Martina Navratilova's Mental Game

Anyone who has spent time with Martina Navratilova knows that she is comfortable in her skin. She speaks her mind and has a self-assuredness that comes across in her voice and her body language. What you may not see is how open she is to learning, growing and coaching. For example, she once spent the better part of an afternoon teaching my son to throw a football after she noticed his awkward throw.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Martina Navratilova recently to talk about women and confidence. I shared with her the stories of self-doubt that I have heard from capable and talented women and asked if she has come across the same struggles. Martina said that she had seen it in others, but she never let being a woman hold her back.

"I remember when I was about four-years-old, my mother told me that I should let the boys win at running once in awhile, so they don't feel badly about themselves. When I asked if she took her mom's advice, she responded, “No, of course not.”

Martina’s father taught her to play tennis and never went easy on her. It wasn't until she was 14-years-old that she beat him. "He never would let me win—I had to earn it—and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way,” she said.

She acknowledged that it is harder for women since people tend to judge ambitious women more harshly. As a result, women are less willing to take risks and more likely to personalize their losses.

Martina Navratilova has an open mindset that has worked to her advantage. When she gets something wrong, rather than judging herself, she looks to improve and come back stronger.

Billie Jean King taught her a lesson that she will always remember. “Billie Jean saw me miss a shot and then heard me saying something like 'Oh, I hit that late.’ And she said 'Don’t do that. Don't repeat your mistake aloud. State what you want instead. Say hit it earlier.'”

Martina Navratilova shared the following six mental fitness tools for women who doubt themselves:

  1. Take Risks. "I have always taken calculated risks. As a kid I’d set up jumps for my bike, each time raising the ramp a little higher to see how far I could go.”

  2. Break it Down into Steps. “When I have a challenge, I break it down into smaller and smaller steps and then I ask myself, ‘What do I need to do first?’”

  3. Get Going. “Thinking never hit a tennis ball and it certainly never won a game. You have to get out there and play.”

  4. Stay Focused on Solutions. Martina's strategy to overcome negative chatter is to replace it with four simple and effective words, "What is the solution?”

  5. Pick a Positive Team. “There will be people along the way who say, 'You can’t do that.’ Let them go and find people who do support you.”

  6. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and Learn to Exhale. Martina saw the impact of stress on her mind and body when diagnosed with breast cancer. Now recovered and healthy, she doesn’t let herself stress over small things. She reminds herself and those around her to breathe.

Mental fitness is Martina Navratilova's secret to success. 

In short, you can change your game and your life if you learn to just get started and challenge self-limiting habits like Martina Navratilova.