Ash Barty’s mindset coach: Get out of BED | SMH

And this is because, as the former sports marketing director at Nike, he recognised a pattern in the athletes he worked with, and later on, in the successful business people he coached: many were struggling under the pressure of external validation, be it from winning, making money, achieving social or corporate status.

“We’re so distracted by achievement and results more than the process of going there,” says the father of three boys. “We’re craving from others what we’re not prepared to give ourselves which is unconditional love: will someone please recognise me, will someone please accept me, will someone please acknowledge me?”

Ben Crowe post match in the Richmond change rooms after the 2019 Grand Final.

Ben Crowe post match in the Richmond change rooms after the 2019 Grand Final. 

Focusing on what is outside our control, like the expectation of outcomes or the expectations of others, not only leads to stress, pressure and anxiety, it is a losing game, he insists: “Last time I looked, no one controls the future which means you’ll tighten up not lighten up.”

Instead, by focusing our attention on what we can control, like who we want to be, we remove external “distractions” and can focus without fear.

“You still go after the things you love to do, they just don’t determine your self-worth,” Crowe says. “You can go after your dreams without any promise you’ll actually achieve those dreams and that’s OK.”

Ironically, this lack of fear to follow our dreams makes us more likely to achieve them. Crowe believes, this is one of the keys to Barty’s success, both on and off the court.

“[She] has put her goals and dreams out into the universe, and she’s gone after them and she’s also embraced these principles – gratitude and appreciation and celebration – rather than getting caught up in expectation or entitlement,” Crowe says. “She’s truly embraced the principle of acceptance – accepting the things she can’t control and focusing back on the things she can control. She’s connected with her purpose and sense of why, she’s established her values which is so fundamental to anyone’s success because when we’re on our knees and life sucks it’s our values that gets us through.”

These concepts are used to help clients answer three “simple but not easy” questions: Who am I, What do I want and How do I get there?



It was what got a 16-year-old Crowe through losing his dad to a heart attack, while trying to resuscitate him; it was what got him through losing his best friend to suicide; and it was what got him through laying off “a few hundred staff” while working for Nike in Hong Kong nearly 25 years ago.

Following this “professional crucible moment”, he used humility and curiosity to “pick up the pieces and respond to the challenges” he faced. He sat down at the Peak Café in Hong Kong and wondered what he was going to do with his life.

After two days spent scribbling on post-it notes trying to figure out his “why” and, after years of working with athletes on their external story, he decided it was time to work with them on their internal one.

“I settled on wanting to help athletes do things better and be better for it. My definition of an athlete has evolved to anyone who wants to compete, have fun and play,” says Crowe, who launched a mindset app last month, providing a digital “personal leadership” course based on the same exercises he uses with athletes and CEOs.

He, along with his wife Sally and their two young sons at the time, moved home to Melbourne where he launched and subsequently sold two sports entertainment companies before officially transitioning to mentoring.

“There’s only ever the response to what life throws our way… we can stay in BED, which is an acronym for blame, excuses, denial, or we can say ‘it’s my decisions, not the conditions that determine how I’m going to get through this’.”



Crowe’s approach is not about reinventing the wheel. He explores the stories we tell ourselves (Tony Robbins), leaning in (Sheryl Sandberg), vulnerability (Brene Brown) and ‘aha’ moments (Oprah).

These concepts are used to help clients answer three “simple but not easy” questions: Who am I? What do I want? How do I get there?

“If you can help people answer those questions that gives them the sense of confidence and happiness to find a path to go after their journey… then yeah [I think they] want that drug,” says Crowe who is running a mindset masterclass on September 29.

I wonder aloud whether seeing humility and humanity in highly accomplished people, like Barty, reminds us ordinary folk we don’t need discontent or ego to drive us or our ambitions. But I also wonder how applicable his approach is for someone who doesn’t have a job as a result of the pandemic right now or for someone like Michael Cassel, whose production of Hamilton was facing $10 million in losseswith 80,000 tickets cancelled because of the lockdown.

“There are so many things we can’t control, getting back to the things we can control is pretty powerful,” Crowe insists. “You need to draw down on your energy source that gets you through the pandemic, and it might be courage, love, perseverance, resilience, positivity or optimism…

“There’s only ever the response to what life throws our way… we can stay in BED, which is an acronym for blame, excuses, denial, or we can say ‘it’s my decisions, not the conditions that determine how I’m going to get through this’.”

Michael Cassel is a great example of this, Crowe adds: “He goes ‘I decide my attitude, my mindset, my self-worth… I’m not going to let COVID and the conditions of my business determine my self-worth. I am going to own my story and with my values and my purpose and my affirmations I’m going to overcome this and help my people overcome this’… His perspective is what will get him through.”

Speaking of perspective, I ask him about the kind of human he wants to be.

“If someone says who Ben Crowe is I say I’m a playful dad, I’m a grateful son, I’m a mischievous mate and a loving soulmate and a curious golfer – as in how the f–k am I going to master this game.”


Bathroom stall: Tennis toilet break rules

How long is too long to take in the bathroom

Article I, Section W, Paragraph 4 of the 2021 Grand Slam rule book limits women (who play best-of-three-sets) to one trip off court and men (best-of-five) to two trips “for a reasonable time for a toilet break, a change of attire break, or both.”

The discussion at, ahem, Flush-ing Meadows on Tuesday swirled around whether it was “reasonable” that play was delayed for more than eight minutes because Tsitsipas took his time while exchanging his sweaty outfit for a fresh one between the fourth and fifth sets of a nearly five-hour victory over Murray a day earlier.

“What’s your opinion on this? You’re umpiring the match,” three-time Grand Slam champion Murray could be heard saying to the match official. “Give me your opinion. … You think this is good?”

Murray, who swapped shirts while seated on his changeover bench before the final set, is among those who have advocated for some sort of rule switch.

Put a specific time limit in writing, say. Or have stronger consequences than the simple warning that Tsitsipas received from the chair umpire for a time violation Monday, when he and Murray both were soaked from 70% humidity and heat in the low 80s Fahrenheit (high 20s Celsius).

“It’s so vague. Another vague rule in tennis. And I think that’s what Andy was complaining about,” 18-time major champion Chris Evert said during ESPN’s telecast Tuesday. “Let me tell you, eight to 10 minutes, that gives the player time to sit with himself, to figure out what he needs to do, to reset if he needs to, to reach into his bag and get a phone call. Or reach into his bag and read a text. It opens the door to a lot of things that maybe aren’t fair in tennis.”

Calling pace of play “an important issue on our sport,” the U.S. Tennis Association said it needs to “continue to review and explore potential adjustments to the rules, whether for bathroom breaks/change of attire or other areas, that can positively impact the pace of play for our fans and ensure the fairness and integrity of the game.”

The ATP men’s tour said reviewing toilet break rules and those governing medical timeouts “has been an area of focus in recent months,” calling it a “work in progress.” The WTA women’s tour noted that it changed its bathroom rule to allow one break instead of two during matches, adding: “As with any rule, the WTA is always open to conversation and evolving rules if changes are necessary.”

If Tsitsipas’ purpose was gamesmanship, it worked.

Murray lost focus and, he explained later, the lengthy pause in play cooled him down, causing issues physically for a guy who is 34 and has an artificial hip.

This isn’t the first time the issue has come up with Tsitsipas — or other players. Just one example from Monday: No. 19 seed John Isner left the court for what amounted to a break of more than seven minutes between points after the second set of this three-set loss to Brandon Nakashima in an all-American match Monday.

A little more than a week ago, Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev accused Tsitsipas of getting help via phone messages from his father, who’s also his coach, on a lengthy trip to the bathroom during their semifinal at the Cincinnati Masters. Coaching is not allowed during matches.

“He’s gone for 10-plus minutes. His dad is texting on the phone. He comes out, and all of a sudden, his tactic completely changed. It’s not just me, but everybody saw it. The whole game plan changes,” No. 4 seed Zverev said after his win Tuesday. “I’m like: Either it’s a very magical place he goes to or there is communication there.”

Zverev said he views what Tsitsipas does as the “kind of things (that) happen at junior events, at Futures, at Challengers maybe, but not when you’re top three in the world. You are allowed to do that, but it’s like a unwritten rule between players.”

Tsitsipas and Isner did have their defenders.

“We’re drinking. We’re hydrating a lot. We have to use the bathroom. To change my socks, shoes, my inserts in my shoes, shorts, shirt, everything, the whole nine yards, hat — it takes five, six minutes,” No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka of the U.S. said after reaching the second round with a win Tuesday. “Then, by the time I walk to and from the court … .”


Covid-19 Recovery in Athletes | AskThePro

What kind of post-viral symptoms can athletes expect following a Covid-19 infection and what are the implications for a return to sport?

As our understanding of Covid-19 has evolved, it has become abundantly apparent that this is a virus that primarily affects the elderly (over 60-70 years of age), and particularly those with underlying serious health conditions, which have been shown to increase the risk of mortality by around 2.5 to 12-fold regardless of age.

By contrast, fit and healthy individuals under the age of 60 years are largely only mildly affected or may not affected at all. For example, the US Center for Disease Control data shows that in the 18-30 age group, the risks associated with Covid-19 are 100 times less than in the 65-75 age group and 600 times less than in the over 85s age group.


Despite the very low risk of serious illness in Covid-19, younger and fitter individuals can of course still contract the illness mildly, and like all viral infections, there exists the risk that post viral effects (‘Long Covid’) may be experienced.


Source: Sports Performance Bulletin August 2021

Pitfalls of Early Specialisation for Young Athletes | AskThePro

Are there risks for early specialization in young athletes, and if so, is there a better developmental pathway?

Practice makes perfect – or so they say. However, when it comes to youth sport, can athletes have too much of a good thing?

When high levels of performance in a particular sport are desired, athletes need to spend more time training for that sport. In young athletes,
time constraints (due to the demands of school, exams etc) invariably means focusing or even specializing in that sport to the exclusion of other sports or physical activity pastimes. Indeed, researchers have suggested that the process of specialization is the key mechanism for attaining elite performance in a particular sport, due to the increased volume of time spent in intensive training for that sport.

Source: Sports Performance Bulletin August 2021


Tennis United Competition on Tennis Clash | ATP

The WTA and ATP are teaming up with Tennis Clash, the world’s most popular tennis game for mobile platforms, developed by Wildlife Studios, to launch a new co-branded in-game tournament, Tennis United. All participating Tennis Clash players will be able to compete in the Tennis United tournament from 19-23 August.

The tournament gives participants the chance to compete, show off their skills and win prizes in a brand-new virtual arena. The event is the latest in a series of co-branded marketing initiatives between the Tours and runs parallel to the 2021 Western & Southern Open, a WTA 1000 and ATP Masters 1000 combined tournament in Cincinnati.

Qualifying rounds of Tennis United will be held from 19-21 August, where players will compete in 10 matches to reach the finals. The top 50% of players in each bracket will advance to the final round which will be held from 21-23 August. Every player who reaches the final round will be awarded an in-game prize. These prizes will become increasingly rare the higher the tier level the players compete in.


Angels & Demons on Court | AskThePro

Sam Stosur and Nick Kyrgios have some new friends in Naomi Osaka (French Open) and gymnast Simone Biles (Olympics).  Athletes who think that they have failed to live up to expectations—whether it be parents, peer group, coach or media.

Regrettably media these days have jumped on the band wagon wanting to label it as “mental illness”.  It’s not, it never was.

Competitive sports put athletes under pressure to perform. And any major championship increases the pressure exponentially.

My good Scottish friend, Johnson Brown, put it succinctly: “you’ve got to ask the question”.  What Johnson meant was to give your opposition a chance to miss. Equally,  you are often asking the same question of yourself.

On a personal note I well remember scouting an opponent with my coach before a major championship final. Says the well meaning coach — “The guy can’t play, you’ll have no problem…”.  Fast forward to next day’s final. There’s a big crowd. It’s 5 all in the third set! Enter my demon: “the guy can’t play” — not a subtle message demon —clearly I can’t play either!!  And I, and the crowd, know it!  Or that’s what my demon wants me to believe.

Choking, jitters, twisties and baulks in major competitions are part of the game. It happens to all athletes from time to time.  We all succumb at some point, under pressure — and particularly when the competition is beyond our level of experience.  It’s very difficult to win a Grand Slam and particularly at your first go. Closer to home recall Bosko playing Rimmo in the club singles final.  Bosko confided he knew what to do but couldn’t execute on the day against a more experienced player.

Quoting Olympic gold medal-winning rower Kim Brennan:  “Everyone has their angel and demon sitting on their shoulder,” she says. “The demon is always going to be there. You train yourself to accept that everyone’s got them. I bet Ariarne Titmus has her demons. But you get comfortable with it. You say, “Hi old friend, I knew you were coming. That’s nice. But I’m going to keep doing what I’ve trained myself to do’.”

Therein lies part of the answer (training/process) about how to handle competitive pressure.

Research shows us that our minds contain two systems. The first acts instinctively and requires little effort — it’s based on our evolutionary fight or flight tendencies—and easily fueled by our demon.  The second (our angel) is more deliberate and requires much more of our attention.

Our thoughts and actions vary depending on which of the two systems is in control of our brain at the time.  The key question then is how to ‘reset’ Mildred to Angel mode when competing. By the way, part of the solution is to ‘name’ your fears and move the goal posts. Mildred is the name I give to my mind, really the first brain that ‘runs the system’.

Another personal note: “I’ve never beaten Jimmy Parker” says my dubs partner before we have to play a USTA dubs championship final.  Parker has just won the World singles championship for the age group.  You mean ‘Jimmy Buffet’ says Pam, using humour to diminish the power of his name before we take to the court.  It was a hard match but we managed a win.

You’re more creative and intuitive when you’re in a better mood. When you’re in a better mood (Angel), the part of the mind that is alert and analytical tends to relax. That cedes control of Mildred to her more intuitive and quicker thinking capacity — key to competitive tennis!

So how do you reset Mildred under pressure. You’ve got 25 seconds between points, 90 seconds when changing ends.

Rhythm is the key here. Normal sinus rhythm is 60 beats a minute. This is the rate when your breathing and heart rate are in sync.  Under stress, this can change dramatically — eg shortness of breath in panic mode.

Most players have a natural playing rhythm. Agassi played very fast, Djokovic and Nadal much slower than Federer. Barty plays fast.

Serving is the one time you actually have control of the point — witness Djokovic’s 12 plus ball bounces during a tie breaker.  He is trying to sync his rhythm. So apart from ‘buying time’ by bouncing the ball, what are some other ways to reset Mildred.

Several years ago, we had the ‘Russian Ritual’. Recall Sharapova turning her back to the court/opponent and adjusting her strings for a few seconds. Or more recently Nadal’s approach which is to adjust his gear and brush his ear before serving.

A better way is to monitor/relax your breathing.  Recall from above that you’re trying to keep your heart and head (no pun intended) in sync.

I teach a basic 4/7/8 breath schedule to calm Mildred down when players feel under pressure. Breathe in to a long count of 4, hold for 7 and breath out, stretching your diaphragm for a count of 8.  Repeat as often as necessary.

Lastly, you have to learn to ‘play’ rather than to ‘hit strokes’.  Recall our Olympic rower Kim Brennan’s comment above about ‘training yourself’.  Perfection is to learn to ‘play on the other side of the net’ which few achieve.

Too often we are so focused on our own game (and particularly strokes) that we forget that we are competing against other players.  Hence the old adage: ‘a good player will always beat a good hitter’. But that’s a much bigger topic for another day.

NYTimes: Who Decides What a Champion Should Wear?

In the end, the mid-sleeved, long-legged unitard didn’t make it to the gymnastics team final at the Olympics. The German women who wore it to combat the “sexualization” of their sport were eliminated during the qualifying rounds. Instead, the usual crystal-strewn leotards cut high on the thigh were worn by the medaling teams.

The earlier shock over the Norwegian female beach handball players being fined for daring to declare that they felt better in tiny spandex shorts rather than tinier bikini bottoms (and act on their own desires) was not revisited because handball is only an Olympics Youth sport, and none of the beach volleyball players lodged a similar protest.

Yet, in many ways these Olympic Games have been shaped as much by what is not there as by what is.

Like the questions about the ban on marijuana — now legal in many states — spurred by the absence of the sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, or about what makes a woman, raised by the decision of the middle-distance champion Caster Semenya not to compete rather than forcibly lower her natural levels of testosterone, the controversies over clothing have triggered a re-examination of the status quo.

They have cast a spotlight on issues of sexism, the objectification of the female body, and who gets to decide what kind of dress is considered “appropriate” when it comes to athletic performance.

“The conversation has been a very long time coming,” said Angela Schneider, the director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies and herself a 1984 rowing Olympian.

It is the latest iteration of a debate that has been waged in offices, colleges and high schools; in the halls of Congress; on airplanes and on television stations, as individuals have increasingly rebelled against the traditional and highly gendered dress codes imposed on them — be it the need for a suit and tie, the ban on leggings or a demand for high heels.

Sports may be the final frontier of the battle, in part because it has been built on the foundation of gender differentiation, including how that is expressed through dress, as well as an entrenched hierarchy and financial interests.

The #MeToo and social justice movements have made equity and inclusion clarion calls of the moment, and that extends to what we wear to express ourselves and the concept of uniformity — which may be less a relevant idea than an antiquated interpretation of the social contract, one defined by a historic power structure that was almost always male, and almost always white.

Though that tension is most obvious in these Olympics, it exists at every level, from Little League to the world championships. And though the issues around clothing and sports occasionally affect men (aquatic sports, especially swimming, water polo and diving, are among the few in which the male body is on display and often objectified more than the female body), they fall heavier on women.

“It feels a little bit extraordinary that we are still talking about what women can and can’t wear,” said Brandi Chastain, the former member of the Olympic soccer team who, at the Women’s World Cup in 1999, became famous — or notorious, depending on your point of view — for whipping off her shirt in celebration of her winning goal, to reveal her sports bra. “But at least we are talking about it.”

Finally, she thinks, the conclusions may actually stick.

For as long as there have been women in competitive sports, it often seems, there have been attempts to police what they wear: to make it more female or less; to hide the body because it may be too enticing for men to see or to show it off to entice men to pay to see it; to play down the idea of power and raise the idea of clichéd femininity.

Because sports are grounded in the physical, it is almost impossible to divorce the idea of sexuality from the idea of the athlete — no matter how absurd it is to think that when a woman, or a man for that matter, is in the race of their life, what they are thinking about is seducing spectators.

(All you have to do is listen to post-event interviews with Olympians to know what they are thinking about: winning. Period.)

This is especially clear in tennis. In 1919, Suzanne Lenglen shocked Wimbledon by wearing a calf-length skirt with no petticoat and corset; she was called “indecent.” It happened again 30 years later, when the American player Gertrude Moran wore a tennis dress that hit mid-thigh and again the Wimbledon powers that were declared she had brought “vulgarity and sin into tennis.”

In 1955, when she was 12, Billie Jean King was barred from a group shot at a tennis club because she was wearing shorts rather than a short skirt. Even in 2018, Serena Williams caused a stir by wearing a catsuit at the French Open.

ImageSerena Williams in the catsuit that scandalized the French Open in 2018, even though she wore it in part as a health measure.
Credit…Christophe Simon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In 2012, just before the London Olympics, the Amateur International Boxing Association proposed that female boxers wear skirts, not shorts, to differentiate themselves from men. (A petition and uproar put an end to that idea.) This followed a similarly unsuccessful attempt in 2011 by the Badminton World Federation to make women players wear skirts and dresses.

When the women’s soccer league began to break through in the early millennium and players started to lobby for equal treatment, Sepp Blatter, then the president of FIFA, the international soccer federation, suggested they play in tighter, smaller shorts, to “create a more female aesthetic.” The implication being that the only way to get people to pay to see the players was for them to essentially sell their bodies.

That notion was shut down pretty quickly, though the viewership argument still comes up in conversations about dress and sports. (The assumption that the watching fan base is largely male is itself a questionable one.) It wasn’t until 2019, however, that female soccer players actually had uniforms made specifically for their needs rather than scaled-down versions of the male cuts.

At this point, an alien landing on Earth could be forgiven for being confused about the so-called skirts worn by women in tennis, field hockey, squash and lacrosse, since they resemble the vestige of a skirt — like a vestigial tail — more than an actual garment.

Likewise, it would make no sense that men and women wear such strikingly different amounts of clothing in, say, track and field, whereas in sports like rowing, basketball and softball they wear close to the same thing.

The answer, when sought, is usually “it’s the culture of the sport.” Culture, in this sense, being synonymous with history and legacy; with what got athletes involved in their sports in the first place; and with the symbols of what connects extraordinary players of today to those who came before.

It’s the culture of the sport that gymnasts wear sparkly leotards. It’s the culture of the sport that beach volleyball players resemble beach bunnies. It’s the culture of the sport that skateboarders wear big T-shirts and baggy pants.

Except, of course, it’s not always. Gymnastics leotards, which today have thousands of crystals, were fairly functional and unadorned garments for decades; basketball shorts rise and fall with the times.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

“If a tradition was developed at a time when people were excluded on the basis of gender or race, then that tradition will not take their needs into account,” said Richard Ford, a professor of law at Stanford University and the author of “Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History.” Consider: For decades it was a rule that the solicitor general of the United States wear a morning coat while arguing before the Supreme Court; when Elena Kagan became the first woman to hold the post, she pointed out that would no longer exactly work, and the rule was changed.

“Culture is maybe used as a reason and an excuse, but that doesn’t make it right,” said Cassidy Krug, a member of the 2012 Olympic diving team.

It’s also the culture of sports to concentrate power in the hands of the governing bodies, which rule with an iron fist, and in the coaches below them. “When someone is holding your dreams in their hands, it’s very hard to push back against that,” said Megan Neyer, a sports and psychology consultant and former Olympic diver. For years athletes have been told to be seen and not heard, a situation that helped facilitate the sexual abuse recently revealed in many disciplines, and which has made the debate around dress even more charged.

As social media has allowed athletes to create their own power bases, however, the playing field has also changed, allowing them to speak up in a way they never could before.

“There’s been a significant movement in the athlete’s rights movement,” said Ms. Schneider, of the Centre for Olympic Studies. “There has been a shift in power.”


Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The International Olympic Committee allows the National Olympic committees of each delegation to dictate their own rules when it comes to dress, with one caveat, according to Ms. Schneider: The result must “not be offensive.” But like office dress codes, which have generally retreated to the idea that employees simply dress “appropriately,” what may be seen as offensive or appropriate is highly subjective.

“It’s a very fluid word when it comes to women’s bodies and changes across cultures and religions,” Ms. Schneider said.

For example, when Ms. Chastain posed naked with a soccer ball for Maxim magazine after the soccer team win, it would have been easy to dismiss that as objectification by a magazine made for testosterone-fueled fantasy. But she said she felt “celebrating the good things you do as a woman was really important,” that it showed there was no hiding the connection between her power and success and her femininity.

And though it would be equally easy to dismiss the beach volleyball outfits as “Baywatch”-style sexploitation, given that the men play in tank tops and shorts, the International Volleyball Federation changed the rules in 2012 to allow women to wear shorts and tops with sleeves. Instead, the women often choose not to in order to avoid the discomfort of getting sand in their clothes, as Jennifer Kessy, who won a silver medal in 2012, told the “Today” show.

She also said the players refer to their uniforms as “competition suits” rather than “bikinis,” the better to frame the idea for the watching public: It’s not about provocation; it’s about performance and psychology. It’s not about you; it’s about me.

And being part of a group. As an athlete, you don’t want your clothing to distract from your actions, said Ms. Krug, the diver. It is a constant balancing act between being a person representing yourself and representing your team. Or in the Olympics case, your country.

The unitards worn by the German team were positioned as a political statement, but they were also an officially endorsed form of attire. It’s just that previously no gymnasts had chosen to wear them in a setting like the Olympics. In June, the rules of U.S.A. Gymnastics were changed to allow female gymnasts to wear shorts over their leotards — just like men.

Styles “evolve as social mores evolve,” said Girisha Chandraraj, the chief executive of GK Elite, which makes the leotards for women and men on 11 national teams, including the United States. That the women seem to prefer what seems like classic glamour (sparkles! shine!) and bare legs is their choice.

Which is, in the end, what this should be about: choice. “We have seen in study after study that when an athlete feels better about what they are wearing, they perform better,” said Catherine Sabiston, a professor of sports and exercise psychology at the University of Toronto. But only the athlete can define what clothing makes them feel better. Maybe it’s shorts. Maybe it’s jammers. Maybe it’s a unitard.

Maybe it’s a bikini.

Correction: July 29, 2021


NYT: How Walking Can Build Up the Brain

How Walking, Dancing, Tennis Can Build Up the Brain

Exercise can freshen and renovate the white matter in our brains, potentially improving our ability to think and remember as we age, according to a new study of walking, dancing (tennis) and brain health.

It shows that white matter, which connects and supports the cells in our brains, remodels itself when people become more physically active. In those who remain sedentary, on the other hand, white…

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To Avoid Injuries, Don’t Shake Up Your Routine Too Much

ATP:  while the research focused on running, nevertheless the lessons are the same for tennis.  Overplaying, changing rackets (new or poor restrings) or playing consistently with heavy balls or in the wind can significantly increase your chance of injury!  Here’s the article—-

According to a new study of how runners hurt themselves during last year’s Covid-related lockdowns, to avoid injuries, runners should try not to change their running routines too much or too quickly.

Most runners are regrettably familiar with the aches, strains and orthopedic consults that accompany frequent running. More so than in many other recreational sports, including cycling and swimming, runners get hurt. By some estimates, up to two-thirds of runners annually sustain an injury serious enough to lame them for a week or longer.

Why runners are so fragile remains uncertain. Some studies point to sudden and substantial increases in mileage. Others find little or no correlation between mileage and injury and instead implicate intensity; ramp up your interval sessions, this science suggests, and you get hurt. Or, as other research indicates, concrete paths could be to blame, or thick-soled running shoes, or minimalist models, or possibly treadmills, group runs, oddball running form or simple bad luck.

But a group of exercise scientists at Auburn University in Alabama and other institutions felt skeptical of the focus of much past research, which often aimed to isolate a single, likely cause for running-related damage. As runners themselves, the researchers suspected that most injuries involve a complex network of triggers, some obvious, others subtle, with elusive interactions between them. They also recognized that until we better understand why running injuries happen, we cannot hope to forestall them.

Then came the pandemic, which abruptly and profoundly changed so much about our lives, including, for many of us, how we run. In the face of lockdowns, anxiety and remote work and schooling, we began running more or less than before. Or harder or more gently, perhaps without our usual partners, and on unfamiliar ground.

Sensing that such a wide-ranging array of hasty and intermingled shifts in people’s running patterns might provide a natural experiment in how we hurt ourselves, the researchers decided to ask runners what had happened to them during lockdown.

So, for the new study, which was published in June in the journal Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, they set up a series of extensive online questionnaires delving into people’s lifestyles, occupations, moods, running habits and running injuries, before and during local pandemic-related lockdowns. They then invited adults with any running experience to respond, whether they were recreational joggers or competitive racers.

More than 1,000 men and women replied, and their responses were illuminating to the researchers. About 10 percent of the 1,035 runners reported having injured themselves during lockdown, with a few individual risk factors popping out from the data. Runners who increased the frequency of their intense workouts tended to hurt themselves, for example, as did those who moved to trails from other surfaces, presumably because they were unfamiliar with or tentative on the trails’ uneven terrain.

Runners who reported less time to exercise during the lockdown also faced heightened risks for injury, perhaps because they traded long, gentle workouts for briefer, harsher ones, or because their lives, in general, felt stressful and worrisome, affecting their health and running.

But by far the greatest contributor to injury risk was modifying an established running schedule in multiple, simultaneous ways, whether that meant increasing — or reducing — weekly mileage or intensity, moving to or from a treadmill, or joining or leaving a running group. The study found that runners who made eight or more alterations to their normal workouts, no matter how big or small those changes, greatly increased their likelihood of injury.

And interestingly, people’s moods during the pandemic influenced how much they switched up their running. Runners who reported feeling lonely, sad, anxious or generally unhappy during the lockdown tended to rejigger their routines and increase their risk for injury, notably more than those who reported feeling relatively calm.

Taken as a whole, the data suggests that “we should look at social components and other aspects of people’s lives” when considering why runners — and probably people who engage in other sports as well — get hurt, says Jaimie Roper, a professor of kinesiology at Auburn University and the new study’s senior author. Moods and mental health likely play a greater role in injury risk than most of us might expect, she said.

This study relies, though, on the memories and honesty of a self-selected group of runners, who were willing to sit in front of a computer answering intrusive questions. They may not be representative of many of us. The study was also observational, meaning it tells us that runners who changed their workouts also happened often to be runners with injuries, but not that the changes necessarily directly caused those injuries.

Perhaps most important, the results do not insinuate that we should always try to avoid tweaking our running routines. Rather, “be intentional in what you change,” Dr. Roper says. “Focus on one thing at a time,” and thread in changes gradually. Up mileage, for instance, by only 10 or 20 percent a week and add a single, new interval session, not three. And if you are feeling particularly stressed, perhaps hold steady on your exercise for now, sticking with whatever familiar workouts feel tolerable and fun.

To Avoid Running Injuries, Don’t Shake Up Your Routine Too Much

NYTimes: Roger Federer’s Gift to Tennis: A Shot That Players Love to Hit

July 3, 2021

Roger Federer made the lunging forehand slice, which originated on squash courts, a regular part of his repertoire.

WIMBLEDON, England — “Times have changed,” Roger Federer said this week as he looked back on his early days at Wimbledon.

Serve-and-volley was the rule then for the men, not the exception. Points were shorter, but the shots often slower. Modern string and racket technology and modern training methods have helped all professional players generate more pace and spin from extreme positions, and no shot better exemplifies the shift than the one the 39-year-old Federer has popularized over the course of his 23-year professional career.

It is best known as the squash shot, in part because Federer played squash in his youth, and it is a lunging forehand slash, typically from an open stance.

It is a spectacular shot to watch and, as Federer once told me, “a very fun shot to hit.”

But it is not typically good news when you have to use it.

“Honestly, it’s your last-resort play,” said Mackenzie McDonald, a 26-year-old American. “Maybe your only option.”

But in tennis, players adjust to the challenge and the risk. As pro tennis has accelerated, they have created new ways of defending, and the squash shot has become a staple through the years, perhaps even more in the women’s game than in the men’s.

“For me, that’s a sign of the influence of Fed across the whole sport,” said Brad Gilbert, the ESPN analyst and former top-five player, referring to Federer.

It is also a tribute to Kim Clijsters, the powerful and elastic Belgian star whose trademark was her sliding forehand slice, often hit out of a near split.

Clijsters’s latest comeback is on hold for the moment at age 38, but the shot is not.

Barbora Krejcikova, a versatile all-court player, put the squash shot to frequent and excellent use on clay in her surprise run to the French Open title last month. The French veteran Alizé Cornet deployed it in winning an acrobatic match point in the first round of Wimbledon against Bianca Andreescu, who likes the squash shot, too.

On Friday, Ons Jabeur, perhaps the craftiest of all the new women’s stars, used it on match point in her third-round victory over Garbiñe Muguruza on Centre Court. Muguruza, a relentless hitter, struck a backhand down-the-line with authority. Jabeur stretched to her right and chopped a forehand crosscourt to get herself back into a rally that she ended up winning.

“So many players are doing it now,” said the ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez, a two-time Grand Slam singles finalist and former Fed Cup captain. “It’s a great-looking shot and effective most of the time, because it’s a hard, good slice and it stays low. It’s an added shot. It’s definitely one I didn’t have and one I don’t think my generation had. But it’s a way to sustain the point, and more often than not, it works.”

Players also use it as a change-of-pace passing shot. Anastasija Sevastova called on it often in her victory last month over Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals of the grass-court Eastbourne International. Rybakina repeatedly made volleying errors off the shot.

“It throws players off guard,” McDonald said. “I feel it’s actually harder to hit a volley off a slice than a ball with topspin.”

The forehand slice has been around since the beginning of lawn tennis. It is the best way to hit a forehand drop shot, of course, but it also was long the favored method for approaching the net. The forehand slice stayed low and often skidded away from the opponent, making it difficult to hit a solid passing shot, particularly with the wooden rackets and gut strings of yore.

But the racket frames are carbon-fiber weapons now and, most important, the strings are made of polyester, allowing players to take huge cuts at the ball, even when off-balance, and still create the spin necessary to drop the ball at a net rusher’s feet with topspin. The technology can also help them hit a low, firmer slice with both the backhand and the forehand.

“Good luck hitting that shot at full stretch with gut string and a wood racket,” Gilbert said of the squash shot. “You are making that once a Christmas.”

Alizé Cornet hit a squash shot in her first round match at Wimbledon.
Credit…Julian Finney/Getty Images

Though pros normally lobbed from that extended position in Gilbert’s era, players did use a version of the squash shot in the past. The Australian greats Roy Emerson and Rod Laver defended with a sliced forehand on occasion. Paul Annacone, a former top-20 player who coached Federer, said he recalled the Swedish pro Mikael Pernfors hitting forehand slices on the run in the 1980s and the early ’90s.

But Pernfors was an outlier. The difference now is how much firmer the shot feels and looks and how well it can be controlled. Even with tremendous racket head speed and with a need to sometimes adjust the forehand grip on the stretch.

“Every time I hit it, I am amazed that it actually stays in,” Federer once said.

The surprise factor has clearly worn off, and skeptics have become believers.

“When I first saw Fed do it, I thought it only works for a genius like him,” Gilbert said. “But after seeing Daniil Medvedev and so many others use it, I had to re-evaluate. It works much better than I thought, and it’s the poly strings that allow players to make that tomahawk swing and still be able to hold the ball and keep it in the court. It’s an even harder slice than the one-handed backhand.”

Gilbert sees players reconfigure points with it, turning an extreme defensive position into something closer to an offensive one.

“I’m cured, it works,” Gilbert said with a laugh. “You see guys in control of a point suddenly asking, ‘What just happened?’”

Gilbert said he remained unconvinced about another newly popular shot, the between-the-legs, back-to-the-net “tweener” that players often use after tracking down lobs.

“It looks brilliant, but I still don’t think it’s as effective as throwing up a lob or running around it,” he said. “But the squash shot is a lot more viable. I think it is here to stay.”

McDonald, a former U.C.L.A. star in the midst of a resurgent season, has practiced often with Federer, even traveling to Dubai to train.

“It’s funny in practice because he’s always playing, working on those shots that wow people,” McDonald said. “He’s always practicing those hand skills that wow you. When you see him hit a squash shot or a drop shot winner off a return, he actually practices those things, sometimes just for fun. But that’s why he’s come up with those shots through the years, because he’s always testing things out. He’s different in that sense than a guy who is just banging out a bunch of forehands and backhands in practice. He’s always sharpening his hand skills.”

But though the rise of the squash shot will be part of Federer’s legacy, McDonald said his inspiration for making it part of his arsenal was actually not Federer. It was Steve Johnson, a 31-year-old American player currently ranked 74th in the world.

“I might have used it some in college, but being on tour, you are trying to find that one percent difference and having that squash shot is maybe part of that one percent,” McDonald said. “Stevie Johnson was one of the guys who really hit it well. I’ve seen him hit dart-like winners off it. When you see that, you want to do it, too.”

So it goes in tennis as the times and the tactics change.

Roger Federer’s Gift to Tennis: A Shot That Players Love to Hit

NYTimes: Keeping Aging Muscles Fit Is Tied to Better Heart Health Later

January 29, 2020

How much muscle you have now could indicate how healthy your heart will be later, according to an interesting new study of muscle mass and cardiovascular disease. The study finds that, for men at least, entering middle age with plenty of muscle lowers the subsequent risk of developing heart disease by as much as 81 percent, compared to the risks for other men.

These results add to the growing evidence that building and maintaining muscle is essential for healthy aging, while also underscoring that the impacts may be different for women and men.

Skeletal muscle is, of course, one of the body’s most versatile and active tissues, providing the strength and power we need to grasp, reach, lift and stride. Muscle is also critical for our metabolic health, slurping and storing blood sugar and producing specialized hormones that move to other tissues, like the brain and fat cells, where they jump-start various biochemical processes.

But our muscle mass almost invariably declines as we grow older, with the loss often starting when we are in our 30s or early 40s and accelerating as we pass through midlife. Severe muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, is associated with frailty and other medical conditions in the elderly, along with loss of independence and premature death.

But even relatively moderate declines in muscle mass are linked with worse outcomes in older people. Some past studies have found that, particularly in older men, low muscle mass tends often to be associated with concurrent cardiovascular disease.

Those studies, however, did not look at which condition might have come first, and so cannot indicate whether there are links between diminished muscle at one age and heart disease later — or vice versa.

So, for the new study, which was published in the January issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, an international group of scientists interested in muscle health and sarcopenia decided to track people’s muscles and heart health as they moved through middle age.

They began by turning to data from the ongoing ATTICA study in Greece, a large-scale look at the underpinnings of cardiovascular disease in a group of Mediterranean men and women. The study, at this point, had enrolled several thousand adults in and around Athens and brought them in to a clinic for extensive medical exams and to fill out lifestyle questionnaires. None of the participants, who ranged in age from early adulthood to retirement age, had cardiovascular disease when they entered the study.

About 10 years after joining the study, each man and woman returned to the lab for another round of testing, focused on their cardiovascular health.

The authors of the new study now zeroed in on the men and women who were at least 45 years old at that second check-in. They wound up with records for 1,019 people, most of them past the age of 55, meaning they had been in their 40s when they joined the study.

Using information from these participants’ original medical tests, the scientists calculated each person’s overall muscle mass and then looked at whether he or she had developed heart disease by the time of the second clinic visit, about 10 years later.

It turned out that more than a quarter of them had. Almost 27 percent of the participants, in fact, now had heart disease, with the incidence about six times higher among the men than the women.

And people’s muscle mass at the study’s start was linked to their chances of heart disease now. Those people with the most muscle then were the least likely to have heart disease now.

That association remained significant when the scientists controlled for people’s diet, education and physical activity, but not when they looked at gender. Women’s muscle mass was not associated with later risks for heart disease, in large part because so few of the women had developed heart disease. In general, women tend to get heart disease about 10 years later than men.

But for men, having relatively large amounts of muscle early in middle age dropped the risk of heart disease later by 81 percent, the researchers determined.

“The association was that strong,” says Stefanos Tyrovolas, the study’s lead author, member of CIBERSAM and principal investigator at the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute.

This study does not show, though, that having plenty of muscle directly staves off heart disease, only that the two are related. It also cannot tell us just how muscle helps to protect the heart, but Dr. Tyrovolas suspects that the metabolic effects of the tissue, which include better blood-sugar control and less bodily inflammation, are likely to contribute.

Well-muscled people also tend to be more active than others, he says, which helps to protect the heart.

But the overall message of the findings, he says, is that “muscle-mass preservation, through physical exercise and an active lifestyle,” is probably key to protecting middle-aged hearts, especially for men, and provides another compelling reason to visit the gym or fit in a push-up or 10 today.

[The Washington Post] Barbora Krejcikova honors late coach and wins a French Open filled with twists and upsets

The unseeded Krejcikova, 25, whose name was on no one’s mind at the start of the French Open, was crowned its champion after a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory.

The brilliant Justine Henin and Martina Navratilova, with 25 Grand Slam singles titles between them, looked on from the stands.

Her late coach, Jana Novotna, surely watched from above.
And following along from home in the Czech Republic was Barbora Krejcikova’s mother, who gave her daughter the courage to knock on Novotna’s door as a teenager and ask the 1998 Wimbledon champion for help with her tennis.
Krejcikova, 25, had drawn inspiration and strength from all these women since childhood — and never more so than Saturday at Roland Garros, where she weathered a tough patch midway through the French Open final to claim her first Grand Slam title with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Paris.

It was only fitting that Krejcikova used the glorious moment, microphone in hand, to honor all the mentors and role models whose presence — whether in body or spirit — gave her strength and inspiration.
“Pretty much her last words to me were, ‘Just enjoy and just try to go win a Grand Slam,’” 

Krejcikova told the crowd during her on-court interview, recalling the difficult time she spent with Novotna, losing her battle with cancer, as she slipped away in 2017 at age 49. “I know somewhere, she is looking out for me. This happened pretty much because she is looking out for me.”
Krejcikova’s name was on no one’s mind at the start of the French Open.

Nor was Pavlyuchenkova’s, apart from avid tennis fans who might have remembered her promise as the world’s top-ranked junior at age 14.
But a tennis lifetime had come and gone since then. One month shy of her 30th birthday, the 31st-seeded Pavlyuchenkova was as unlikely a French Open finalist as the unseeded Krejcikova, known until recently as strictly a doubles specialist.