Allistair McCaw, a former professional athlete and now a mindset and performance consultant, spoke to members of the Los Angeles Tennis Club and their guests last month, sharing his experience of 25 years helping athletes at all levels excel in their sport. For the last four years, McCaw has been working on the team for tennis professional Kevin Anderson, from South Africa, who recently achieved the ranking of number 5 after reaching the final in Wimbledon this year.
McCaw has turned his own experiences competing into a career helping other athletes learn to improve their performance by becoming what he calls, “champion minded.” Though he never had the chance to attend college, he’s finally getting there in his own way, and is thrilled to be working with universities like Pepperdine. He says he’s earned his own degree, a “PhD” — purpose, hunger and driven.
McCaw is a lifelong student of what works for the most highly successful athletes, and he happily shared his secrets to success — most of which can be found in his very readable book, “Champion Minded; An Athlete’s Guide to Achieving Excellence in Sport and Life,”
McCaw says it all starts with a vision of what you want to become. Many of his suggestions transcend sports and can be applied to any situation in life where someone wants to excel and to become the best among peers or simply a better version of themselves. McCaw says that’s doable if you think about the process, make incremental improvements, and learn from failure.
For him, McCaw said, it started with making his bed. McCaw explains in his book, “Making the bed presents me with my first act of discipline of the day. Right from the start, I feel more productive and ready to take on the day.”
From there, McCaw says the best athletes learn how to manage their time. He recommends writing out a list of what you want to accomplish that each day the night before and then checking the list at the end of the day.
“Much of life’s success comes down to a few key concepts, such as discipline, focus, standards, determination, and consistency,” said McCaw. “People who do a a good job are those who tend to be more self-reflective and self-aware. With that in mind, I will often monitor a day and see where and how I spend my time.”
Athletes spend many hours working on acquiring skills. McCaw advises against comparing yourself to other. He suggests instead “focus on your own path, put in the work, and only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday.”
McCaw is full of one-line statements, short and memorable bits of wisdom, some his own and some he has borrowed from others that formed the basis of his talk and his book. For example: “Distraction is the enemy of success,” or “How can I get better today,” or “we don’t fail from our mistakes, we fail from not learning from them.”
McCaw is also relentlessly positive The idea that hard work and continual learning drive success is the basis of his coaching philosophy.
In his presentation at LATC, McCaw referred to the work of psychologist Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” which explores the notion of talent versus hard work.
“Individuals who believe success is based on natural ability are said the have a “fixed” mindset in contrast to individuals who believe success can be achieved through hard work, continual learning and purposeful training and resilience have a “growth” mindset,” explained McCaw, who most definitely has a “growth” mindset. He explained that he wrote his book to give athletes simple solutions to the challenges that come up in sports and in everyday life.
“Since failure is a learning opportunity, the champion-minded see progress even when they feel they maybe regressing. Kevin Anderson, a tennis player from South Africa who reached the top ten in the world rankings late in his career, had this to say about progress: “You need to trust the process and focus on each day. There may be tougher days when you don’t feel like you made steps forward but that’s ok, but there will other days where you will,'” McCaw wrote in his book.
But he also acknowledges that progress takes time. “Champion-minded athletes stay patient but never complacent,” said McCaw. Rather than strive for perfection, McCaw tells athletes to aspire to be the best they can be. “Instead of aiming for the prefect practice, aim for a perfect effort.”
McCaw wants his clients to become their own best coaches and strongly advises positive self-talk.
“I’ll admit it — I talk to myself pretty much all day. It’s something I’ve been working on for years. I’ve learned that no matter how many positive things I might hear and read, I still need to take control of the voice in my head,” explained McCaw. “Choose to talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself. This one simple adjustment can change everything.”
Calming that negative voice in our heads is good advice for all us, even if we don’t play sports. It’s a fundamental struggle for humans because our brains have a negativity bias. Our brains are “like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for positive ones,” according to psychologist Rick Hanson, author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom,” which show readers many effective ways to “light up” the brain circuits that relieve worry and stress, and promote positive relationships and inner peace.
“Positive people can have negative thoughts. The difference lies in how quickly they can let go of those negative thoughts and focus on the positive,” said McCaw. That’s champion minded.