“Are you stupid?” The tone between a tennis player and her personal trainer which left the world of tennis indignant and in need of change.

“Are you stupid?” The tone between a tennis player and her personal trainer which left the world of tennis indignant and in need of change.

“Are you stupid?” The tone between a tennis player and her personal trainer which left the world of tennis indignant and in need of change.

Possibilities offered by Sports Psychology and Contextual Coaching towards a long-term change of respect and trust that instils maturity, ease and more success. 

On August 23rd the newspaper AS published the incredible dialogue between Putintseva and her coach which seemed not to be her first controversial gesture and later went around the world of tennis. Also, she is not the first player who behaved inappropriately towards her coach and their way of coaching, answering in an impertinent tone with no respect.
This is not a problem with the professional players only who, as we may think, earn a lot of money or possess a higher status, giving them the right to depreciate their coaches and treat them badly just because they hired and pay them. Fortunately, there are many examples of the contrary, male and female players like Rafa Nadal or Maria Sharapova who behave with extreme respect and professionalism towards their coaches and teams.
As I mentioned, the problem of disrespect, badmouthing or using inappropriate gestures is an issue at all levels, ages and both sexes. A clear example of a player who is regularly known for impertinent gestures towards his team is Andy Murray. Throughout my 14-year career as Mental Coach and Sports Psychologist specialized in tennis I have realized that the problem of disrespect exists at all levels and ages, especially during competitions and when the emotions run high.
No wonder that the words of Putintseva left the world of tennis indignant, triggering high emotions and protests. This happened because she hit an already inched up nerve: the lack of respect, bad gestures and badmouthing towards a professional relationship.
This is a very important issue and right before my holidays, I was performing a mental coaching with a player, leading to any differences being clarified for the benefit of both coach and player. In that case, it was possible to get a player, who felt heavily hurt by her coach and did not want to talk to him anymore, to regain her enthusiasm, confidence and respect towards her coach, clarifying and discussing everything with him, even apologizing. All within just a few minutes and through WhatsApp.
If you want to find out how we got the results, keep on reading.

To have you better understand how this incredible change happened, I have to go one step back. My player called me up urgently and asked me for Coaching because she did not want to talk to her coach anymore. She was very angry and disappointed, not knowing what to do. She was offended and felt humiliated and above all else – she was in a rage. Telling me what happened, she then asked me what she could do.

During a training session, the player didn’t do well in a specific exercise even though she repeatedly tried. She got mad and the coach laughed it off. This infuriated the player because she felt his laugh to be inappropriate and out of place, thus she asked him to stop. However, she still didn’t manage to get the exercise right and the coach continued to laugh. Now deeply offended, the player kept quiet during the remaining session, keeping silent even when he took her home by car. The coach called up on her attitude, reminding her that he does everything for her, wanting to know what is going on. The player replied angrily that she does not want to talk to him anymore if he is not able to respect her desire not to get derided when things don’t go well and that she feels bad. After all, she was struggling (with the exercise).
As soon as she arrived home she sent me an indignant WhatsApp, asking for advice. Now, what to do?
What we wanted to achieve in a minimal amount of time is – I offer short free emergency sessions –  that the player will no longer feel victimized and mistreated (by her coach). We were able to turn the situation around. But how did we do it?

The major problem was that the girl saw her coach laughing, developing an idea that his grinning is due to his lack of respect. That interpretation is what made her feel undervalued, outgrowing to the splash of anger which led her to order him harshly to stop laughing at her. The coach did not appreciate the tone and ignored her wish to not laugh. During the session, I asked the player if she could tell me with certainty why the coach had laughed? If she asked him, without judging and without feeling as a victim, why he grinned while she failed? She told me that she doesn’t really know. She thought he was laughing at her in order to tease and prick her. Then I asked what reason her coach could have had to annoy her (my major concern was the fact that he offers her a special training price, barely eats to accompany her to the tournaments and does everything for her). I did not see any reason to think that her coach wanted to belittle her. The player understood that her premature judgement and interpretation of the circumstances led herself to feel as a victim of her coach and prevented her from clarifying the situation right there and then. Her judgement and feeling low due to her not managing to get the exercise right, led her to telling the coach off, how he had to treat her, coach her, whilst putting herself above him and his authority, creating a rather tense and uncomfortable atmosphere. She took revenge and made him pay for her wrongly interpreting the situation when she believed that her coach had treated her in an inappropriate way. This way she justified her retaliation, choosing the position of an executioner and punishing him for feeling victimized.

During the session, led by my questions the player understood that her interpretation had no rational basis. It was only a prejudice and an immature judgement. She also realised that she had been rather impertinent and rude with him because instead of clarifying the situation, she judged and punished him. In that situation, the coach did well by not stopping to laugh as he did not enter the psychological game of his pupil. A very powerful behaviour because he continued running the risk of being the bad guy by wanting to slow her down in her drama. By this, I do not mean that coaches have to laugh at their players or that they can do whatever they want. They are just people who make mistakes. What I mean is that for both – player and coach – it is important to maintain a level of communication that is free of judgements and enables both to appreciate the other persons actions by e.g. asking questions. By not victimizing oneself and instead ask questions, we can better understand the other party and find out what works best for the relationship between the two. The coach, in my example, could have also asked the player why she acted in an offended way, listening to her reproaches. He could have then explained the intention of his laughter and ask her to question his behaviour before judging him and not to contradict him again. Consequently, he too was responsible for creating the conflict.
That is why a fundamental part of my job is to teach the coaches. They may then use my sessions and advice to take the next professional step with more ease and fewer obstacles and dramas.
Immediately after the session, the player called her coach, apologizing and asking him why he laughed, without judging and any reproaches. He said that he just wanted to put some humour in the workout so she would relax and exercise with more ease. That he thought that it is important for us to laugh at ourselves sometimes to break the drama and difficulty of a situation. That was his intention of laughing. He never wanted her to feel offended.
In this way and in a very short period of time, thanks to the player using her mental coach, a problem that seemed inexorable could be solved in a short time without leaving any prolonging negative consequences. Now the two are attending tournaments together and the girl is playing her best tennis with the help of her coach.
Surely in the case of Putintseva, mutual disrespects have been accumulating. Judgements and convictions have been formed that if you do not take the time to investigate and contemplate them, relationships are poisoned. Plus, if you are a public person, you put yourself in evidence. In this case, thanks to Putintseva the controversy attracted attention, giving us all an opportunity to instil change.
It’s not at all about looking for who is guilty. Most of the reactions in social media relating to the article were blaming the player Putintseva. Someone even left a comment on my page that “Puntintseva is a rude dwarf.” Or they say that the players are rude nowadays and have no respect. That is the easiest thing to do, to blame others. And by rejecting responsibility for the situation we become executioners because we feel that we have the right to “equalize” something that is out of balance and that we are to “teach” those who hurt us or in our opinion behave in a way that they shouldn’t.
And I do not say that this is wrong or that it should not be done because it is human and the behaviour of Putintseva was that of disrespect and unprofessional. The common way of reacting to this is indeed to blame. The only thing is that this does not bring new possibilities or solutions. It leads to stagnation, reproach and discomfort. That is why I wanted to propose and explain with my article a different possibility of confronting conflicts so that they can be resolved very quickly and long-lasting.
As I say, the main thing is not to look for the guilty person because it does not work like this. One needs to be aware of the interpretations and conclusions that each one of us draws from the behaviour of others and that leave us feel victimized and lead us to look for the guilty. It is an exciting subject in all kinds of relationships because when you feel as a victim you strike and hit back verbally or physically (as we have seen recently in football and in the case of Yulia Putintseva; to see the video of the player’s discussion with her coach and boyfriend click here). In my example, both the player and the coach were responsible for creating a situation of anger and escalation. If you are ready to take responsibility, this will allow you to examine what went wrong and change it quickly, if that is your intention.
My player and her coach reconciled very fast thanks to their intention and commitment to progress and now enjoy a 100% professional relationship, both wanting to achieve great results as a team. They chose to make a difference instead of wanting to be right and looking for the guilty one, by taking responsibility for their actions. This, by the way, is one of the great characteristics of a winning mentality and one of the greatest ambassadors of this is Rafa Nadal. His successes speak for themselves.
In a press release, Putintseva apologized in public and claims that she is very emotional and is working on controlling her outbursts. In one of my previously published articles, I explained how to manage your emotions with a very effective model that you may apply in competition: The ABC model. Emotion management in high competition tennis.
In my next article, I will explain how I was able to support a coach to get out of an uncomfortable situation with his player and which meant a 180-degree change in his relationship, all to the better. Stay tuned for my upcoming publications.

More published articles (coming soon in English):

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