Who knew that watching a tennis player scream abuse at his team and loved ones as they watch him play in the Wimbledon Finals could be so personally educational! Stunning tennis; physical movement and psychological command at its best. But, Woah! Have you witnessed the outbursts of Australian player, Nick Kyrgios?
We get close ups of him shouting accusations at his team and loved ones – straining face, shouty mouth and angry eyes contrast the softness of the fresh, white towel at his sweating face. I feel uncomfortable as I watch his team and loved ones passively take it. Unflinching, they continue to stand after every point, encourage him and clap as he shouts directly at them for not supporting him enough. “Where are you?! I can’t hear you? 40-Love and I get NOTHING?!!” I mean, it goes on and on. I feel tightening in my own jaw, I’m holding my breath and my vision narrows and blurs.
The commentators describe his regular use of this motivational ranting, how it is part of his game and how we can’t help watching to see whether it works or is distracting for his next serve, now at Deuce. Ace!
I soon return to hearing the hard plink-plonk of the tennis ball and I feel my stomach unclench. This has clearly triggered a form of fight/flight/freeze response in me, my nervous system on high alert. I relocate myself in my own body on my couch. I literally lean over to smell the sweet-peas at my window and separate myself from him and them enough to watch and wonder.
I am not going to justify his actions (not my job) and I am not going to worry about his team’s reasons for sitting it out (none of my business), but I can only imagine they have been dealing with this for as long as they have been around his playing and competing. I like to think they have talked about it and voiced enough to allow it to be part of his strategy. Perhaps it is some form of getting his self-criticism out in the open, directing it elsewhere other than internally. I get how holding all of that emotion in could have you tense up and destroy your game. Perhaps his team have given him permission to put all that on the outside – hit the emotional ball OUT rather than always having to keep it inside the lines.
So, enough surmising about them and their actions, conscious or not. Instead, I get a moment of personal reflection. Is this loud-and-clear shouting of Kyrgios at his team really any different to what I do to myself when I perceive myself as failing? My critical voice, the shaming and the irritation at my own actions is certainly different to Nick’s, but probably only by degree. And in a different accent!
Have you ever really listened to your self-talk when you berate yourself?
In my work as a performance coach, I have witnessed similar in high-end artistic performers also. Self-punishment in the pursuit of perfection is rife and so sad to witness. It is very hard for people to break with the conviction that this self-flagellation is what drives them to excellence in their sport or artistic form. And we all have a self-critic, which serves a role, but do we let it run rough-shod and rampant when perhaps we could find a kinder way to motivate ourselves?
All of this “relaxing as I watch some sporting entertainment” gets me thinking again about the world I am witnessing and what I would prefer. What a joy it would be to see two people play tennis at a skilled level for the love of it, for the sheer delight of relishing how it feels to move so efficiently, respond so astonishingly fast and skillfully and to celebrate another person doing the same with you.
Now that is a game I would watch over and over again and I believe it would encourage me in my pursuits and reflect a way of the world in which I could feel comfortable.