Bouncing Back to Win Gold: What we can learn from Andy Murray about building belief
Dr Jeremy Cross, Bailiwick Consulting
For years you have been trying to achieve that one major career ambition but each time you get knocked back at the final hurdle. And then, just 4 weeks after the last crushing disappointment, you get another golden opportunity. So how will you turn things around and make it different this time?
This was the performance challenge facing Britain’s Andy Murray following his loss to the great Roger Federer in the final of Wimbledon in 2012. Exactly 28 days later he would find himself back on the hallowed turf of Centre Court in the Olympic Games Final against the Swiss legend. After losing in all his previous 4 Grand Slam finals (3 of which were against Federer), Murray finally won tennis’s ‘Fifth Slam’ with a loss of only 7 games. So how did he do it and what can we learn from his remarkable bounce back?
Comparing match statistics reveals the first layer of the story. At the elite level, the total points won by each player is often similar so it is the ‘big’ points that make the difference. Due to the dominance of the serve in the men’s game, the ‘break points’ (when a player has a game point on the opponent’s serve) are some of the biggest. In July at the Wimbledon final, Murray won 29% to Federer’s 33% showing just how close the match was. However, in August at the Olympics Murray’s statistic shifted to a whopping 50% break point win rate versus Federer’s 0% showing he did a great job of both converting chances on Federer’s serve and snuffing out potential breaks on his own. So we know he won more big points but, beyond the bare numbers the question still remains – how did he do it?
Well he didn’t do it by panicking and ditching a good strategy, which we often see in both sport and business. Rather than wholesale change, Murray showed maturity commenting before the match that, “I won’t do anything different to when I played Roger at Wimbledon. I played well then and this time I’m determined to get the win and the gold”. After all, he had been leading by a set and a break before a rain delay and roof-closure broke momentum and played into Federer’s hands as the superior indoor player. Up to that point Murray was succeeding in his new strategy to take the game to the Swiss rather than employing his traditional patient, ‘slicing and dicing’ approach. Thus, sticking to his strategy, and ignoring the uncontrollable events that were responsible for his demise previously, were part of the answer.
But if his strategy did not change what was it that enabled him to shift those statistics to successfully execute his strategy so well in just 4 weeks? My contention is that the difference was one key performance factor – his belief.
As psychologists we know a lot about how to build belief. Albert Bandura’s classic ‘self-efficacy’ research showed it can be built by being able to remember previous accomplishments, by drawing strength vicariously from the successes of others around you, and by psyching yourself up verbally and emotionally. During the Olympic Final, Murray was able to tap into all three of these:
- Performance accomplishments – “I am now ready to win!”
Murray would have drawn strength from the fact that his previous strategy had been working. He would have remembered his eight previous victories against Federer rather than the losses. And, perhaps more importantly, we also know that he focused on the deficit in Federer’s Olympic belief with his comment, “It’s so rare for him to be in the position where he’s trying to do something new because he’s achieved so much in tennis. I hope that will even things out a bit”.
- Vicarious experience – “If they can do it, so can I!”
In 2012, the most recent addition to ‘Team Murray’ was his new coach, the icy-cool Czech, Ivan Lendl. He himself lost four Grand Slam Finals before going on to win eight and so embodied the possibility of what Murray aspired to. If this rubbing off effect was not already strong enough, it is no coincidence that Murray also paid tribute to the inspiring impact of ‘Team GB’’s track performance the previous night, particularly the 10,000 metre gold, saying, “It was amazing the way Mo Farah won… He gave me a boost coming into today. The momentum the team has had over the last couple of days has been so good”
- Verbal persuasion and emotional arousal – “It’s all positive!”
At a home Games, like in this summer’s Island Games in Jersey, the crowd can become a huge factor and so it proved. But isn’t Wimbledon a ‘home’ tournament for Murray? Former number one player-turned-commentator Mats Wilander explained the difference at the Olympics is because, “the public is behind you whether you win or lose. At Wimbledon, it was very clear that Britain was behind him when he won, but not really with him when he lost”. Murray has sometimes shown the tendency to get down on himself in matches when losing but there was none of this behaviour in the Olympic Final.
What are the lessons for us? Firstly, that it is possible to bounce back in a short amount of time. But, secondly, to do this you don’t just need to work out a winning strategy, you also need to build belief in order to execute it. So, can Murray win again at Wimbledon this year? Can our Jersey athletes perform to their potential during the Island Games this summer? And can you bounce back from any setbacks to succeed in your endevours in 2015 and beyond? Absolutely, if a little time is spent building belief. Because that, like for Andy Murray, is what can make all the difference.
Dr Jeremy Cross is a business coach and sport psychologist. He is also a tennis player who has won 19 Island Games medals and is this summer attempting to win a medal 22 years after winning his first.
Dr Jeremy Cross,