Crack: Mental Scars: The Guardian

6th January 2008

Roberto Forzoni works with footballers at West Ham and tennis players to improve their comeback performance. Over the summer, he was a consultant to Andy Murray, who had suffered a wrist injury that had blighted his progress. Physically the wrist was fine, but Murray, another great natural, had lost faith in his ability to hit his big forehand. ‘You get a tennis player with this kind of injury and it takes a huge amount of mental toughness to be able to extend themselves to the point that they know it is OK,’ Forzoni says. In some ways the wrist has ‘forgotten’ the shots it used to perform instinctively at its most extreme and has to relearn them; those ‘protective viruses’ that helped the wrist to heal, the mental cast that has been put in place, get in the way of this process.

By late August and the US Open, Murray was still not hitting his forehand with full power and spin, though the wrist was perfect physically. In the days before the tournament Forzoni gave Murray some striking examples of comebacks to watch obsessively. ‘I watched videos of Muhammad Ali and Lance Armstrong,’ Murray said . ‘I also watched little bits of videos from my matches here from last year. I spoke to Roberto, too, after my first match and everything was good. In the end we didn’t need to do anything more.’

Forzoni suggests that mental toughness can work both ways. While some players’ heads lag behind their bodies, others believe they can play before they are ready. This mind-over-matter reflex is exacerbated in football by clubs anxious to have their £50,000-a-week stars earn their money. At West Ham, Forzoni sees players on the sidelines constantly fretting about their return; the striker Bobby Zamora is among the worriers. ‘If someone has taken their place and is scoring lots of goals, then they are anxious they won’t get back in the side,’ Forzoni says. ‘And if someone has come in and is not scoring, then they are desperate to come back and prove they can do better.’