I have written about Roger Federer with regards to athleticism on several occasions (here and here). In a recent New York Times article, Federer’s fitness coach adds some insider insight into Federer’s genius:
“In 2000, when we started working full-time again, I proposed a complex thing and sensed while he was doing it that it was more and more perfect. He then explained at the end why I had asked him to do it. It was fascinating to me. He had understood as an athlete how to do it but also understood why. He had the internal and external aspects covered. He’s not someone who consumes. He’s someone who creates.”
He creates. He understands. He solves movement problems.
“In tennis, you don’t only need to be fast. You need to run cleanly and use speed intelligently, and Roger is very intelligent in this department. It’s court vision, anticipation, maturity.”
As I have written, athleticism is more than power or speed. In sports, the mental aspect influences the expression of speed and power.
“Take someone who speaks English and French well and take someone else who speaks English, Russian, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese. Roger, for me, is the second one. He speaks lots of languages on the court with his creativity, but he also speaks lots of languages with his speed and coordination and his physique because he is obliged to do it because he is a creative player. What is more difficult? To speak seven languages or two? Seven, which proves that when you have lots of talent you have to work a lot, and that’s what Roger does.”
I love this analogy.
“In soccer, he could have been really good. Roger has coordination from head to hands to feet. He could have been a good javelin thrower, he could have been good in basketball or volleyball or skiing because he has a great sense of balance. He’s very versatile. I think young players should draw inspiration from this because it’s like learning a language. When you develop a good, wide capacity for coordination when you’re young, it helps you express a lot when you’re older. Training for tennis shouldn’t be done in a tunnel. It should be in more of a courtyard.”
Essentially, he suggests that you should not specialize early but develop a full repertoire of movement and motor skills. In a sense, much of his genius stems from his coordination.
Coordination. Creativity. Diversity. Breadth. Movement. These are the qualities that we should strive to develop in young athletes, if we hope to approach the genius of an all-time great like Federer.