Frederik Løchte Nielsen has managed the transition from junior to senior as few other Danes have done. So it seemed natural to ask him how he tackled the mental side of the game. In this conversation he spoke of the “revelations” a tennis player can get – both on and off the court.
When I hear revelation, I think of a turning point in your life where you suddenly see things from a new angle and in an extremely constructive way. It’s an “aha” moment or a moment of clarity.
Løchte Nielsen has had an astonishing number of revelations, but three stand out for him:
A couple of weeks ago, just before the Davis Cup, I saw a documentary about football in Colombia, about drug money and players who were killed when they lost. It struck me that they were playing for their lives, and that tennis had absolutely no consequences for my life. I play because I choose to and because it makes me happy.
The only consequence tennis can have for my life is that every time I don’t compete happy or with peace of mind, it’s a match lost on my record. The only consequence it has is that I can lose the opportunity for many more experiences. There are no existential consequences.
I have a roof over my head, food and a bed, and even when things go badly, I’ll likely figure something out, so that aspect of my life is never in danger. So why do I get nervous, why do I get angry and disappointed in myself? The are no consequences with losing. They’re imaginary.
That revelation goes seems to segue into the next.
Problems are imaginary. They don’t exist. They’re only problems when I make them problems.
There are no bad balls
It’s likely happened to most players that their forehand or backhand is suddenly a problem. But it’s only something we pretend, thinks Løchte Nielsen. If we conclude that we’re hitting the ball badly, then we’re hitting it badly because we choose to.
It’s the same with bad conditions – bad balls, courts, situations, that my opponent is cheating – “bad” is a value you attribute to it which doesn’t help you as a player. It’s something I’ve become very aware of.
Løchte Nielsen has a rule: he mustn’t use adjectives with words like balls, courts, tournaments etc. He must only use constructive sentences like: “the court is slow so I need to prepare myself to play longer rallies.” That way he’s simply trying to control what he can control.
No one is afraid of losing
The third and last revelation for Frederik was as much a theory as a revelation:
No one in tennis is afraid of losing. I think players are afraid of facing their demons, which are much more exposed by a loss than a win. We can disguise it better when there are good results on the board. We can forget our demons when we win, or we can in any case be blind to them.
With a loss we’re reminded of our demons and the things we don’t like about ourselves. I think we’ve all had the experience of leaving the court as losers when we’ve played really well. So it isn’t losses were afraid of – we’re afraid of performing badly. And that’s also why so many defence mechanism come out.”
Instead of throwing excuses around, you need to prepare yourself, thinks Løchte Nielsen. Accept the level you’re at, accept that there are limitations. In that way you can be fair to yourself and not be so hard on yourself when things go badly. Or as Løchte Nielsen says:
When things go badly, it’s not because I’m doing it on purpose. I can’t control the outcome, so I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I can be hard on myself for only three things: intention, intensity and concentration. Those are the three things I can control.
Translated by MAN