Am descoperit, prin intermediul lui treizecizero, un articol tulburator…Este vorba despre povestea lui Mardy Fish, un jucator exceptional, cu o cariera solida in tenis, un om practic aranjat din punct de vedere financiar, dar si social, insa unul afectat teribil de acest microb, care este tenisul.
Nimic nu ma doare mai mult decit faptul ca acest sport nu are pirghiile necesare pentru a ajuta corespunzator atletii de performanta. Niciodata nu s-a pus problema unui psiholog sportiv ca o conditie sine qua non in dezvolta un sportiv, de la bun inceput. De la inceput e vorba, probabil in cvasitotalitate, de o ambitie a parintilor, fie de a implica juniorul intr-o activitate placuta care sa-l tina departe de problemele adolescentilor si, in cazul unui talent remarcabil, accesul spre inalta performanta (cazul meu), fie de o ambitie prosteasca de se propasi prin intermediul copilului, adica de a-si vedea neimplinirile personale razbunate de o cariera de succes a copilului, fie, de acum patologic, de a se imbogati de pe urma lor. Iar acesti copii, se simt atrasi in…cursa, fiindca nu pot detecta nuantele, ca un adult, si se lasa prinsi in acest joc periculos. In general, in profesionism, extrem de putini sunt cu adevarat fericiti PRIN tenis. Majoritatea au fost impinsi in acest sport (vezi cazurile Nadal, Agassi, etc), mai deunazi ascultam asta de la Kyrgios, care a afirmat, sincer, ca el nu iubeste acest sport, si ca a fost impins in el, la virsta de 14 ani. Omul e facut sa se adapteze si de aceea multi nu clacheaza, decit mai tirziu, one way or another… Fie in anii de final ai junioratului, cind deficientele tehnice fac diferenta, datorita unor rezultate prematuri care nu mai au suport, fiindca tenisul e altul decit cel invata/aplicat, fie in anii de tranzitie inspre profesionism, unde cinismul premiilor simbolice te doboara psihic, intelegind ce efort aproape inuman, si constant, trebuie sa depui zilnic, si nici aunci nu esti sigur de reusita fiindca, in tenis, doar 10 sportivi pe an se pot bucura de acest privilegiu. Doar refuzindu-ti aceasta revelatie nu schimba datele problemei, tenisul este cel mai exclusiv sport, si multe trebuie sa se intimple, departe de controlul tau, sa se poata alinia planetele si sa poti avea o cariera de succes.
Iata povestea lui Mardy Fish:
M-a marcat profund. Fiindca, implicat fiind in dezvoltarea unui junior, realizez natura unor impedimente care pot fi de netrecut. Eu nu stiu la ce nivel va fi Andrei si, avind in vedere interesul sau general spre…whatever, nici sa nu se puna vreodata problema profesionismului. Insa vreau ca altii cu ginduri similare, si stim bine natura competitiva a romanului, sa fie foarte atenti la modul de a aborda anumite probleme.
Fiindca am fost implicat in sportul de performanta, la nivel inalt, fiind medaliat la Nationale, la scrima, cunosc cerintele de a accede acolo sus. Imi amintesc de antrenamentele draconice, de competitia in echipa, pe plansa, cu adversari rai in sensul cel mai simplu al cuvintului. Ma uit acum la mina stinga si identific cicatrici pe fiecare din degete, lovite intentionat sau nu in asalturile de la sutele de meciuri avute atunci. Si eram un copil, am inceput scrima la 9 ani si am incheiat-o la 14, datorita obligatiilor scolare, avind rezultate excelente in jurul virstei de 13 ani.
Probabil datorita vicisitudinilor vietii sub comunism, mi-am dezvoltat o agresivitate a simtului meu competitiv. Personal nu ma consider o fire competitiva, insa pus in situatii de intrecere performez ca nimeni altul. Observ in junior tenis juniori cu atitudine similara, de genul ‘I hate to lose’. Acestora le va veni mult mai usor sa progreseze. La nivelul de competitie Nationala in general fara aceasta caracteristica nu poti invinge. Ceva trebuie sa te impinga, sa-ti pui in aplicare killer-instinctul, fara de care tenisul iti va ramine doar un simplu joc. Cu acest background l-am anntrenat pe Andrei de la 5 ani. Am fost cei mai buni prieteni in afara terenului, insa acolo, pe teren, mie zimbetul mi-a disparut. Nu zic ca as recomanda aceasta perspectiva, a antrenorului…all business, insa Andrei stia si stie ca am facut totul cu pasiune, chiar daca a parut ca o fac fanatic uneori. Zeci de mii de mingi a lovit Andrei sub privirea mea necrutatoare, fiindca mie nu imi plac lucrurile facute decit profesionist, asa am izbindit si in viata profesionala. Ii sunt un exemplu viu. Nu stiu daca i-a placut, insa a stiut intotdeauna ca eu nu sunt un om dur, si ca era spre binele lui sa execute tot ce ii ceream. A sti e una, a accepta, a crede in conceptul asta, e alta…
Am trait insa un experiment destul de dureros, acum incep sa-l inteleg, si care cred ca a influentat personalitatea lui Andrei inspre dezinteres in tenis, sau chiar anxietatea de care vorbeste Fish. Este posibil sa ma insel, insa mi-l aduc aminte, la 10 ani, cu acelasi stil de joc, fiind extrem de competitiv, culminind cu aceasta nestemata:
Nicicind nu-l vazusem pe Andrei atit de competitiv la un meci, si atit de increzator. Nu i-a fost frica nicio secunda ca meciul se putea termina in defavoarea sa, a jucat ca si cum ar fi fost ultima minge din viata lui. Am fost impresionat pina la lacrimi de acea performanta, repetata de altfel intr-un meci ulterior, in acelasi turneu.
Greseala facuta atunci a fost sa extrapolez si sa cred ca asa va fi intotdeauna, adica Andrei va fi eventual SI MAI competitiv, si ca psihicul sau e de nezdruncinat. Ei bine, in viata e bine sa fii cinstit insa e bine sa stii si sa minti frumos. Asta fac psihologii, iti mint….celalalt ego, care se opune progresului, inspre a-l lasa pe cel…progresist sa domine. Asta ne invata toate cartile si materialele de psihologie sportiva, ca in fiecare din noi suntem de fapt…doi, in competitie… E clar acum ca eu nu am fost un psiholog bun. Eu l-am invatat onestitatea cu orice pret, si, la 10 ani, l-am scos de pe teren cind l-am vazut ca a furat o tusa clar, inspre a-si adjudeca un ghem, neacceptind sa piarda. Ei bine, de atunci Andrei este onest 100%, un exemplu pentru absolut oricine, recunoscut ca atare. Acum nu are nicio problema sa ramina onest in toate circumstantele, chiar daca a pierdut multe meciuri prin tuse furate ‘profesionist’. L-am invatat ca solutia e ca el sa devina si mai precis si mingile sa nu ajunga pe tuse, fiindca si caracterul nu e pentru oricine, si stie bine ca putini sunt la nivelul sau de onestitate in junior tenis. Asadar, anul 2010 a fost extrem de promitator, el cistigind si 13 meciuri consecutiv. De asemenea in vara aceea a cistigat si primul trofeu la U12 o performanta remarcabila, avind in vedere ca acum probabil ca nu ar cistiga mai mult de citeva ghemuri impotriva acelui adversar:
Retrospectiv e bineinteles mai usor de analizat. Ar fi trebuit sa-mi dau seama in 2011, cind am ajuns la Bolletieri, si a cistigat in backdraw. La acel turneu, in primul meci, cu un jucator de acolo, mult mai experimentat cistigase doua puncte intr-un set intreg, fiind dominat de confortul cu care adversarul lovea mingile, desi mie nu imi arata nimic special, ci doar rutina. De asemenea, o alta greseala a fost ca in vacanta la Hilton Head, cu inca trei familii cu copii de virste apropiate sa-l fortez sa mearga la academie, in loc de a indeplini scopul unei vacante, acela de relaxare, si de a uita de stres, inclusiv cel din tenis…
Insa un an mai tirziu, in toamna lui 2011 s-a intimplat dezastrul. Il public aici, din pacate in engleza, in speranta ca se va intelege, daca nu, va astept cu intrebari.
In principiu, este vorba despre participarea lui la primul turneu de calibru, la care a cistigat primul meci jucind exceptional. Problema a fost la meciul al doilea, cind Andrei a intrat pe teren blocat, si a pierdut lamentabil. Ei bine, acolo s-a rupt totul… Lectura placuta si inspiratie va doresc.
Este vorba de scrisoarea trimisa lui eric, amicul meu caruia ii povestesc, de 6 ani experienta lui andrei in junior tenis…
„Houston – We have a problem”
Probably you got used lately with different stories from week to week. Well, this week was the same. This one is unbelieveble, believe me… Let’s see where I should start. Let’s start on Wednesday. We have been practicing hard for the last couple of days getting ready for the important tournament at the end of the week – the Regional tournament in Lexington, KY. Well, Andrei was not in a good mood for practice but he knew if he is focusing we can finish the exercises in about half an hour and then playing a set (which he would preffer always) and go home. Well he started to be defiant, not focusing at all, he had an attitude I did not like so I asked him to repeat some of the drills. He did not like it. So I had to tell him that if he continue to do that he will start losing money (he was pretty close to the price of that RC gas car). Well, he did not care. But I said let’s make it fair. I know he’d find more attractive to play a set so I told him we stop practice there and play the set. If he loses the set he loses 20$ (he never lost more than 5$ per ‘session’). But I told him I am gonna play my best tennis – so I will teach him a lesson. Fine, he said. Deal. First game I served, he did not win a point. Then he served. Well, I will make a long story short – he beat me 6-1 – everything I tried did not work, he moved very fast and hit countless numbers of winners and a couple of aces. I was stunned. I did not know I got old so fast, or at least he made feel like this. I may not be a 4.0 player any more but I know I don’t have a problem with any 3.5. So it was really cool to see him beating me so badly. What could I say to him, I praised him but still remind him that he was able to play that due to intense practice we had over the summer. I asked him how did he do it. He said – no way I can lose 20$ at once. Thursday it was a beautiful day – low eighties, sunny and no wind- I know it looks sureal from TX. So I said it’s probably ideal to play our anual set – which I always tape it. A set for real (last one was for real too). Last year I beat him 6-3. Well, I played better but he played better too. He did fewer unforced than me – we got at 4-4 and then he broke me returning hard all my serves – clean winners. Than it was a piece of cake – he aced me once then moved me from side to side a couple of time and that was it – lost 4-6. Well, I felt good – at list I got to win 4 games, I am not that bad… Friday I took a day off from the office so I can practice in the morning before we leave for Lexington. We practiced only 30 minutes and we focused on one exercise. I fed high balls deep – and he will take them on the rise landing deep on my side, to the sides, then come at the net – hit two volleys and an overhead. Well, he did well at picking it up on the rise – hitting 50% on the target (deep on my side) but all of a sudden he started to hit swing volleys. Because he had a great forehand he quicky figured out the need to accelerate even more on the impact while he still hit with spin. Well – his directional control was unbelievable – he executed all the sequence flawlessly several time. Rushed to shake hands and told him that he’s ready – let’s go and kick some butts. It was a long drive – 8 hours instead of 5 – the highway was shutdown due to an accident. But the hotel was great – we stayed in at Hilton in a VIP room (Gold member, good deal – imagine when I was with Megger and was platinium at all the hotels and fly free every year to Hawaii, the three of us). His first match was at 11am. His opponent was a kid who did not play Nationals or the equivalent of Midwest. So I said it’s gonna be easy, finally he’s gonna get some points. The kid was 5 inch taller than Andrei and later I found out that he will be eleven in…May so he is 5 months younger than Andrei. Let’s see who is in the crowd: his mom (and her husband), his dad (and his wife), his sister and his 17 years old 4 star tennis player. And of course the coach. Because they practice there, they are locals. So how did he get to the draw – he did not have points. Well, he was the wild card. Awesome – look forward to see the hidden ‘gem’. They start to practice. At 10 years old usually the kids are pusher, if he’s a good pusher it will be a great test for Andrei. Well, the kid was not a pusher, was a great tennis player – hitting consistently from both sides (two handed backhand). So I was curious to see what Andrei will do. Before the match – we talked about the ‘incentive’ – we ‘negociated’ how many matches he needed to win to get the car. He said three and I ‘negociated’ to two. Don’t know why he wanted to win more – I wanted to be realistic and play safe. Two matches will move him 20 spots in Tennis Recruiting and 100 positions in Nationals (he won one match before, out of 8 tries – you know, only select tournaments count). The match started, both hitting hard. But Andrei hit harder and got control of most of the balls. So, I knew Andrei made a huge improvement over the summer but I was still puzzled with respect to his ability to actually win, because of inconsistency. Well what happened for the next 30 minutes was beyond any stretch of imagination. Andrei played absolutely perfect, flawless tennis, moving with lightning speed and hitting so hard to the opponent’s backhand. He had one ace and many unreturned serves. And so many winners or forced errors. All of them after amazing rallies. I wish I kept the stats but during the match I talked to Andrei’s opponent’s parents and coach. They all knew how good their son was – in my opinion the kid is the best 10 years old I have seen so far – better than Andrei’s buddy – who is very talented but switched to pusher style and who is ranked #17 in the nation (?!). The kids played on the 3rd court and it was obvious for anybody that what they played was from a different league compared to the other courts. The pace, the acuracy, the shots – absolutely magic. I knew Andrei was good but I did not know when the breakthrough moment will come, when he will confidently play his beautiful game and win easily against good players. Well, time has come. All the parents moved to the window and cheer for both kids – they left their own kids ‘ matches for the real deal. Andrei won the set 6-1 – but believe me – it was much tougher than the score shows. But it was no way Andrei could lose the serve ( very few second serves) and no way one can beat him because he did not do any unforced errors. The second set Andrei relaxed a bit, still playing his game but definitely the kid took control of the game. At 1-2 they played a game on ads many times and Andrei finally tied the score. Then he got back in the game – come at the net a couple of times giving the message that no way is he gonna lose that match. Andrei won 6-2. When they finished the match – all the parents applauded both kids. Man, I had tears in my eyes – it’s been so many years when I dreamed about this moment – specifically when Andrei will produce that quality for the entire match not just a game or a set only. This was his best match he ever played – the last match close to this one can’t be even close – Andrei looked so mature on the court.
I congratulated Andrei’s opponent family – told them that the kid is the kind of player who will be great in the future because he plays the right tennis. The conditions for taping the match were not good – I taped one point only, was not the best at all – in the second set. Here’s the clip – excuse the quality of the video, but at least you can get an idea of the intensity of the match and the determination Andrei had:
It is something fascinating about his game – he remind me of Andrei Pavel if you remember him, it’s probably the energy he displays. Or the pace he is imposing was what caught the eyes, hard to explain, you just feel that. Immediately after we left and congratulate Andrei for his amazing match – I told him that he just got the car. He asked me why? He needs to win one more match. Well, I said, You proved to me that you can play you tennis at that high level – I understand how difficult this was and I want you not to have any pressure for the next match. Good. And I felt the need to tell him something which I am not sure it was a good idea. I told him that if he continues to be serious about this sport and dedicate all his efforts to this, I have no doubt he will be in the top. I know it sounds crazy, and it is crazy, ridiculous, call it whatever, but what one would think seeing this kind of performance at 10 years old. If he is now at that level, why wouldn’t he be there. We all know what the odds are – but until proven otherwise that’s what I think (then). His shot making ability is unmatched among his peers (I compare his shots with Harrison’s and Sock’s – it makes me laugh, seriously – you can see those 2 don’t have anything natural, it’s muscled shots – if you want to see pure talent for the pros newcomers – Dimitrov is the one who stands out). I don’t care about the results – they are obtained using opponent’s skills and physical disdvantages – that’s why any good twelve will not necessarily be a good fourteen and so on).
We went back to the hotel, then to the pool, relaxed, watched a bit of US Open and then went back to the club (forgot to mention that all the matches were indoor – smart decision, outside it was 100 degrees). His next opponent was a kid 5 inch shorter than Andrei. So I quickly did the math – if Andrei played THAT tennis with THAT kid – this one will be smoked, no doubt. Because the kid has to be a powerless pusher. Yeah, sure enough, the kid was a pusher, good one, who moved well – not impressed though. But I spotted something right from the beginning – the body language says Andrei is not focusing – his racquet was shaky and he was slower. He did not put energy to think at all, just got in the opponent’s game quickly and he even started to stupidly attack him on the middle being passed over head several times. From time to time he reminded everybody who’s the new kid in town – he buried some serves and forehands. At 0-3 I thought he’s tired and he will get back in the game, as usual. I started to be frustrated – he saw me – but he was not willing to change anything, yet. Good, I said to myself, maybe it’s time for a walk – could not take it any more – I thought my presence may bother him. Not at all, cause when I got back was 0-0 (that is a new set). Andrei continued to play horrible, committing one unforced after another not being able or willing to move at all. I was shocked. Is this possible? Is it possible to be mentally drained in such a way? Nothing left in the tank at all. The match before may have had long rallies but because of the pace of the shots everything happened so fast – a little bit more than an hour. You can’t be drained after an hour of playing only. I was fuming. He lost the set 1-6. So he lost with the same score as when he lost to #1 in Midwest in Carmel, IN , in Feb – the kid who is now ranked #5 National. Same score? Could not believe my eyes. Wow – I knew he’s not gonna like what he’s gonna hear from me. What about the car – I just had it in my hands and gave it…away… Not so fast – cause I told him – Remember the car? Well, the car is yours, as promised. But the bad news is that you will get it immediately after the first important tournament when I am NOT going to see something like this. Then I had to remind him, man I was so mad, all the previous ‘glitches, when he gave up like that. I asked him why? Was he tired? No. He said. So what? What happened. He said that he was afraid of the match. Why would you be afraid of the match. We knew the kid was #8 seed but come on, you could have smoked him, he was no match for you. As a matter of fact just seeing the kid so short scared him. What a paradox. Maybe because he knew it will require less errors to beat the pusher. You can’t play better than the first set in the previous match. I asked him how come everything was fine then. He said „I thought at one point at a time, and the scary thought did not come”. I may add – he liked so much the match, how the opponent matched his style that he did not have time to think about anything else.
Anyways – finally I calmed down as soon as I got to the hotel. Initially I wanted to punish him by not going to a restaurant (you know, it’s a 60$ deal a dinner and I really believed that he did not deserved that much fun – restaurants are on top of his list of the attractions when we travel, I think dealing with new food is fun). But then I said, come on, I should not do this – enough that the car was postponed. So we went to the restaurant – I said tomorrow morning he’ll play his doubles match and then the first match in consolation – still chances to make lots of points. After the dinner we went for a walk in the beautiful downtown. And I asked him what we should do to get back on track. He said – he was in a good mood – Let’s forget about the past – now let’s concentrate on the future. And he was smiling. Great, I said, let’s focus on the future. And we went back to the hotel. Was kind of late – we had to wake up early. And after he got in pajamas – all of a sudden, out of the blue he started to cry, Andrei does not cry, it’s got to be something important. What happened, I asked? He said: ‘Tata, I don’t want to play tomorrow, please, tata, please’. Quickly I realized it’s a serious issue. I asked him to drink some water, calm down so we can talk – I wanted to listen. Then he told me 2 weeks ago he asked me not to go to Lexington and I said no, we will go. And I said No for too many reasons – we paid the hotel in advance to get a good rate, he’s going to be penalized if we don’t show up, he will lose this unique opportunity to play at a National level tournament – and not lastly, respect for this sport. Why wouldn’t he want to go? Why? And then he said he does not understand what is happening but he’s afraid of going and play. Why to be afraid? He knows I actually do not care about the results, I care about showing the right attitude. He said he knows that but it’s a feeling he can’t explain. So he insisted not to play tomorrow. OK, I said, what about the doubles match? Well, the doubles match is OK – he’s got a partner and he has no problem to play that, it’s just the first match – the singles in Consolation. So what bothers him, the Consolation, the player, what? He could not answer. I was just seeing how much he suffered – could not push him more just because is common sense. So I had to promise him that I will take him out of the tournament. Wow, could not believe it’s happening to me that. Then he went to sleep and I was thinking over and over trying to figure out what went wrong what could have antagonize him so badly. It’ true it started to be like a pattern recently, where he selectively picked the opponents he will play tennis and the opponent will give the match to easily. But I said night is a good advisor (a romanian proverb) – so went to sleep (what sleep-could not sleep at all) and in the morning he’ll forget, kids are kids. Well, kids are kids but Andrei is Andrei. We did not talk at all in the morning about the ‘incident’ – so I thought everything will be back on track. He started to play doubles. His partner was so and so – quickly I realized they will lose the match – the other two kids were more experienced – they doubles not two singles in a doubles match if you know what I mean… Also I realized that he played inconsistently – moments when he ripped flawlessly his forehand alternating with moments when he hit it with the frame. So I knew he is distracted. He HAS to think about the next match. Sure enough, after the match was over he immediately asked me if I withdrew him. I said to me – let’s play my next card. Andrei, I said, why don’t you go and start playing and then after a game or two – you withdraw – this way USTA will not penalize you (I hated that I asked him to lie). What USTA? He did not care about anything but getting out of there. OK, did not insist more, obviously we had an issue to deal with so went to the desk and told them that Andrei does not feel well (true, isn’t it?) so he can’t play the next match. I was surprised to see that the organizers did not have a problem. So we left. Went back to the hotel, not exchanging a word, at least he got everything he wanted so I took the pressure off of him. We were supposed to stay one more day (paid in advance- so lost 100$) – so we left. This time I was not mad – at least I know we have an issue, that’s life. So I made a surprise to Andrei ( I was so distracted I forgot clothes and my laptop adaptor in the room – Hilton will ship them back to me) so we went to Lexington Horse Park. I did not know Kentucky is the World Capital of Horses. So we went there so Andrei will relax now. It was great there – we saw the champions – horses who made millions in the ’90 – especially Cigar – that horse won all the 10 races he competed in ’95 – and he was named the horse of the decade. Here’s some picture from there – a wonderrful place to visit:
Then we left to go home – a 5 hours drive. About an hour from our house somehow we started to talk involuntary about the tournament – told Andrei that the kid he beat ended up winning 3 matches in consolation – a great promissing kid. Then I touched base with him on what’s the schedule he would like to have. And all of sudden, he told me that he wants to practice with me a lot – but he just can’t go to tournaments. Ooops, that was new – related, but new. So he explained – he started to cry, he was suffering again, I could tell, Andrei can’t fake that – that it’s a feeling he can’t describe – but which makes him being afraid of matches. Wow, what a transformation. From Perrysburg (the supercompetitor, remember, when he saved 4 consecutive match points and winning – and then saving 4 setpints and winning the next match) to Lexington (afraid of playing) – our Waterloo… Did not see that coming, not at all. What happened that I missed. I asked him, directly, does he feel any pressure on these matches – told him that I like to solve problems but I ned to know the problem. He said there are too many tournaments. He wants to play less. He needs to play less. OK I said, but you realize you got to this high level because you played so many different players and learned from those experiences. The fact is I know there were too many tournaments. But he played those as an alternative to not being able to find a dedicated coach who would like to take the responsability – we are not at a club, paying 100$ an hour just for him to learn the game to play it in the park – let’s not fool ourselves – it’s either high performance (college at minimum) or nothing. Sorry, that’s me, not Andrei – when I do something I do it well or don’t do it at all. He knows that. It’s called commitment. If I did not have that we would not have been here enjoying this great lifestyle. Now that we have this psychological issue, we need to make adjustments. We will make them. But we need to set up goals. So completely disconnected from this I (we) decided to participate in the CTC (Competitive Traing Center) – an elite group of kids (12s and 14s) selected based on Midwest Ranking – who will practice for 6 hours – once a month at different club in the area. So we gave up 25% of the tournaments anyways. And especially because we do not care so much of 12s we played 14s, so it does not matter one local tournament more or less. Andrei got puzzled – cause he told me he can’t play tournaments any more. Good – I told him that we will take all the decisions together (all the previous decisions were taken together as well, but he did not know (neither did I) what burdens they may be have on him). I told him that if he does not want to play tournaments any more – that’s no problem. But he needs to understand the ranking will disappear and the opportunities to play good players will vanish. All of a sudden he burst into tears again – he said – How am I gonna be a tennis player if I can’t play tournaments. Well, I had to be blunt on this – told him it’s not a must he to be a tennis player – he knows how difficult is to achieve this – that’s why school is number one choice – because school will always be a safe bet. I watched him in the mirror and saw how affected he was. He put his head in his palms and cried. After a couple of minutes I asked if that strange feeling is because of any pressure of playing that much. He said he does not know – it was obviously this feeling was something he could not control. Then I have to be honest with him again and tell him that I do not believe he had any extra pressure from my side. We both agreed to go to each specific tournament or camp, it’s true- I propose those cause I am the ‘manager’ – until he’ll be able to figure out the schedule by himself – the sooner, the better. And then I told him that this (playing so much) may look like a pressure but it’s nothing compared to the real pressure I had when I was in school. Kids here are spoiled – the exams here are multiple choice and they can take the exams many times most of the times. When I was in 8th grade I had to pass a written exam at 2 courses – and we were 4 candiates for one spot. If I had a bad day and was not in the first 25% of the applicants I could end up at a school with not so good teachers which may hamper my efforts to be successful in the future. One exam, 3 hours only. Bad day = bad luck = Tough times ahead. For college was even worse. The competition was fierce and if did not catch those spots you -as a boy – end up going to the army – for more than a year. When you get back – you are brainwashed – it’s much, much more difficult to get back on track, stay home another year and study for the next year exam. That was PRESSURE, real pressure. Can’t stress enough at what level the pressure was I experiencing when going to fencing tournaments – and got blood on my hand because of the hits I got from the opponents on my left hand (no glove on that). But something tells me that pressure is something you can learn how to deal with. I don’t think you are just born mentally strong or not. I am personally still puzzled cause I still did not find the root cause of this ‘glitch’. But it may very be that some kids got overwhelmed with expectations – especially when you actually acknowledge how good they are. You know me, I am a very demanding person, but I love (not only like) to acknowledge accomplishments – that was my whole life all about. I was not lucky to have my parents accomplishing my results (in their opinion they did that not because they could not see them, come on – they were all on paper, but because they did not want to spoil me – that’s fine – but I found that so late). So I said I want Andrei to be confident – it’s so important in tennis. And I want to have a good communication with him – will help in the future. Maybe the pressure comes even by exposing him to the elite in tennis as well. Going to Cincy every year, seeing the Gods as close as a human being is allowed to, and see that even so perfect as they are – half of them still lose every single day – that’s the nature of this beautiful sport – it’s not for everybody (at that level) – somehow all of them instinctively regroup after each loss.. I don’t know, maybe is the buzz around him – seeing parents we don’t even know asking about him at tournaments, coaches after coaches acknowedgeing his talent. Maybe is the youtube clips so perfect for a 10 years old – and he knows we could not find any clip coming even close to his (of course – for his age). Or maybe that he’s highest ranked for U14 age based – that may be a stress too. Maybe is just the burden of the 40 tournaments, week after week, 120 matches in total and two exhausting (fun though) camps at the highest level. Or maybe is all of the above factors. So for now – no tournaments on the horizon, only practice. I need to find a way to still keep him motivated – maybe raising money for his iphone, or laptop would do it. It’s really interesting how he picked the practice with me as #1 priority – I found this amazing knowing how demanding I am during practice. I wanna see him though going to the CTC practice, starting this weekend – where all the kids are gonna talk about their tournaments. What is he gonna do – start crying again? Need to see that. Maybe that will be the treatment he needs – just a bit of confidence from his peers – he spent to much time around me and my ‘logical’ thoughts. But also I mentioned to him that it’s not gonna work to quit tennis for a while, trying something different (he wants soccer, he says he likes soccer the most – but he likes tennis too because he HAS to be good at something…-bad answer in my opinion, he did not think like that in the past, but now he starts to see what high performance means and what it takes to be in the top) – and then come back to the first love. It may work but I am not adept of pure luck – I believe in talent and muscle memory. I believe in tackling the issues and not dodging them. So far Andrei got both (talent and muscle memory) – to a level which exceeded my wildest expectation. Now we have a problem – we both learn how to deal with this, he’s a resilient kid, I am sure he’ll go over this.
In the meantime I ordered today the RC gas car – Traxxas Jato 3.3 – piece of cake – 400$ – for the beginning – this looks to be his hobby. Engineering is still a safer bet than tennis. To be fair, he worked really hard this summer and he fully deserves it. The good news in all this story is that there was a reason in the matches he actually refused to play, was not like he was not capable technically to handle the guys.
So the focus shifts to the RC car, having fun at school – tennis in the background. At least for a while.
What do you think? I can bet you did not expect this one, and did not experienced anything similar to your kids – things are hectic in Michigan…
PS. I may talk to a psychologist as well – recommended by the MSU coach – who knows what he can say to solve the dilemma – you live, you learn.