Two sporting event’s this week illustrate the importance of emotional discipline in performance.
– In the Australian Open, Andy Murray’s (UK) valiant battle against Rafael Nadal (Spain) was a real surprise. When I last saw Murray perform Wimbledon at, his emotional volatility and lack of inner strength was clear for all to see. It wasn’t just that Murray wore his heart on his sleeve, but that he was easily distracted from his objectives and that he sought out conflict, often appearing to blame external factors for his own shortcomings. During his match against Nadal, however, Murray proved he had matured and developed as a skilled tennis player. For the majority of the game Murray didn’t become easily distracted, as has happened so often in the past. He focused on the task at hand and produced some of the finest tennis of his life. At two sets all, Murray shouted ‘Patience!’ to himself, showing a previously missing level of self-awareness. Unfortunately, Murray started to show slight cracks in his mental game toward the end and Nadal picks up on weakness like a shark senses blood in the water. Nadal continued to press Murray hard but he ultimately allowed Murray to beat himself, despite his commendable performance.
In tennis and other sports, emotional displays by players add colour to the game, but there are positive emotions and negative emotions, and both can be self reinforcing. Murray is learning the value in self-control and restraint and I believe he can be a real contender in this year’s Wimbledon if he continues to develop in the months ahead.
– Elsewhere, the UK Master’s snooker final (O’Sullivan versus Ding) provided similar insights. The normally emotionally tormented Ronnie O’Sullivan exhibited an unusual level of self-control right throughout the tournament. Ding, who is known for displaying a maturity beyond his age, was worn down by the pro O’Sullivan crowd and broke down as he realised he was up against against a natural genius who was playing at the top of his game. He was on the verge of tears toward the end of the match; a sad and touching scene, especially when Ronnie O’Sullivan consoled Ding during a match break and again at at the end of the game. Anyone who watched this match will know that any level of emotional discipline wouldn’t have produced a win against Ronnie. But it would have allowed Ding to provide a real challenge. Issues of honour aside, it would have allowed Ding to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of his own game and constitution.
Giving in to one’s negative emotions is often the path of least resistance but all too often it is the least profitable option. There is little doubt that it is harder to be emotionally strong in defeat than in success, but it is when we are losing when our emotional fortitude is put to the test and that is when it really counts. It affects how you act and react when facing adversity, it impacts the level of loss at the end of the play, and it builds your character for future confrontations.
PS – I believe one big difference between most sports and trading is that in most sports we are playing against another explicit opponent or team but in trading I view the game more as a challenge against oneself. The market does not feed off my weaknesses or respond to my plays. The market just ‘is’. Nevertheless, the parallels with sports are endless – I often play squash and other racket sports for example, and it often feels as if the game is more a case of me against myself, rather than me against my opponent. I realise I need to start to learn to lose graciously.