Centering for Famous Pro Athletes, Centering for Us

Our initial jumping-off point for this project was the observation that centering and other techniques that Jerry teaches would dramatically help Tiger Woods in his desire to return to being genuinely competitive. I spent a month's worth of pieces describing how centering would have helped Jordan Spieth at the Masters. In light of the recent pieces from Jerry and me about the practice of centering and how it helps people at our level, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk briefly about how centering might help other people at the top of their game as a way to pique thinking about other ways centering can be useful in our lives.

Because the French Open just ended, I'm going to focus on professional tennis players.

Serena Williams is still the person to beat in women's tennis, but she tends to get listless and disinterested in the middle of matches, and then needs a dramatic over-compensation to get back into the match. It's inefficient and it wears her down. She did this all through the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open last year, and it finally caught up with her in her match against Roberta Vinci. She no longer had sufficient reserves to draw on and she lost. I'm sure it's clear enough to her when it happens--she is cruising along and suddenly she isn't. Centering would help her feel as that listlessness sets in and possibly catch it before it became a problem. By feeling the difference between her flow state and her listless state, it would also allow her to let go of it more quickly when it does set in.

Maria Sharapova could benefit as well. Assuming she doesn't get a doping ban that's so long it ends her career, then she needs to deal with the real weakness in her game, which is her serve. Specifically, her toss is all over the place, which makes her serve very inconsistent and puts her under high stress during her service games. As we have spoken about at length with respect to our golf practice, centering gives the foundation for change by returning more fully to the present, rather than falling away into the past or future. For Sharapova, either the stress has become habitual (past focus), it stems from a worry that things could go wrong (future focus), or it's a combination of both, but whatever it is, it's corrupting her ball toss. A return to the present moment via centering would begin to shift that stress away. The ball toss could just be the ball toss.

For another example, consider Andy Murray. Murray tends to waste vast amounts of energy getting upset when things aren't going his way in a match. He directs that energy toward the people in his player's box. It got bad enough that his most recent coach, Amelie Mauresmo, with whom he had considerable success, admitted that their parting stemmed in part from the discomfort she felt being at the receiving end of his negativity during matches. (I can empathize; as a fan, it can be genuinely hard to watch.) Centering would allow him to experience the annoyance and frustration simply as they are, without needing to put more energy into them. It might also make him more aware of the effect he's having on others.

A couple of things worth noting with respect to Murray: in last weekend's final at Roland Garros, which Murray lost to Novak Djokovic, we saw very, very little of this habit. He did complain about a few things during the match, but those things--an interviewer in his player's box during the match, seeing a cable-cam designed to look like an airplane in his peripheral vision while serving--seemed like fairly legitimate distractions. Of course, as Jerry spoke about in his piece from Tuesday, there are always distractions. The question is, how do we deal with them?

Also, the tenor of what Murray says during those spells matters a lot. Many, many tennis writers have discussed how singles tennis might be the loneliest of all sports--you're separated from your opponent by both a substantial distance and a net. You're not allowed any coaching. Whatever comes, you have to handle it all by yourself. When Murray is speaking things aloud but without the negativity, it may be a way to let go of that sense of aloneness, and thus be energetically worthwhile. He needs to learn to differentiate between practices that let go of negative energy and practices that soak in it.

Over the next week, consider ways that you could bring the awareness and flow brought by centering into problematic or at least energy-leaking habits in your own life.

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