Roger Federer won a record 8th Wimbledon title Sunday defeating Marin Cilic in a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 sweep.
Federer absolutely dominated the Croatian on his way to his 19th Grand Slam.
Carmichael Dave and I touched on Wimbledon this morning during The Drive on Sports 1140. Our intention was to talk about the greatness of Federer but the conversation took an unexpected turn.
The 35-year-old Federer was so overwhelming that at one point Cilic, down 6-3 3-0 in the 2nd set, called for a medical timeout and broke into tears on Centre Court.
It was Cilic’s tears that took the conversation in a very direction.
My reaction to Cilic crying was that it was a testament to his mental toughness…or in this case, lack thereof.
When an athlete sees their opponent crying during competition it’s a clear cut sign of weakness, lack of mental toughness and the moment when you know victory is surely yours.
Dave’s reaction was that his tears were because of his injury.
To me that changes nothing.
Here are Cilic’s remarks when asked about why he burst into tears:
“It was just a feeling that I knew that I cannot give my best on the court, that I cannot give my best game and my best tennis, especially at this stage of my career, at such a big match. It was very, very difficult to deal with it. That was the only thing but otherwise, you know, it didn’t hurt so much that it was putting me in tears. It was just that feeling that I wasn’t able to give the best.”
I feel for him, I truly do. But the admission that it wasn’t the pain that led to tears kind of proves my point.
I understand defeat. I understand injury. Both are a critical part of the experience of any athlete regardless of the level of competition. I don’t want to come off calloused and hard but to me the most powerful tool an athlete has is their mind.
The moment you show a crack in your mental fortitude, whether it’s tears like in this case or an emotional outburst of anger, you’ve shown your cards and are putting yourself at a major disadvantage.
A handful of listeners felt I was saying that men shouldn’t cry. That is NOT accurate.
This is not a male/female debate. I don’t care if it were Serena Williams crying at Wimbledon, my reaction would have been the exact same. And nothing is ever going to change it.
It all comes back to one thing and one thing only – the power of the mind.
I was blessed to be able to compete at the highest level of women’s basketball playing 6 season in the WNBA before a career ending injury the beginning of my 7th season. If you go back and ask every coach I ever played for from the 6th grade on what my greatest attribute as a competitor was there would be one common thread…my mental fortitude.
I was never the tallest, strongest, fastest, or most skilled athlete on the floor. But I was the hardest working, grittiest, toughest player you would face. I played through pain. I refused to admit defeat (or enjoy victory) until the final whistle blew. It didn’t matter if it was a game or practice. That was who I was. I challenged myself every day mentally because I knew if I ever allowed myself to go to that space in my head it was over.
My former teammate with the Houston Comets Dawn Staley told me something one day at practice the summer of 2006 that I will never forget.
We were in the locker room after practice. Dawn was covered from head to toe in ice bags in an attempt to numb the aches and pains from years and years of competition. I, eleven years younger than her, was competing for who needed more ice bags. She said, “Kayte, you have to learn how to dial things back. You can’t always play like you play. You’re taking years off of your career.”
Dawn was not wrong. At this point I was already dealing with the constant pain from a chronic back injury. My instant response was “I can’t help it. I am physically incapable of deciding when I can turn it on or off. It’s always on.”
This is not some self congratulatory dissertation on my athletic accomplishments. It’s a peek into how my brain is wired and where my stance on crying during competition stems from.
The key word there is during.
When I see a player reduced to tears after a loss or while being carried off the court or field it can be a testament to how much they care. How badly they wanted it. How much they invested in their craft.
There is NO place for tears between the lines, no matter what (injury, illness, etc.). And there never will be in my mind. If you’re crying because you’re injured but you choose to remain in the game, you’ve already defeated yourself.
The mind is a crazy wonderful powerful tool. But not everyone has the ability to truly harness that power.
I’ve got to say…I’m with Jimmy Dugan on this one!