How Lendl and Tears will see Murray through

Andy Murray’s display yesterday was a sign of a huge step in his development as a man. When he burst into tears the world looked on in shock. Suddenly this slightly petulant and not altogether attractive young man was showing himself in a different light. No one could help but be moved.

A lot has been said and written about Murray, the “weight of history” and expectation he carries for the great British public. Less attention has been paid to the weight of his own personal history. There have been two defining events in Murray’s life, the Dunblane Massacre and the divorce of his parents. Murray avoids mention of Dunblane and has said: “It’s obviously weird to think you had a murderer in your car, sitting next to your Mum. That is probably another reason why I don’t want to look back at it.  It was something my brain couldn’t cope with. I could have been one of those children”. He hid in a classroom. What young brain could have coped with such a traumatic event?

Children develop mechanisms to cope with extreme trauma and some  victims may need to keep trauma buried not just to reduce suffering but to promote survival. This survival mechanism becomes ingrained and we carry it with us into adult life. In Andy Murray’s case he appears to have created a “shell”, a container for his feelings in order to survive at the cost of appearing what we might call “human”.

It is likely that this shell was reinforced by the further trauma of parental divorce in his teenage years. In my experience all children take parental separation hard and find their own ways to survive. The typical child response to trauma is anger, sometimes hidden and sometimes overt. In Murray’s case it normally appears between points in his grimaces and fist clenchings. This is energy lost to him when in play. It is an excess, an overflow and is destabilising to his game.

The effort of containing his anger which is indeed part of his “humanity” may  have proved overwhelming at key times in his career, typically  a year ago when, one set up against Nadal in the Wimbledon semi-final he missed a forehand to open court. From being the aggressor and the favourite, he deflated in moments and his energy disappeared. Kevin Mitchell in the Observer claimed today that “so tight are his emotions they strangle his talent, that anxiety floods his limbs”. This illustrates exactly what often happens to Murray.

Above a certain level of anger your performance will decrease as an extreme level of arousal can lead to a lack of awareness and attention outside of oneself. In terms of anger this can correspond to the “red mist”, at the extreme we lose all sense of relationship with other people and with the outside world. The key to dealing with this is to find a way of staying in the present. Working point by point it is much harder to go into the downward spiral of self-criticism, disappointment and anger turned on yourself. There are techniques available to achieve this for all of us and they can be life changing as we allow ourselves to live in the present and let the past and future look after themselves.

A key difference for Murray may have been the appointment of Ivan Lendl in his “quasi paternal” role. It has been reported that Lendl gives relatively little “verbal” advice. In sport there is no substitute for looking as the most powerful form of learning.  Murray looks over at Lendl and takes in a body image of stillness and containment. This is constantly reinforced throughout the match – it is a form of coaching not covered in the rules, coaching through body shape. By modelling containment Lendl is coaching Murray at the deepest level, one that words cannot access.

The key for Andy Murray as he has begun to show is that he needs to stay in the present. Yesterday Murray showed far less of the anger displays we have seen in the past. He was the most “in charge” of himself we have ever seen him.

In anger we often relive our past or experience our fear of the future. By staying in the present we can avoid falling into old and undermining judgements of ourselves. Andy Murray, with Lendl at his side is experiencing a new relationship with himself and is more likely than ever to achieve his first Grand Slam. As he put it himself when asked about the Olympics, “I will only resume work when my mind is right”.  Murray’s tears were important, not for the audience but for how he is in himself. This is the key to sporting success. Murray gave himself permission to show his feelings without fear of what others will think. He said “I’m getting closer”. For this I salute him.

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One Response to How Lendl and Tears will see Murray through

  1. Vincent Valenti says:

    David,
    Your analysis of Murray was right on. Lendl is the perfect counter balance to Murray. And there is a bit of an irony there as well that not only proves your point again but should be a lesson to Murray. … Federer in his years leading up to his success was an angry petulant nasty kid who threw his racket, swore and was disagreeable much of the time. And the anger was always directed at a bad shot, how crappy he was , or what a loser…

    His parents were shocked and always embarrassed until they couldn’t take it anymore and left his rearing to his coach, Peter Carter who found a way of nurturing him into the man and champion he is today.

    Ironic, that Murray was beaten by a guy who had the same stumbling block as a young player, who conquered it and went on to be the debonair Roger Federer. So the battle was not over groundies, it was played on the inner court. Once you’re in good inner shape, you have a chance of winning. Otherwise, you don’t. Federer couldn’t lose. And if he had lost he would still have won the inner battle.

    Great writing Dave. really crisp and flowing; great idea to great idea. There’s also a lot of knowledge being passed on, experiences coloring the analysis as you demystify defeat. You are going to help a lot of people and hopefully get a chance at an athlete who needs you to set him/her free. Murray must be in such anguish no matter how much he thinks he isn’t. Shame you can’t talk to him before the Olympics. He could turn it all around in one effort if he had the right ideas in his head. He can play tennis.

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