Nick Bollettieri: Keys to peak performance

Published by Nick Bollettieri

Novak Djokovic has found the key to peak performance. Photo: Getty Images
Sustaining peak performance is the major objective for players of every level. Nick Bollettieri explains some of the keys to the process.

I was once given the unique opportunity to fly as a guest of the Blue Angels in an F-18 Hornet and the pilot became a very close friend. It has been 14 years since that flight, but former Lt. Scott Beare (Yogi) and I often talk about what it takes to be the best of the best, which means to be No. 1.

As we exchange stories it became very clear there are certain factors that are very much the same between a Blue Angel pilot and a top tennis player. In both positions you must sustain peak performance.

It may seem simple, but to achieve it demands constant maintenance. To win again and again requires everyone on the team to not only do their job, but at times makes adjustments and even changes.

Each job has roles and duties that create a team. For the Blue Angels they have the maintenance crew, physical fitness, nutritional guidance, and daily meetings of the pilots and their leaders. For tennis you have the coach, the stringer, the physical director, the parents, and the player. In both jobs it is vital that everyone on the team fulfils their position and responsibilities in order to achieve peak performance.

Like everything in life, when something is gained, something is lost. You must be willing to give up certain things in life in order to rise to the top and excel. It is important to remember that you are a source of peak performance. Replenishing each source is essential. You cannot expect everything to work out perfectly without taking some direction from yourself. The benefits gained from peak performance require:

1. Proper rest.
2. A balanced diet.
3. A suitable workout that you will need for your activity.
4. Making adjustments to your technique and lifestyle.
5. Willingness to analyse yourself and make changes or take a new path.

A prime example is Pete Sampras, who was one of the best 14 year-old players in the US. When he was young, he used to have a two-handed backhand. Of course, there was nothing wrong with his technique since he was competing so well.

Yet, one day Sampras’ coach switched him to a one-handed backhand. In order for Sampras to rise to the next level, he had to make some adjustments. In tennis, once you stop learning, you will fall behind. Tennis is such a rapidly evolving game, that there is always a chance of someone surpassing you. To be the best, you must be willing to learn and develop.

When a person falls short of their needs, their performance will decline, get injured, and risk entering into a stage of burnout. Coaches, you should ask yourself and your students the following:

A. Does your student operate at peak performance?
B. Do you provide recovery time for their top peak performance?

You may be doing everything right, but you also may be overdoing it. We are all human and it is important for each player to have that recovery time to sustain peak performance without gambling on a burnout.

Normal one-week tournaments are totally different from two-week Grand Slams. When breakdowns occur during a match players often become irritable and impatient, which often results in a loss of the match. What can be done?

This is where the needs of the team step in. The support team must recognise and address the issues, because it is difficult for the player to do so on their own. If a player continues such bad habits, their career in tennis will go downhill. Communication is a key-helping factor. It is a role of the support team to assist the player in strategising new positive habits that will help them exceed.

A good example of this situation is Andy Murray. As a young player rising to the top, he began to cave under pressure. This resulted in outbursts and breakdowns on the court, which ultimately affected his game. By not addressing his outbursts and bad behaviour, it was affecting his peak performance. Over time, with the help of his team, Murray eliminated much of his negative outbursts and maintained his focus, which in turn helped him become one of the world’s best players.

My good friend, Yogi the pilot and his friend Mike McMillan, give the following advice from the sixth century B.C, which still holds true today, “Without the source, we cannot reap the rewards.” It is important to follow each step required for peak performance because like a puzzle, without one piece it is not complete.

Remember, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. With the right approach, if the keys and steps are properly completed, players will achieve peak performance and also sustain it.

This article first appeared in Australian Tennis Magazine.

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