about 40 years of audio tapes. I find that today's champions seem to think like the champions from 50 years ago. However, this is not based upon brain scans, but anecdotal records. So, what are the similarities?
1. The champions have had a goal of becoming a big-time winner at a relatively early age.
2. There also was nothing that seemed to be able to deter them from reaching their goal.
3. They were keen analysts when observing the strengths and weaknesses in potential opponents.
4. They seemed to have the ability to analyze their own game accurately.
5. They seemed to be able to analyze quickly when they were getting the right information from coaches.
6. When most players were calling it a day on the practice court, future champions were just getting warmed up.
7. Champions talked more about hating to lose than basking in the glory of victories.
8. The top players seemed to have a unique ability to focus on execution in tight situations rather than worrying about the outcome of the point, or the match.
9. Champions seemed to enjoy the pressure of tiebreakers rather than fearing it.
10. Champions gave away nothing: they would beat an injured player as fast as they could.
When Lleyton Hewitt was down a match point in the 2004 Pacific Life Open, I asked him if he was afraid. He said, "If he beats me, he's going to have to hit one hell of a shot to win."
In a video I produced with Pancho Segura and Jack Kramer, Pancho told the story about how Bobby Riggs was injured and Jack Kramer showed no mercy and beat Bobby 6-0, 6-1. Kramer said, "Don't show mercy to anyone. Beat every opponent as badly as possible, and if you like them, take them to lunch."