An Athlete’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency and Mental Resilience

With Angelo Rossetti

by Abigail Roth and Angelo Rossetti

Lockdown has undoubtedly been a difficult time for everyone, especially those who have been prohibited from doing what they love. Athletes, specifically, and those who enjoy sports just for fun, have been unable to join together with their teammates and friends, and have had to put their athletic development and goals on hold. Now, as athletic centers begin to open and gatherings are increasingly permitted across the U.S., sports lovers will be able to get back out there and work on their skills. It is during this time of reopening that I was able to speak with the greatest influence in my athletic endeavors, tennis instructor and author extraordinaire, Angelo Rossetti. An inspirational man on and off the court, Angelo has been developing a teaching method that helps athletes get in the best mental shape to perform on the court, field, or track. He has named it The 3-2-1 Method, and it encourages an athlete to self-coach as they work on different tasks, promoting mental and emotional resiliency. I asked him about his new book, Tennacity: The Tenacious Mindset On & Off the Court, and how his methods can be applicable to people like you and me who are looking to get back out and play. 

Q: Hi there, Angelo. Tell me a bit about yourself. 

A: I was certified over 25 years ago as a United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) Elite as well as a Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) and United States Tennis Association (USTA) High Performance & Mental Skills certified teaching professional. I am a 2X Guinness World Records™ titleholder of two different tennis titles; the Longest Tennis Rally (25,944 strokes lasting 14 hours and 31 minutes) and the Longest Tennis Volley Rally (30,576 volleys lasting 5 hours and 28 minutes), both of which acted as fundraisers for charity. I studied to be a Dale Carnegie instructor, as I wanted to learn and teach the best ways to learn! I was elected in 2017 as one of the youngest Presidents of USTA Connecticut (2018-2020). I was a Division 1 player at the University of Connecticut, where I earned a B.S. degree in Sports Science with a concentration in Sports Marketing. I have been awarded multiple prestigious awards by the USTA; the one I am most proud of is the 2005 USTA Sportsmanship Award. In 2007, my identical twin brother, Ettore, and I were ranked #1 in New England Men’s Open Doubles and I was top 10 in singles. One of my other proud accomplishments was earning the National 2016 USPTA Lessons for Life Award by helping raise over $112,000 for the nonprofit organization Save the Children. I’ve coached women’s teams and captained and played on 5.0 and Open USTA men’s teams. I have a passion for speaking, having done so five times at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI, as well as at the Connecticut Invention Convention at UConn’s Gampel Pavilion. I am philanthropic-minded and still raise money for causes I care about, most recently helping to generate close to 3,000 petition signatures and going on a media tour to help save UConn tennis. I have coached not only tennis but basketball, soccer, and lacrosse. I live in Hamden with my wife and two children, a daughter, Madison (Maddie) and son, Andrew (Andy). I have a passion for caring for and inspiring people at every age, on and off the court. I believe strongly in the 4 Gs: Get a Dream, Goal Set, Goal Get, and Give Back, which leads to success in tennis and in life. I love sharing ideas via the written word.

Q: What is the 3-2-1 Method and how did you come up with it? How has it been helpful to you as a coach during lessons? 

A: The 3-2-1 method is a way to learn quicker, more effectively, from the inside out rather than the outside in. It allows the student to be more aware of what’s happening so that they can coach themselves in matches. It was originally inspired by Tim Gallwey, author of the Inner Game of Tennis, and then crystallized while getting to know and hit with Sean Brawley, who was mentored by Tim. I have read the Inner Game of Tennis several times as the mental aspect was the strongest part of my game according to my coach and teammates when I played at UConn. I  was interested in learning and teaching others to be mentally strong and resilient, especially under pressure. Mental strength and emotional resilience is something extremely important now with the “new normal” of dealing with COVID-19.

The key to coaching or teaching athletes is having them learn to “control the controllables;” which leads to stronger skill acquisition and retention. What’s important is not doing everything right but focusing on the right things. But what are the right things? If someone isn’t aware of something, then it doesn’t exist in their mind’s eye. Just like a magician uses misdirection to set the audience up for their trick, we as tennis coaches must have our players avoid the pitfalls of focusing on the wrong things, that is, technique or the result. 

As an example, let’s discuss the point of contact (P.O.C.), or the placement of the tennis ball on the strings of the racquet. When you hit the ball on the sweet spot call out “3.” When you hit the ball just off the center of the sweet spot call out “2.” When you hit the ball on any part of the frame then call out “1”. I make players promise that they won’t use the result (whether the ball was hit in the net or out) as a bias for their number. A solid 3 hit into the bottom of the net is still a 3. The two goals are the accuracy of awareness and improvement of the number of point-of-contact hits. If you hit the frame and call out “3,” then something needs to be adjusted and if you hit the sweet spot and call out “1,” something was awry as well. Over time you want to get more 3s and 2s, and less 2s and 1s. Every hit should have a number called out to ensure that the player is focused on every shot. Have them call it out as soon as they know. This is helpful because the sooner you know the quality of your shot in competition, the earlier your anticipation, which helps with improved preparation for your next shot. Try not to have the players call it out too early; that is, guess. Also, try not to have them call it out too late; that is, delayed awareness or reaction. 

You are removing opinion and replacing it with fact and perception. A “1” shot isn’t bad; it just is a “1” or it just is, what it is. Keep in mind that you are not correcting if the number is incorrect. This is not about “fixing” anything; nothing is broken. It is about a sense of being, mindfulness, fine-tuning, refining and honing your awareness. Not correcting, refining. Not fixing, fine-tuning. Remove “good,” “bad,” “wrong,” or “right.” It just is what it is.

Next, ask these crucial questions:

1. Was it easy or difficult to call out the number?

2. Did you remember to always call out the number?

3. How were you able to call out the number? (visual, auditory,

or kinesthetic awareness)

4. Were the numbers increasing over time? If they did, they improved.

The beautiful thing about this method is that you can apply 3-2-1 to any shot, strategy, or circumstance. Your game, whatever it may be, will improve once you refine your awareness. In addition, you aren’t focusing on the many things that would be negative distractions; who is watching you, what the score is, how poorly your doubles partner is playing, if your opponent is being coached, bad line calls, etc. In other words, if you focus on 3-2-1, you can’t focus on the negative things that would deteriorate your game. This gradually removes counter-productive emotions and replaces them with logical thinking and fact.

Q: Tell me a bit about tennacity.org and your book! How and when did you decide to focus on these projects? 

A: Over ten years ago I told my brother Ettore that I wanted to write a book. He said,  “Well if you set a world record first, then you can write your book.” We set the U.S. record for the longest tennis rally in 2007 but it wasn’t until August of 2008 when we set our second record did I know that a book was inevitable. It took me a while to make the commitment to it but once I did it took me about four years to finish my book, Tennacity: The Tenacious Mindset On & Off the Court, which is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. I would like to give thanks, also, to USA Olympic Gold Medalist Laura Wilkinson, whose course, “The Confident Competitor” helped me get over the last hurdle toward publishing the book. I also purposely started a blog, www.tennacity.org, to force myself to regularly put my thoughts, insights, and inspirations into writing. I wrote about one new article per month, which typically represented a new chapter in the book. I will be launching an online course named after the book that will stem from the blog, so definitely check it out!

Q: In these strange coronavirus times, how can athletes stay mentally sharp and strong even when they may not be able to get out and play/practice? 

A: Athletes can journal every day to be aware of what they are thinking. Monitoring positive self-talk and rephrasing negative, counter-productive thoughts to positive ones is key to strengthening any athlete’s mental game. I actually created the “10 Coronavirus Controllables” (below) to help athletes with being both positive and productive during these challenging times. I believe that people should focus on improving themselves and comparing themselves with only themselves. You won’t have time to worry about others, but rather, you’ll stay focused on being the best that you can be on the field or court and off.

The 10 Coronavirus Controllables

#1. BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Ask yourself when you start to feel anxious or worried “Is there something that I can do RIGHT NOW to remedy this?” If not, then it’s an uncontrollable. It is what it is, shift your focus to your controllables.

#2. CONTROL YOUR CONTROLLABLES

Once you know what your controllables are, control them. You can control your attitude, effort, grit, resilience, joy, and being present. Be aware of the world around you but don’t control others. Focus on controlling what you can – YOU.

#3. PROCRASTINATE YOUR WORRY

Use natural procrastination to your advantage. Put off your worry of your uncontrollables to a future date … and maybe that date will never come.

#4. BE PRODUCTIVE

If you can structure your day you’ll be in a better mindset. Small successes and accomplishments will lead to positive energy and emotions. Create daily routines and stick to a daily schedule, even though it may be drastically different than what it was in the past.

#5. PRACTICE GRATITUDE & FORGIVENESS

It’s scientifically proven that expressing gratitude puts you in a better mindset. Come up with at least one specific thing that you are grateful for and write it down or act on it like sending a thank you note, checking up on someone, or just being thoughtful. Life is too short to hold grudges or worry about what people think of you. Forgive others for something that may be festering. It will not only make them feel better but it will make you feel better.

#6. BE EMPATHETIC

Ask others how you can help them. This is a great way to hone your listening skills. Be PRESENT for others and for yourself. The best way to help yourself is to help others. We are all in this together. Together we make each other better.

#7. READ MORE

This is the ideal time to finish the book you’re on or pick up a new book to dive into. Time block at least 10 minutes per day for reading or listening to audiobooks or podcasts.

#8. MAKE JOURNALING A HABIT

Having a daily journal can help with jotting down ideas, inspirational quotes, reflections, how you can reinvent yourself and how to become a better and stronger you. Even if it’s using it as a way to meditate, reflect, or express gratitude, journaling is a positive habit to continue to develop.

#9. REFOCUS

You can be aware of what’s going on with COVID-19 but don’t focus on it (unless you are a doctor or healthcare professional). Focus on your purpose and what’s really important to you now more than ever, even if you have to reinvent yourself. Become the best YOU that you can be.

#10. FIND YOUR JOY – LIVE ON PURPOSE WITH PURPOSE

Stay focused on what’s unique about you. Double-down on your purpose and inspire others in the process. Reflect on how your purpose in life helps others. Be present to allow yourself to enjoy every moment, no matter how difficult.

10 CORONAVIRUS CONTROLLABLES

© 2020 Angelo A. Rossetti, http://www.tennacity.org. For additional helpful information see Control My

Controllables During Competition on page 129 of the book TENNACITY: The Tenacious Mindset

Q: How can athletes become involved with you and your coaching methods? How can they stay in touch/be updated, etc.? 

A: The best way is to visit www.tennacity.org or find me on social media. Web: www.Tennacity.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Please feel free to email angelo@tennacity.org with suggestions, feedback, or your own inspirational stories. I welcome your goals, success stories, inspirational quotes, or challenges.

By Catherine Duffy

Throughout my life, I had never been that into fitness. I grew up dancing five days a week, so staying active had never been something I had to worry about. However, things changed when I started university. As much as I want to deny the existence of the “Freshman fifteen” I did start to notice a few extra pounds on my body as my lifestyle changed. I accepted the change and put a lot of pressure on my weekly yoga class to keep me fit!

I began working out in my third year of university. Between societal pressure to look a certain way, and the $100 I paid for the campus gym, I figured a few visits a week to the campus fitness centre definitely wouldn’t do any harm! I made at least two appearances at the gym every week, heading straight for the cardio machines to make sure I burned as many calories as I could. I didn’t focus on strength training, as I had no idea where to start, and feared the many judgmental eyes around the gym. 

I continued going to the gym over the summer paying a reasonable monthly sum at the local “Fit 4 Less.” Again, I would constantly head to the elliptical feeling more and more satisfied as the number of calories I burned increased on the equipment’s screen.

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to worsen in Canada, the university gym quickly informed students that it would be closing its doors. My heart sank as I got the email sharing the news. Where would all of my pent up energy go? I had gotten into a really good habit of going at least twice a week. What would I do to stay fit now?

While the first two weeks of quarantine resulted in my adopting the lifestyle of a sloth, I knew that I couldn’t stay healthy continuing such a routine. I began taking daily walks around my neighborhood. The fresh air made me feel much better and my Fitbit vibrated with joy as it noticed my movements! Feeling frustrated with my 10,000 steps a day goal that now seemed impossible to meet in light of the new situation, I changed the settings on my Fitbit so that my goal would be 5000 steps every day. The goal felt more attainable, and consequently, I felt motivated to reach it every day knowing it was something I could do with just a half hour walk.

Since the gym was no longer an option, I decided to open my own little fitness studio in my room! Though the only equipment I had was a yoga mat, I found the Internet had many exercises I could do with just that. I began to do an ab workout daily alternating between arm workouts and leg exercises to go along with it.

I found a Youtuber online named Pamela Reif who demonstrates exercises clearly and has many videos designed for beginners. She offers daily workout plans for those seeking a bit more structure and provides some innovative ideas for those with no equipment at home. No free weights lying around in your basement? No problem! She suggests water bottles as a replacement.

Paula Reif’s Youtube workout video. Photo courtesy of Catherine Duffy.

After two weeks of committing to exercise every day, not only did I feel healthier, I already felt stronger. Core strength had never been a focus of mine, but in the privacy of my own room, I felt comfortable struggling to do a simple ten rep exercise until I became a pro. Putting an hour aside every day also made me feel less lazy, and when I did put time aside for TV, I knew that I had at least been active for some time throughout the day.

The pandemic has taught me that I don’t need to invest in a gym membership to stay fit. The internet is filled with free fitness videos, and with enough discipline, you can combine daily walks and strength training at home to stay in shape! It’s so much easier to squeeze a ten-minute ab workout at home than to make your way to the gym. Instead of finding two times a week, in my formerly busy schedule to go to the university gym, I’ve found a way to incorporate a little bit of fitness in my everyday life. Furthermore, I’ve learned that staying active in order to feel healthy is much more important than exercise with the sole goal of losing weight. This pandemic has given me the chance to make a lifestyle change that has been feeling better about myself and my daily routines.

COVID-19 has had disastrous impacts on college students’ mental health. Students now must figure out the next five months of their lives as colleges have forced people to return home or stay in one place. For many people, just being isolated can exacerbate anxiety and depression. For myself, I handle my anxiety by talking to and helping other people with their own mental health struggles. One of my favorite things to do to help people is, simply, to hug them. Whenever I hug someone, I imagine hugging out the negativity and self-doubt of my friends and absorbing those emotions into myself. Like kidneys filtering out blood, I like to think I can filter out my friend’s negative emotions without weighing myself down. Sadly, with COVID-19 forcing everyone to isolate, hugs are impossible. Now, whenever I see a post from a friend who is having a bad day, my heart aches for them as I want to hug the sadness out of them. All I can do is message them and let them know I am here for them. Texting them, unfortunately, only does so much. Words help, but the act of hugging goes so much further, especially when it takes days for people to answer. Without being with my friends in person, I feel powerless to help my friends, and through that my anxiety is slowly edging back to my periphery. While I feel this, I have found a new way to help other people through text.

One thing that I found to be helpful during this time is to reach out to those who are younger than us. I have reached out to people I know who are still in high school who are probably just as terrified of their future as we are. High school seniors who have worked for three and a half years and have made it to the fabled Senior Spring, only to have it ripped away from them two and a half months before they would be finished. At my high school, the seniors would perform a show during senior spring, all run and produced by the students themselves. As of now, the show is postponed until late May, but at this point, it is a major possibility that students will not go back to school this year. The implications of that are massive. No walking across the stage at graduation, no saying goodbye to your teachers, no smoking cigars with friends after graduating, nothing. To come all this way and not being able to be rewarded for your success is nothing short of heartbreaking. While we are mourning the loss of our spring semesters and time that we could be spending with our friends, seniors have lost their final hurrah of high school (I’m not forgetting college seniors either, you guys deserve everything too), and they need someone who will comfort them in their time of need.

-My friend and I during a highlight of senior spring: The Senior Cruise

By being a figure in these people’s lives, either older or younger, it provides meaning in our lives despite us not being there in person. For myself, in addition to staying in touch with my college friends, I had a long talk with a camp co-worker until five in the morning. While I did not interact with her as much in high school or at camp, it felt good to be able to talk and be hopeful towards the future. While COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of how friends can help friends, you can always get in touch with those who are younger than you. If you do, you might find yourself making a difference in their lives! 

I have a distaste for the smell of spring. 

I know there was a time when it was different, and I cling to these memories with all my might. Wearing wind pants and blue rubber boots and sloshing about in the puddles that overtook the path behind my childhood home. Marveling at the consistency of mud, how there was truly no color so pure as it. Even in my older years, driving with the windows down just enough to offset the endless winter I was accustomed to, but not so far that a passing car would accidentally splash my interior. 

The springs of my adulthood have been far less magical. In March 2019, shortly before I turned 20, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my life (which seemed to be a record I broke every year). I don’t remember why, and perhaps it’s because I’ve simply chosen to forget. But I’ll never forget how I felt. Every step felt like a marathon. The inside of my head was blurry, I didn’t eat, and I cried nearly every day. Tasks like getting off of my couch for a cup of tea felt insurmountable, so I finally stopped trying. There were, of course, the terrible thoughts and breakdowns that come with all bouts of mental health problems, but I had never felt so physically ill before. 

I got bloodwork done, desperate for an answer. A nurse called me a few days later. By this point, I was completely bedridden and had long since called in sick to work. I answered the phone from my daze, not bothering to sit up. 

“Did you know you have mono,” the nurse asked after the exchange of pleasantries. In spite of myself, I laughed, relieved to have a reason for my misery beyond my usual mental health problems. 

For the remainder of the school year, I practically lived on my couch. I would interval studying for finals and taking naps. I begged my boyfriend to get tested, but he refused. My antagonizing roommate would not even bring me a glass of water on the days I was too dizzy to walk down the stairs. I had never been so miserable in my life. The only things that had managed to bring me some sort of comfort were cracking a window to breathe in the fresh spring air, which once brought me so much solace, and drinking cups of tea to replace most meals. 

beverage-blur-breakfast-cup-370018

One year later, everything is exactly the opposite. 

It was a winter of change; I broke up with my boyfriend and my mood improved immensely. I live with three roommates, all of whom I love, in a beautiful house that we rent. My writing is being published more than ever (frequently), and I am finally being paid. I secured a coveted summer internship. I am excelling in my classes. 

And then I don’t get sick, but the rest of the world does. 

In February, I will admit that I was part of the group of people who wondered if the mass panic around COVID-19 was being blown out of proportion. At this time, Canadian cases were sparse. I wasn’t vocal about my bewilderment, but I did silently resent that I couldn’t use my to-go cups at coffee shops and that my upcoming work event might be canceled. 

Within weeks, I didn’t have a job. I canceled my upcoming trip to Europe that I had spent months saving for. My parents weren’t allowed to leave Saskatchewan to come see me in Alberta. I wasn’t allowed to go five blocks over to see my baby cousin. 

I now know that the mass panic was not blown out of proportion. I wash my hands whenever I touch something new. I bleach every surface of our house relentlessly and only leave for the essentials. I am one of the millions of Canadians who have applied for Employment Insurance (EI). I am trying to make the best of it, but the world remains so uncertain. This is not how I imagined my twenties. 

I know I am fortunate in many ways, but in times of loneliness, I can’t help but mourn not what I lost, but what was just within reach. And as a snowy Alberta winter melts away, I am once more trapped inside my house, with only the smell of tea and a hesitant spring to tether me to reality.