Ash Barty’s mindset coach on coping with life’s hurdles


Ben Crowe, also known as Mojo Crowe, shares his tips to be the best version of yourself – elite athlete or average Joe.

It’s been a big week for international sporting events being held in London.

25-year-old tennis superstar Ash Barty claimed her first Wimbledon title in the Women’s Singles. She’s the first Australian woman to win since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980, and Barty was understandably proud.

The next day, attention moved from Wimbledon, North across London, to Wembley Stadium where England and Italy were set to battle for the European Championship title. 1-1 after extra time, Italy finally clinched the win in a penalty shootout.

The final shot rested on the shoulders of 19-year-old midfielder Bukayo Saka, whose goal was intercepted by champion Italian goalie Gianluigi Donnarumma, ultimately losing the title for England, who have never won the competition. A huge amount of expectation on the shoulders of a young footballer.

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Enter, mindset coach Ben Crowe who has worked with Andre Agassi, Stephanie Gilmore, the Richmond Footy Club and Ash Barty herself. His catch phrase is ‘If you’re in your head you’re dead.’

“We are so distracted by things we can’t control, so identifying your flavour of distraction – it might be COVID, it might be traffic, it might be expectation of outcome – if you’re focusing on all these things you can’t control, and wanting to control it – that’s the definition of anxiety,” he told Fitzy & Wippa on their Nova podcast.

Essentially, if you’re focusing on the pressure of a certain shot, or worried about an injury, you’re not focusing your full attention on the task at hand i.e. actually kicking the ball or swinging the racket. This applies to everything in life, sports, career and personal moments, really anything that carries pressure and emotion.

It’s something Ash Barty has personally had to learn.

“She is one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet. She had a lot of goals but she saw them as expectations of outcome, which we can’t control,” he explains.

“That’s the problem with athletes is that they confuse goals with expectations. We should all have goals or dreams, but it’s important to realise is that there are no guarantees in life and if you make it an expectation, it will create a distraction,” he says.

One must achieve the balance between believing you can do it and expecting it to happen.

“It’s that old coaching adage – whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re absolutely right.”

Crowe uses the example of the four minute mile. Everyone said it couldn’t be done, even doctors said the body couldn’t cope with it – until Sir Roger Bannister who ran the first one in 1954.

Soon after that 29 people did the same thing, because it had been proved that they could and they knew it was possible.

Clearly, belief is an important factor to success. Yet, on the other hand pressure can be debilitating.

At Wembley, England captain Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored the first two kicks of the penalty shootout while Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all failed to score.

What’s most interesting is that much of the resulting commentary, revolved around Bukayo Saka, as he was the final Brit to face the shootout, and thus his shot was the decider.

Crowe says it’s important to think about those moments, but never to criticise.

“You only critique your performances. You don’t put a value judgement against it,” he says. “You could also argue it’s just an incredibly good save by the keeper as well. And you’ve got to accept that. That’s sport, that’s life. Sometimes things are going to go wrong, sometimes things don’t. So the goal is to then reset yourself. The greatest growth typically comes from your darkest times,” he adds.

Crowe says Andre Agassi used to say there’s no one point more important than the next, because they’re all worth one point. A winning point is still just one point.

What creates that tension that pressure – is simply perspective.

“Pressure is a construct, and doesn’t actually exist unless you’re focussing on something you can’t control but wanting to control it,” Crowe says.

“If you attribute values of – oh my God, this is an Olympic final or grand slam final, so forth – and you focus on that, you’d be focussing on the outcome – the future. Last time I looked, no one controls the future.”

“It’s really boring, but it’s incredibly effective. The rest of the world is focussed on the outcome and the sense of occasion and creating that hype and so forth, which is what the media industry does. It deliberately creates that that energy and that drives the industry. What’s really important for athletes is to realise that that’s not real and I can’t control that anyway, and focus back on the things I can control.”

For example, Saka could not control that he was the last to shoot, that was the decision of his coach Gareth Southgate, and the fact that he was even put in that position was due to the outcome of the game itself, which is ultimately the prerogative of the entire team, not one man. Not to mention that two of his teammates also missed, leaving the perceived ‘pressure’ at an all-time high for his shot.

When you unpick that, and rationalise that, you can take away the helpful and constructive lessons; without the associated guilt and mental trauma when you don’t necessarily reach a personal goal.

It’s a lesson that not only applies to elite athletes, but to all of us. Whether you’re up for a promotion, or training for a marathon, one point or moment doesn’t define you.

“What’s really important is not to get distracted by this sense of occasion or the sense of ‘moment’ and accept that it’s exactly the same thing. And you can train that. You’ve seen many athletes around the world be incredibly accepting, stoic, and they’re celebrating the journey that they’re on, but not getting caught up in expectation,” says Crowe.

That’s perspective in a nutshell.



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