Mental Meltdowns

Mental Meltdowns

Sep 08, 2021Fred

Mental Meltdowns

In today’s blog, we’ll consider the following. 

New York Meltdown

No whine with your cheese


Regret or Regroup

Through A Glass Darkly

New York Meltdown

This past week I watched the US Open and saw tennis star Naomi Osaka meltdown on New York’s Arthur Ashe stadium, the largest in the world. It seems like yesterday (2018) that she was holding up the winner's trophy after defeating Serena Williams on this same stage. Her record is impressive:

  • 2018 US Open Champion 
  • 2019 Australian Open Champion 
  • 2020 US Open Champion
  • 2021 Australian Open Champion
  • 2019 WTA Ranking No. 1 in the world

Forbes (June 2021) stated that Osaka made $60 million in 12 months and is the highest-paid female athlete ever! In fact, she is tied with Tiger Woods and ahead of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – three male athletes whose incredible careers have endured for decades. In 2020, Sports Illustrated named Osaka one of the “Sportspersons of the Year”. She was also included on Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in both 2019 and 2020. In addition to tennis, Osaka has her own skincare line and is a featured athlete-promoter for other products. 

All that said, since her 2018 launch to fame, Osaka seems to have been riding an emotional rollercoaster. At her last performance of the 2021 US Open, Osaka lost her composure and the match. Earlier this year, she withdrew from the French Open and skipped Wimbledon citing her mental well-being. With all her successes and with a brilliant career out ahead, why is Osaka succumbing to this tribulation? 

We know that athletes in almost any sport can be plagued with injuries. Particularly in tennis, with advanced racquet and string technologies that make the game more physical, more injuries can occur. Other conditions like muscle cramps can be a sign of lack of preparation or conditioning. Other factors, like the right equipment, clothing, and other gear can be an asset or a hindrance. And, of course, just like optimal physical fitness, mental fitness plays a huge role. 

Coach’s sidebar

I need to rant a bit regarding two unfortunate issues I see in my sport and other sports as well. 

1. It saddens me to see athletes drinking soda water disguised as sports drinks. Read the labels. Sugar is inflammatory and can increase cramping. Where are the savvy trainers and nutritionists? These sugary drinks contribute to a lack of stamina and endurance.  

2. Speaking of trainers and physios, why do we still see athletes taped up with elastic bandages? These elastic wraps were invented over a hundred years ago. Why aren’t the highest-paid athletes enjoying the benefits of cutting-edge fabric science and the most advanced compression?  

Old fashioned athletic bandages.<br>

Today’s sports elites enjoy a full entourage of physios, nutritionists, coaches, sports psychologists, agents, trainers, accountants, publicists, and more. They have an entire team of folks dedicated to their success. Yet, I continue to see prominent athletes drinking liquid candy, eating junk food, allowing trainers to apply antiquated bandages to their bodies, and suffering from a lack of mental strength training.

No whine with your cheese

Some professional athletes exhibit “obsessive privilege and entitlement” – the fanatical belief that one has special rights and is inherently deserving of exclusive treatment. It’s not that top players don’t have enough. It’s that they have so much. Maybe they have lost sight of one of the most precious qualities in life – gratitude. 

In tennis (and most sports), younger players have great role models to emulate. In tennis, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are all-time greats who’ve painstakingly climbed through the ranks to achieve their success. They earned their way through careful study to maximize every possible aspect. Aside from their amazing talents, both have consistently shown respect for the sport, its fans, its governing bodies, the players, and the sponsors. Over time, each has contributed to the sport’s global attraction. Gratefulness and humbleness are characteristics that each possesses in abundance.

Each new sports’ generation inherits the resulting benefits of the hard work of athletes that have gone before them. Some newcomers will stand on the shoulders of yesterday’s greats and continue the proud traditions of diligence and sportsmanship, and others will use the gambits of complaining, victimization, insolence, arrogance, gamesmanship and narcissism. In today’s tennis world, Nick Kyrgious is another classic example of a player that has chosen not to gratify or respect his sport and the champions that have gone before him. His antics, moodiness, and poor behaviors on and off-court are distractions and detriments to the game.

Mental Meltdowns<br>

Another star, gymnast Simone Biles, stepped away from competing in this summer’s Olympics to concentrate on her mental health and well-being. Is this becoming a thing? In the case of Naomi Osaka’s debacle, she believes she is not supposed to lose. At the press conference after her US Open defeat, she said, “…recently I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way.”

While Kyrgious and Osaka are different illustrations of unfavorable comportments, both are plagued with discontentment. Few of us can relate to these fitful high-flying and tail-spinning public displays. It may be presumptuous of me to think I understand their personal struggles, environment, epigenetics, stresses, and pressures. However, a little less cheesy whining and a whole lot more gratitude can’t hurt.

In sharp contrast to Kyrgious and Osaka, Federer and Nadal have little use for showboating or sympathy-seeking. In their long and remarkable careers, these GOATs have had countless losses and disappointments. And they’ve used each one to get better. They have intentionally incorporated gratitude into every win, loss, injury, or privilege they’ve experienced.

The up-and-coming athletes who keep gratefulness at the forefront will be the ones who will endure defeat, learn lessons (and keep notebooks), research new things, seek out sage advice, excel despite the odds, and expect joy and eagerness. Some “get it.” Some remain clueless. That is the way of the world.  


For those of us who desire our own life’s journey to be filled with joy and eagerness, I offer a simple formula I call S.A.R.A.H.Undoubtedly, there are thousands of books, podcasts, and resources from which to choose when searching for positive mental training. There are complex theories and convoluted algorithms. I’m a coach who believes in the mantra, “Give me something real that I can grab onto and use.” My approach may sound laughably simple, yet it’s still a powerful gem for your playbook (in life and sports).

We can distill down awareness and evaluation of a life event with the goal of extracting a positive response or forward movement. Utilize S.A.R.A.H. as the mnemonic lens through which you allow the world to unfold around you. By the way, my oldest daughter’s name is Sarah. She perfectly characterizes calm evaluation, helpfulness, and gratefulness. 

Let’s see how S.A.R.A.H. can help you. In keeping with a tennis theme, let me offer a straightforward example of on-court behavior.


On the tennis court during a point, you move to the net and hit a high-quality approach shot. Your opponent flips a perfect lob over your head or hits a great passing shot for a winner. 


You performed a superb shot, and your opponent countered with an excellent shot. This is good tennis and fun play. This kind of play helps you become better.


Keep calm. Verbally offer your opponent respect. Make eye contact and say, “Nice shot” or “Great play”. 


Immediately, focus on the next point. Walk to the baseline and begin play. Move through it. Be grateful and go forward.


Let this become your guiding process, your signature court presence. Continue to remind yourself to practice these responses until they become your tradition.

Sound easy? Yes. However, I imagine you can substitute some not-so-gracious behaviors in the scenario above. Remember that one point is simply a fraction of the total number of points in a match. This awareness allows you to evaluate the situation and craft your response with no contaminating baggage to carry forward to the next point, game, and set. Don’t burn your valuable mental energy on useless negativity. This approach works in sports, work environments, school, home life – you name it.

Regret or Regroup

Allow me to revisit Naomi Osaka’s situation. Sadly, this talented female athlete seems to be in a dark place. She is still quite young (23) and likely gullible to the predictions and expectations of broadcasters and journalists. I suppose the media’s frenzied, incessant burden has amplified her predicament. In our culture ‘newsworthy’ has been relegated to “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Whether her issues are from the pressures of her rise to fame or from more serious pathology, Osaka deserves to heal.

As we encounter distraught or destructive personalities along our path, we instinctively lump their behaviors into the buckets of clinical psychosis, chemical imbalance, or merely attention-seeking exploits. Mental health and behavioral issues are varied and complex, and I am not suggesting we oversimplify these. However, cause and effect regarding the emergence of temperaments or traits have been debated ad nauseum. Does clinical depression produce chemical imbalances in the brain or do chemical imbalances trigger clinical depression? It’s challenging to tease out the root cause.

While Naomi Osaka battles her demons, I hope someone in her entourage can find the right resources to encourage the hard work she’ll need to do to mature into a strong, resilient woman. Rather than enticing pity, Naomi needs to find her joy by evaluating her stimuli with calm, grateful responses and developing the habit of progress over perfection. 

For Naomi and all of us, it is okay to lose. It’s necessary for growth. If Osaka chooses to continue her tennis career, she has the potential to have a long rewarding one. If she chooses to walk away, that’s okay, too. In my opinion, I think the latter will lead to regret. Abandoning tennis may leave the nagging unanswered “what if” in her psyche. Once upon a time, something pulled her to the game of tennis. If she can remember her ‘why’, then she can regroup and revitalize. 

Through A Glass Darkly

Arthur Hugh Clough (Through A Glass Darkly) wrote, “O may we for assurance sake, some arbitrary judgment take. And willfully pronounce it clear, for this or that ’tis we are here?” Clough, a nineteenth-century poet and educationalist, warned against hastily accepting something as ‘truth’. He was known to suspend judgment of a long-held belief or a new idea until he could carefully scrutinize the situation. Clough understood how the clear perception of one could be a dim vision for another.

When our sight is blurry, we seek to correct it. An optometrist allows the patient to ‘experience’ different views of the world during the eye exam, A phoropter is an instrument used during an eye examination to determine eyeglass prescriptions. Typically, the patient sits behind the phoropter and looks through it at an eye chart. If you’ve had an eye exam you know how the optometrist changes the lenses and repeatedly asks, “Which view is clearer 1 or 2?” This process finds the prescription that will bring you the clearest vision. 

It is analogous to how looking through the different lenses of perception may obscure or result in an imperfect revelation of reality. Becoming more aware of our perceptions (our lens prescriptions) helps us realize the array of diverse ‘prescriptions’ of others. People experience and perceive stimuli differently – and thus may have vastly dissimilar responses. 

As we deliberate the conundrum of clinical psychosis versus chemical imbalance versus attention-seeking exploits, we see how our perspective (judgment) of others can be obscured. This puts the concept of recognizing our own ‘prescriptive’ perceptions of reality into focus (pun intended). This is how we can begin to obsolete binary thinking. For more on the topic of Binary Thinking, visit

When we acknowledge that we are viewing the world through a lens that can be changed, we have just set the stage to course correct any circumstance in front of us. Big loud epiphany coming:  It has never been the Stimulus that causes the response. It’s our Evaluation of the Stimulus that matters.  This evaluation synchronizes a cascade of emotions, actions, and reactions. It calibrates the very chemicals the brain produces that controls our ‘state of mind’. 

This realization will allow those whose situation seems hopeless to find more options. This grasp will allow spectrum thinking and inhibit binary thinking. Incorporate these into your mindfulness training: (1) Understand and appreciate S.A.R.A.H. (2) Acknowledge that emotional flow is based on internal lenses. (3) Believe in the power to change these perceptions and, in turn, change life’s trajectory. Doing these things will build a better tomorrow. Recognizing these truths will enable an environment for dissolving conflict. When we evolve beyond binary thinking, the devastations of anger, fear and war are replaced with more meaningful levels of thoughtfulness, reflection, and compassion. Safeguard the infinite imaginative horizon.

I wrote previously about Game Theory and how we can take an infinite approach instead of a finite approach. It also involves learning to focus on the process and not on results. It’s worth a read if you missed it.

Coming soon: “We are being ‘played’ by Internet algorithms”

Have a thoughtful day!

Coach Fred.

Fred Robinson, Tennis Champion, North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame

More articles