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Emma Raducanu goes Back to the Future!

Emma Raducanu’s gave a brief interview on Sky Sports News yesterday. It was ahead of her opening tennis match at Wimbledon today. I felt a tinge of sadness mixed with optimism and wanted to share my thoughts with you.

The interviewer talked about her preparation not going to plan due to injuries. He said, “7 games, not matches, is all she has managed in Nottingham earlier this month. She is using that to ease expectations”. Emma was outside what looked like the Wimbledon arena, where the interview took place. She gave the following response to camera:

“Although...you know...the ideal preparation would have been to play a couple of matches at each of the tournaments...I feel…it kinda…relieves some pressure maybe, because I know I haven’t had the ideal preparation, so now I can go there…swing…I can’t really expect too much of myself…yeah…and have fun”.

And that was it! It is only a year ago she burst onto the scene with her childlike enthusiasm capturing our attention. What has happened to this incredible young athlete? She appears to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. Speaking with slight hesitation and looking uncomfortable with what she was saying. You could see her frustration at not getting the ideal tournament preparation. I felt sorry she hadn’t got the practice match evidence she required.

Most elite athletes battle with which one comes first: belief-in-what-you-do-to-get-the-evidence. Or evidence-in-what-you-do-to-get-the-belief. She has no evidence of match readiness going into her opening match at Wimbledon today. It gave the impression she was questioning her belief because of the lack of match practice.

In contrast, Raducanu was exciting us all with her brilliance at Wimbledon last year. Her excitement was infectious. She would dash across the court with high intensity and quality. Retrieving impossible balls and winning points with fun and freedom. It is important to note that she didn’t have any evidence she could perform at world level. But she did. It was delightful watching her progress through the tournament. Winning, not only matches, but the heart of a Nation.

She exceeded all expectations and played with such freedom and grace. We saw a young woman surprised by her own success. We saw her develop game by game before our eyes and we were all transfixed. How could someone so young and inexperienced go out there and perform at that level? From near obscurity to the world stage in such a short space of time. Unbelievable. Playing world class tennis with such fun and eagerness. Her play was inspirational and amazing. She was living her dream and we were living it with her too!

She took the momentum from Wimbledon into the US Open and you know the story. She won it. The evidence from her exploits at Wimbledon were powerful. It gave her total belief in her world class ability. Such belief was surging through her veins, and she stunned the world. We discovered a superstar. A British teenage sensation.

Now for the dark side of “evidence versus belief” continuum. Since winning the US Open everything has transformed in her life. Success creates change. Such change can be uncomfortable and uncertain. It requires support to understand its impact – both positive and negative. Yesterday we saw a young elite athlete searching for that missing bit of belief. Her recent form, injuries and the lack of match practice are giving her no evidence to believe.

So here is for the optimism and what I found encouraging for her match today. In the absence of evidence, there is a demand for her to believe. This means going back to basics. To the way of thinking she had at started at Wimbledon last year. Once again she has to relax and take the pressure off and expect nothing of herself. This is the perfect tonic for something special to happen. As she suggested she is going to let her racket swing and play with fun. Such a leap of faith will cultivate belief once again. It fills me with optimism that she can play at her best today whilst reducing all expectations.

Having faith in one's ability is a courageous act. Special things happen when an elite athlete does this. It requires a low level of expectations about winning. Instead, these elite athletes have high expectations to perform at their best. Focussing on performing at one's best is great preparation for achieving something special. It requires its own specific training. Like Raducanu’s technical and physical skills need training so do her expectations. By taking an in-depth look at the transition she has been through over the last year is key. By engaging her in powerful reflection she may be able to make different choices in thinking. This will enable her to pay less attention to results. Success can trigger fear which needs processing in an open and honest way. Processing this in the glare of the world media is tough. Fears about the negative judgement of others are born. So too are issues revolving around rejection and humiliation. She will need to face some uncomfortable truths and find a new level of resilience.

A starting point would be for Emma to take a moment to relax and use her imagination for a few minutes today. I would encourage her to think she was an eleven-year-old again. What would an eleven-year-old Emma say about getting to the 4th round of Wimbledon at eighteen? What would she say about winning the US Open as a teenager? I would no doubt see the boundless energy and joy at the thought of realising her dream. It would be immense if she could return to the feeling and play with the fun of an eleven-year-old Emma. I endorse what she said yesterday. Go out and play with no expectations and have fun playing tennis. Wishing Emma all the best today.

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