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Sports News | Ashleigh Barty and Dylan Alcott’s secret weapon is a former Nike marketing executive

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Some of the most significant moments at this year’s Australian Open took place away from a tennis court and had nothing to do with a certain vaccine-averse Serbian champion.

Ben Crowe, a mindset and life coach whose clients include women’s world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, who carries her country’s hopes for a championship, and Dylan Alcott, another Australian who is among the most great wheelchair players, does little work on the pitch itself.

Crowe and Alcott often meet at a cafe for their regular check-ins during the tournament as Alcott enjoys being around people. Last week, as Barty prepared for her third-round match, against Camila Giorgi, she and Crowe did their pre-game check-in walking Molly, Crowe’s spanador, a Labrador retriever and cocker spaniel mix, at Melbourne Park.

“Ash loves dogs, which makes him a good setting,” Crowe said in a recent interview. “It creates a happy place to converse. And we’ll talk about everything. Dogs or home renovations.

Tennis players and athletes in almost every sport have been using sports psychologists and mindset coaches for years. Never before has mental health been such a high priority, especially in tennis, which lost one of its biggest stars, Naomi Osaka, for nearly half of 2021 as she faced… psychological problems related to sport and its performance.

Crowe took a circuitous route to his role as a guru to some of the biggest names in the sport. He worked as a marketing manager at Nike in the 1990s, trying to connect athlete stories with the industry giant and make big bucks for both parties.

He worked closely with Australian athletes, including Cathy Freeman, an Olympic sprinter, on his campaigns before the Games in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000, but also with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. He became close to Phil Knight, a founder of Nike, who loves both tennis and Australia.

Eventually, Crowe realized it was much more important for athletes to truly understand who they were, their back stories and why they did what they did, rather than linking a drummed version of their story to a global company hoping to sell more. sneakers and t-shirts.

“You have to separate the person from the personality, separate the self-esteem from the calling card,” he said. “I try to get them to answer the questions: Who am I fundamentally? And, what do I want from this crazy thing called life? »

Crowe has also worked with professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore and the Richmond Australian Rules Football Club.

Away from tournaments and matches, he talks with his clients every week for about an hour during sometimes humorous sessions focused on finding a balance between success and fulfillment. There is a simplicity to Crowe’s fundamental principles:

  • Focusing on the future or the past is wasted energy because we can’t control either.

  • No point in a tennis match is worth more than another, so why bother treating them any differently.

  • If you have to do something or achieve something to be someone, you will never be satisfied.

  • We don’t know each other enough, and the songs we know we don’t like enough.

At a major competition like the Australian Open, Crowe typically watches his clients’ matches from the stands, paying close attention to their decision-making and body language, trying to notice if things they can’t control – the crowd, the weather, the opponent – could distract them. He attends their press conferences and chats with them before and after each match.

The deep work, however, happens during the downtime between tournaments, when he digs into questions of identity and purpose with them.

He said Alcott’s career took off and was now coming to an end because he understood that he was playing tennis to help people like him live better and healthier lives. This week, Alcott received a prestigious award, Australian of the Year, given annually to prominent citizens. He will play his last professional tennis match on Thursday, in the wheelchair quad singles final of the Australian Open, but his focus won’t change just because he retires.

Barty, who left the sport for 18 months to focus on cricket, draws inspiration from playing for her country, indigenous peoples and the team of coaches and coaches she still credits for her success . She will meet Madison Keys in a semi-final match on Thursday and is bidding to become the first Australian woman to win the tournament’s singles championship since 1978.

His tennis clients, he said, have learned to accept their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and the endless uncertainty that professional sport and life ultimately bring.

“If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown, it’s that we don’t do uncertainty very well, and uncertainty is vulnerability, and we don’t do vulnerability very well,” Crowe said. . “So either you align with the uncertainty or you suffer.”

Ashleigh Barty and Dylan Alcott’s secret weapon is a former Nike marketing executive

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