Ashleigh Barty And Dylan Alcott’s Secret Weapon Is A Former Nike Marketing Exec

Some of the key moments of this year’s Australian Open took place far 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 the world’s No. 1 for women, Ashleigh Barty, who cherishes her country’s hopes for a championship, and Dylan Alcott, another Australian who is among the greatest wheelchair players, does. little work on the court itself.

Crowe and Alcott often meet in a cafe for their regular check-ins during the tournament, because Alcott likes to be around people. Last week, while Barty was preparing for her third round match against Camila Giorgi, she and Crowe did their prematch check-in while walking Molly, Crowe’s spanador, a mix of Labrador retriever and cocker spaniel, in Melbourne. Park.

“Ash loves dogs, so that makes for a good environment,” Crowe said in a recent interview. “It creates a happy place to talk. And we talk about everything. Dogs or home renovations.”

Tennis players and athletes in almost every sport have used sports psychologists and mindset coaches for years. Never before has mental health been such a primary focus, especially in tennis, which lost one of its biggest stars, Naomi Osaka, for nearly half of 2021 when she faced psychological issues related to the sport and its performance.

Crowe took a detour to his role as guru to some of the biggest names in the sport. He worked as a marketing manager at Nike in the 1990s, trying to connect athletes’ stories to the industry giant and hoping to make money for both sides.

He worked closely with Australian athletes, including Cathy Freeman, an Olympic sprinter, during her campaigns for the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games, as well as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. He befriended Phil Knight, a founder of Nike, who loves tennis as well as Australia.

Eventually Crowe realized that it was far more important for athletes to really understand who they were, their backstories and why they did what they did, rather than tying a whipped version of their story to a global company in hopes of selling more. sneakers and T-shirts.

“You have to separate the person from the persona, separate the self-esteem from the business card,” he said. “I try to get them to answer the questions: who am I really? And, what do I want from this crazy thing called life?”

Crowe has also worked with professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore and the Richmond club in Australian football.

Outside of tournaments and competitions, he chats with clients for about an hour each week during sometimes humorous sessions aimed at finding a balance between achievement and fulfillment. There is a simplicity in Crowe’s basics:

  • Focusing on the future or the past is wasted energy because neither of us can control.

  • No point in a tennis match is worth any other, so why treat them any differently.

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

  • We don’t know ourselves enough, and the bits we do know we don’t love enough.

At a big game like the Australian Open, Crowe usually watches his clients’ games from the stands, paying close attention to their decision-making and body language, trying to notice if the 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.

However, the deep work takes place in the downtime between tournaments, when he joins them in addressing questions of identity and purpose.

He said Alcott’s career took off and is now coming to a comfortable end as he came to understand that he played tennis to help people like him live better and healthier lives. This week Alcott received a prestigious Australian of the Year award, which is presented annually to distinguished citizens. He will play his last professional tennis match on Thursday, in the final of the Australian Open wheelchair quad singles, but his goal won’t change just because he retires.

Barty, who left the sport for 18 months to practice cricket, takes inspiration from playing for her country, the indigenous people and the team of coaches she always attributes to her success. She will face Madison Keys in a semifinal on Thursday and will aim 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 sports 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’re not very good at vulnerability,” Crowe said. “So you tune in to the uncertainty of whether you’re suffering.”

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