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The Importance of Strength of Character and Why it Shouldn’t be Underrated

by Mike James(more info)

listed in mind matters, originally published in issue 236 - February 2017

I'm sure you know the story of Victor Frankl. His career as a psychotherapist and neurologist was interrupted by the Second World War and the Holocaust. He spent three years in four Nazi camps: Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering lll, and Turkheim. He lost his wife Tilly, and his father, mother and brother in the camps. Surviving, he wrote:

Viktor Frankl Mans Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning and I quote a paragraph to you: 

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the hut comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offered sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you will become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of the typical inmate.” 

I hope you don’t find it too big a jump or even disrespectful of me to relate the experience of Frankl and the thousands upon thousands of other victims and survivors of the Holocaust, perhaps one of the most hideous expressions of human behaviour in history, to something so comparatively unimportant as the sport of tennis. However, if you can stay with me just a bit longer, then perhaps we can explore the amazing message in Frankl’s words and how we can apply it to our ‘everyday’. 

As a coach and father I’m always encouraging my students and my own two boys to think positively and that our attitude and mindset is truly a choice. Even for those we label as positive thinkers, negative thoughts, images, fears, anxieties will invade the mind. Why? Because we’re human! Far more esteemed and knowledgeable people than me, such as Dr Steve Peters and his ‘Chimp Paradox’, have done extensive work on what is fundamentally the unevolved ‘reptilian’ part of our brain that is constantly on the hunt for danger - our flight, flight or freeze responses. Just listen to the honest and humble interviews of Rafa Nadal, who after winning 14 Grand Slam titles is still only too aware of his ‘chimp’ within. The key, however, is whether we submit to these thoughts and emotions and let them control us (Peters would call this the chimp running riot) or whether we exercise our freedom of choice and respond in a different way which gets the chimp back in the cage.   

The sports psych guys out there, especially those with backgrounds in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will tell you: thoughts influence your emotions and your emotions influence your behaviour - so catch, challenge and then change your thoughts! I entirely agree with this, but also sometimes think that the best way to change an attitude, emotion or feeling (they’re all linked) is to ‘fake it until you feel it!’ In other words, is it easier to think your way into a new way of acting or behaving or act your way into a new way of feeling (and therefore thinking)?   

Mike James

Mike James

The saying ‘Where your attention goes, power flows’ is directly linked to these ideas. Whatever my attentional material, the more I focus on it, the more power I will give it. Best then that our attentional material, which is so often from an internal perspective, our own self-talk, is constructive and helpful in nature. Can we move from: “This is too hard” to “This may take some time and effort”; or “I’m no good at this” to “I’m on the right track”; or “I give up” to “What new strategies can I use?” 

The great thing about our sport of tennis is the numerous opportunities it provides us to ‘fail’. We lose points, games, sets and matches and in these ‘failures’ (if we choose to call them that) we have the opportunity to choose our attitude, to exercise our ability to respond in a different way. 

A bit like life really... 

Cover Every Ball

Further Information

This is an extract from Mike James’ new book Every Ball published by Panoma Press. 2016. Available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

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About Mike James

Mike was born in Nairobi, Kenya, where he excelled at sport, was a Kenyan junior national champion in the pool and played football, rugby, hockey, cricket and tennis in equal measure. Mike’s love for tennis was further fuelled on the hard courts of Tucson, Arizona, where the family moved in 1982. There, Mike played high school and then Division 1 college tennis for the University of Arizona Wildcats whilst studying for his BA in History and English. In 1993, Mike moved to the UK and pursued a career in coaching. For the past 20+ years he has worked across British tennis as County Performance Officer for Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and National Performance Officer for Scotland, travelled across Europe and worked with top nationally and internationally ranked junior and senior players.

He is currently Director of Tennis for Halton UK, a leading UK tennis club, and is founder of its much-admired coaching brand Everyball Tennis. Mike is an LTA Level 5 Master Performance Coach and an LTA Coach Education tutor and Consultant.

He recently founded a new branch of Halton UK - CHILDS (The Chiltern Institute of Learning, Development and Sport) to help individuals, teams and organizations win. CHILDS defines winning as “identifying, mobilizing and gathering all our resources to go as far as we can”, which sums up Mike’s mission.

Mike is happily married to Suzie, has two boys, Joel and Jude, lives in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire and may be contacted on Tel: 07958 008312; mikejames@everyball.net www.coachingbymike.com/

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