MENTALLY STRONG LIKE ROGER FEDERER
8 outstanding characteristics from the point of view of the mental trainer Lukas Tobler
AN INTRIGUING QUESTION
Mentally strong like Roger Federer – what are the reasons for his mental strength? Hardly anyone would deny that Roger Federer is one of the best athletes in the world and leaves deep positive marks not only through his tennis game, but also through his human nature. His development from an emotionally uncontrolled junior to the Mozart of tennis is not only remarkable from a sporting point of view; it is an impressive case study of mental strength. As a young athlete, I kept hearing the statement „You’re either mentally strong or you’re not.“ This label shaped me early on and mental strength was only something I concerned myself with towards the end of my competitive sports career. After that, however, my desire to understand the cause of mental strength became all the greater. What started with a positive obsession culminated in my vocation.
Roger Federer’s career end at Laver Cup 2022 marks the end of a great tennis era, but his achievements remain with us. The following report by the German television station ZDF shows Federer’s remarkable career: https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/sport/tennis-laver-cup-abschied-federer-100.html
As a mental coach, I watched the report from the point of view of Roger Federer’s mental strength and focused on the exciting question „What characterized Roger Federer’s mental strength?“, which we will explore in more detail below. Following are my personal observations, which are based both on my own experiences as a competitive athlete and on my intensive ongoing study of high-achievers and the mentoring of many greats for more than 10 years. Eight classic characteristics have emerged for me, which we will now take a closer look at.
1. ENJOY THE GAME
Roger Federer’s mother, Lynette, mentioned in the report that at the age of four or five it was obvious that he enjoyed playing ball games. This is an important basis for long-lasting success – the so-called intrinsic motivation – without which many young athletes burn out early. Over-motivated parents who want to set their children on the road to success from an early age, as well as an unconscious desire to make up for their own missed achievements and lack of fulfillment are possible reasons. But fun has a far greater impact: joy is just as much a state of mind as fear or anger, and positive emotions play a central role in success.
2. A WINNING ATTITUDE
Furthermore, Roger’s will to win was extremely remarkable for me. Of course, almost all athletes answer the question of whether they want to win with a resounding „yes!“, but that alone does not reflect a firm will to win. Roger Federer’s public statement in 1998 that he was playing André Agassi to win showed an unshakeable winning mentality. The attitude of a top athlete determines 95% of success or failure and it comprised of thoughts, feelings and actions. If one of the three components is not in line with the desired goal, the athlete misses the target. Not surprisingly, there were also some people who described Roger Federer’s will to win as arrogant. It requires a personal distancing from such „naysayers“ in order not to be misled by them and, above all, it requires the willingness to take risks, e.g. risking a failure. In the mentoring of competitive athletes, it is noticeable again and again that it is precisely at this point that many prefer to play it safe. At the same time, this kind of reluctance creates a big obstacle that they have to overcome in order not to prematurely – and completely unconsciously – stop their own progress.
3. REGULATING EMOTIONS
In the report, Roger Federer’s initially biggest hurdle to success is addressed: his emotional outbursts, which he couldn’t control. In „Roger Federer: The Master – The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer”, he mentions, „I knew what I could do and failure made me mad.“ He explains that there were two voices inside of him – the angel and the devil – and that one self could not believe how stupid the other could be. When one voice reproached him for having missed, he exploded. This problem and lack of self-control is widespread among (young) athletes and is not least due to the trained impulse control. Internalized values and beliefs, above all „I’m not good enough”, play a decisive role. In our western success-oriented civilization, making mistakes and failing are typically seen as „weak“. In many cases, emotional outbursts reflect an inner struggle against the „devil of inadequacy“, but also the lack of understanding of how to deal with strong emotions properly. When I am mentoring young, but I also more advanced as well as very successful athletes, I am using a simple model that I have developed to help athletes learn emotional mastery. In a graphic consisting of two triangles lying on top of each other, both the standards for long-lasting success and the ways of thinking and behaving that lead to failure are shown. In the report, Lynette Federer underscores the positive effects of athletes learning to manage their emotions: „Once he [Roger] was in control of his behavior on the court, wins came almost automatically.“ In the years that followed, Roger Federer not only developed into a mentally strong player, but also handled defeats gracefully. This character trait is just as little innate as mental strength, but both form the basis for outstanding performance.
Roger Federer’s handling of setbacks is remarkable, with one fact standing out in particular: his degree of self-responsibility. When Federer lost his sixth consecutive Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal in 2008, he was suffering from glandular fever. Roger could easily have used that fact as an excuse, but instead he maintained personal responsibility. Taking 100% responsibility for yourself is a quality that young athletes cannot learn too early, because the habit of blaming external factors and fellow human beings is growing rampant like a weed in society. As liberating as shifting responsibility may initially seem, ultimately it is always a guarantee of failure.
5. DEALING WITH PRESSURE
Self-responsibility also plays a central role in dealing with pressure. In the report, Lleyton Hewitt mentions that Roger Federer was able to handle the pressure of being the best in the right way. In my book „There’s Greatness in You“ I show that no form of pressure can ever crush us without us allowing it. This may sound provocative to some, but the cause of pressure actually lies within ourselves. First and foremost, it is about redefining the pressure we experience, in other words the question of how we can see pressure and situations that seem to put us under pressure differently. High performers like Roger Federer choose – consciously or unconsciously – a different meaning, which allows them to use situations in which other athletes collapse under the pressure as a springboard for top performance. Here the circle closes: stressful pressure goes hand in hand with a highly subjective view of things. In other words, pressure is closely related to the emotions we attach to a situation. A key factor is the level of emotional involvement. The more an athlete identifies with a defeat or his success, the greater the risk that he will collapse under the weight. Despite his enormous success, Roger Federer stayed down to earth, which in my view is closely related to the fact that as a person he never defined himself by his successes and failures.
6. MAKE A CONTRIBUTION
In the report, Lynette Federer emphasizes that Roger has never forgotten where he came from and gave something back. It’s the small and big gestures that show a person’s true face. Roger Federer was always nice to everyone and always made time for his fans, his mother reports. The desire to give back to others is a universal human need that leads to true fulfillment. Athletes like Roger Federer, who let other people share in their success in a positive way, not only leave positive marks, they build the foundation on which they can continue to live fulfilled lives even after their sports career. Roger Federer was and is an excellent role model for many people – and I happily agree with them. High achievers who not only strive for more success, fame and accolades, but who take their role as role models seriously, are the enablers for other people’s success. They touch in a way that, as can be seen with Roger Federer, exceeds their actual radius of activity. This form of influence is only possible thanks to an overriding mission that is bigger than the athlete himself. This obviously seems to be the case with Roger Federer.
7. FAMILY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The report mentions that Roger Federer was always able to fall back on a close and positive environment, but was also aware of the people he needed to bring into his environment in order to be successful. For example, when he realized that he couldn’t keep up physically, he hired a fitness trainer. The willingness to accept support is not easy for all high-flyers, because in the western world, accepting help is often equated with „showing weakness“. Righteousness also plays a crucial role here. Many young, but also older athletes are trapped in this state of inner resistance and insecurity, thereby capping their own progress. The misconception that we can achieve our goals on our own or the stubbornness of clinging to our own wrong path, mixed with the delusion that an iron will and hard work will still lead to the hoped-for success, is deep in human heads. Accepting new supportive impulses and remaining coachable despite one’s success are extremely important prerequisites for breaking through to the next level of success and fulfillment. As Roger Federer impressively proves, a trustworthy and benevolent environment is the most fertile breeding ground for ongoing breakthroughs.
8. PERSONAL GROWTH
Roger Federer’s mother emphasizes in the report: „Roger has always worked on himself.“
Of course, all athletes strive to get better and invest an enormous amount of time in improving their skills, technique, speed, strength, etc. However, by no means every athlete is concerned with personal development. If we recall Roger Federer’s initial freaks, it becomes clear that Roger has also grown enormously as a person. The sovereignty and inner peace that he radiates cannot be the result of a random change. Although I don’t know how Roger Federer specifically developed personally, the result speaks for itself. The fruits that he produced in terms of character are inevitably the result of a tireless desire not only to push the limits of athletic performance, but also to grow as a person. Combined with the desire to give back, personal growth forms the most important basis for the long-lasting fulfillment that many athletes visibly slip through their fingers after the end of their careers.
Your subconscious mind will do everything it can to prevent this from happening. It will convince you that there are plausible reasons why you can’t afford mentoring or don’t need it. The arguments will be so compelling that you will actually believe you made a conscious decision. In reality, however, your subconscious made the decision for you, because it wants to protect you by keeping you within the usual comfort zone. If you really want to get better and achieve your heart’s goals, then you have to leave your comfort zone in every way. This jump takes courage and triggers a feeling of uncertainty in you, making it feel more coherent (comfortable) for you not to take the jump, even though you will suffer from it in the long run. You feel that in your heart and that’s why you’re here. It’s time to invest in yourself!
Lukas Tobler is an author, mentor and awareness trainer. As a mentor, he enables top athletes and female executives to free themselves from their inner imprisonment, to gain deep trust in themselves and to develop their true greatness. Lukas works in groups as well as one-on-one and offers lectures and seminars.
Lukas Tobler offers a bridge between worldly and spiritual personal development. Through his coaching, he enabled me to find new ways to reach my next level of personal grwoth through his empathy, his help, questions, challenges and opportunities for reflection.
Lukas was able to look behind the scenes of my blockages. In a very careful and sensitive way, he led me to my limits in our mentoring conversations, in order to then overcome them together. For the subsequent implementation with the aim of a lasting change in behavior, I always received the „tools“, ideas and strategies for action that were personally suitable for me. I got to know and love myself.
What impressed me the most about coaching with Lukas was his ability to understand me. Direct, fast and uncomplicated. He finds, identifies and brings out the best in others. His quick comprehension combined with a clear choice of words help with the change and accordingly also with the manifestation of the new constructive path. In addition, I was looked after extremely professionally, individually, reliably and courteously.
Lukas Tobler has great charisma and a clear and understandable way of explaining even complicated issues. He responds to the needs of his clients and, if possible, implements requests or suggestions promptly. His good mood is contagious, in short, a great coach!
Lukas is very authentic and supports with his professional competence in an inspiring way. Through him, new levels and possibilities opened up for me, into a liberated and more fulfilling life. Many thanks Lukas!