6 posts categorized "tennis lessons"

June 11, 2010

Sometimes you have to go for it!


Just when I think I'll have a tennis lesson without an aha, Nick Mathews proves me wrong. 

Today's aha from him had to do with going for the winner, when getting the ball back over the net is a futile strategy.  He'd serve, I'd punch it back, he'd send me sprinting to the right, pop it up back to him, then he runs me to the left ... and eventually, he puts it away as my tongue is hanging out of my mouth. 

Over and over again, he admonished me to, at some point when I had a chance, plant my feet and square my shoulders - and let one rip down the line.  Go for the smash, put him on his heels and win.  When I had him a break point, he wanted me to go for the kill on the first opportunity - because how often do I have my coach at break point?  By focusing on keeping the ball in play, I'm just playing patsy with him until he decides to put me away. 

He's like: "What's the use of even returning the ball like that (soft, safe)?"  

Point taken: Winners don't play to survive. When facing a bigger rival, they look for a time to strike. They take a mighty swing, making themselves vulnerable to an easy return or an out-of-bounds shot. Nick put it this way: "It's risk/reward. When I'm in control like that, you have no risk when you go for it, just the reward of surprising me with a forceful winner."

OK - now here's the bigger lesson to be learned: This applies to any competitive situation.  Take your small business, for example.  Are you just trying to keep 'the doors open' each month, while your more aggressive competitor hits spinners at you?  Are you letting the last eighteen months put you in a defensive business posture? 

Ask yourself, what's the use?  What is the real value of staying in business one more month or one more quarter, if you are merely doing it just to keep doing it?  At some point, you need to go all in when you have a chance and do something BOLD in the market. 

Launch a predatory promotion that under cuts a competitor that can't respond nimbly.  Double your service levels when a bigger competitor isn't thinking about customer experience.  Do an all-out canvas of a market while your competitor is covered up with a big job.  Just go for it and extend yourself in an effort to find opportunity in the current climate. 

That's what Kelloggs an Chevrolet did in the 30's, when their competition (most of them much bigger brands) were conducting an expense driven business model.  Kellogg's went for sweet.  Chevy went for sport.  Both of them had huge gains during this period - and risked important cash to do it.  Had they just played to survive, they would have remained 3rd Tier players as their rivals (Chrysler, Post) eventually got their second wind and applied ample resources to extending the lead or putting their weaker rivals out of business. 

At the end of the day, you have to embrace failure as possible, and noble so long as you give all.  Regret comes from being timid, and realizing that it was your ego that convinced you to prioritize survival above excellence and gusto.  To quote Motorola's Paul Galvin: Do not fear failure. 

May 07, 2010

Why You Should Play By The Rules

Another tennis lesson, another life lesson or two. 

My tennis coach Nick Matthews is a great player and an amateur psychologist as well.  When I woke up this morning, I felt groggy and my legs weighed a ton.  When I showed up at the court at 10:00am, I worried that I'd half to quit the lesson in less than the allotted hour.  Well, I hung in there, played seventy minutes and gained some confidence at the end of the session in my swing and physical stick-to-it-ness. That alone, was a lesson learned about finishing what I commit to (watch The Wheezer Story for more).  

But the bigger lesson came when I half way swung at a shot and ended up with a bloopy winner.  Rare point!  Nick came up to the net and motioned for me to join him.  "You'll never get confidence by winning a point the wrong way.  That shot wasn't in form, you pinged it."  The victory dance stopped.  He was right.  

When you play a game, there are rules that you abide by and form that you adhere to.  Good form in tennis is about hitting through the ball, using your big muscles.  When I swat at the ball with only my right arm only involved, I'm not doing it right.  And at a subconscious level, I know very well that I'm not doing it right.  When I hit one perfectly, I feel it, and Nick's right, I grow in confidence from my good form and positive results.  When I hit a funky shot without regard to form, and I win the point, I know that it was a lucky-stroke - unlikely to ever happen again.  

This isn't just a sports lesson, we'd all do well to take that into our professional life as well.  There are rules for your business, industry or vocation.  You agree to them when you hang out your shingle or agree to take the job.  If you don't like the rules, don't agree to them.  

Same goes for form.  That's the process that's been built over time, a proven system for success.  You are likely taught this early on by your boss or a mentor.  There's a right way and a wrong way to do any job from administration to sales to management.  In the world of business services, for example, a good sales person knows to have a conversation with the client instead of just showing some power points or a brochure and going for the close.  When you short circuit that form, and get the occasional slam dunk sale, you don't feel like you earned it and you know deep in your heart that you've just had a once-in-a-hundred experience.  You don't get any swagger from it, and the temptation to do it again calls into account the credibility of the system. 

Your company culture may say that when a manager is upset at an employee, he should remain calm and focus on business results.  When he, instead, screams at the person in question in front of the entire office, he's not in good form.  The offending employee may apologize, scramble to fix the problem and swear he'll never do it again.  This will not cause the manager to feel confident in himself, the company culture and advice he'd been given about dealing with his people.  If others in the office observe this success through screaming tirade, they may begin to question the system too.  No one wins.  

Deep confidence at work requires self-belief, trust in others, and faith in the system.  If you do anything to raise your buy-in to the system (rules and form), you general feelings of confidence will soar.  That's why, when I follow Nick Morgan's process of writing a keynote speech, and it works, I'm confident at every level.  If I give a talk that works, but don't take all the steps that I know I should, bad things happen.  I get lazy or even worse, decide that the system isn't worth sticking to.  Mostly, my integrity eats away at any feeling of accomplishment, pointing out how much better I would have done had I done it right.  In any situation, my confidence will shrivel over time. 

Next week, before you go to work, review: What are the rules, and am I following them? What is good-form for my role and am I following it?  If you've started to just get by instead of considering yourself always striving for excellence, you might be shocked to find that you need to brush up on the basics again and humble down to obeying them.  When you do it like your leaders suggest, and it works, you'll find that you are relaxing a bit, feeling more sure of success, because the system works!  You also start to believe in yourself too as a good student that is highly capable of executing agreed upon plans.  You believe you'll get it right the next time too.  Any investment you make in form is an investment in the system - and rocket fuel for your confident outlook. 

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April 09, 2010

Get fancy, give your competitors a charity point

Another tennis lesson, another great biz/life lesson from Nick Matthews. 

I'm only at the intermediate level in tennis, but I'm a competitive person that wants to improve quickly. While volleying, Nick will hit something to my sweet spot, and my killer instinct is to either hit a winner (hard and away) or a dink (right over the net) to 'win a point'.  What usually happens?  I hit it too far or into the net. 

"Charity point!," exclaims Nick.  Here's his lesson: When you try to get fancy or go for the homer, you often get off the fundamentals and give away an easy point.  He explained that until you are a champion, you should play a game of attrition with others at your same level.  If you can outlast them, getting it back over the net in the lines, you will eventually win.  

Now apply that to your business life.  Are you trying to be fancy or hit a homer INSTEAD of meeting customer expectations?  Are you practicing fundamentals, such as product improvement, marketing optimization, sales force management, customer reporting, etc.?  None of those sound very exciting, but neither does "getting the ball back over the net."  But in a vast majority of situations, your competitor is doing a good job at the fundamentals and to the market - they are more reliable.  

This is really true in this market context: People buy reliability over WOW experience.  Dollars are short and spending accountability is at an all time high.  The players that stick to their base game will gain share until the top of the next runup, when being different or killerappish will once again be a wining strategy. 

NOTE: If you have a big lead over your competitors, you now a small budget for fancy/homer attempts. You know, like when you are winning 40-Love. 

March 05, 2010

No excuses, no regrets

Another tennis lesson, another life lesson. 

Today's aha was simple: If you want to grow, don't make excuses for your failures.  While this sounds elementary, we do not live by this credo.  We condition ourselves to offer up excuses when we can't do something, achieve a goal, or in my case - hit the ball back over the net. 

My coach Nick was running me all over the court today, and fifteen minutes into my lesson my tongue was hanging out.  When he hit a shot to me that required a cross court sprint, I couldn't get there in time.  My inclination was to explain to him that I was tired from the week, my shoes were new and I forgot to bring a bottle of water to the court so I was thirsty.  All excuses. 

Then I caught myself.  During our first lesson, when Nick was 'getting to know me', he warned me that students who are full of excuses usually end up empty on getting ROI from their lessons.  He doesn't judge the student regardless of his/her play, he chooses to keep them because of their learning attitude. 

So today, as I played horribly, I made a mental note to:  Run/walk every day to build up my endurance. Never let a week go between lessons without any practice or physical exercise.  Cancel the lesson if "I'm too tired" and always bring water and pre-hydrate.  In other words, I vowed to change circumstances so that I'd have NO excuses next time.  

In the end, I learned a great deal today about my serve, finding leverage on my backhand and cutting off the court.  I wouldn't have learned anything if I wasted my energy convincing my coach that there was a logical reason I wasn't playing well. 

So here's your takeaway: Don't make excuses at work when things go wrong or your work isn't up to snuff. Be accountable and courageous, and figure out what you can do in the future to increase performance. If there are extenuating circumstances, state them up front before the meeting/project etc. and not in response to criticism or failure.  You'll find that people respect you more, and you will grow as a result of your experience.  

February 26, 2010

No one plays to survive


I continue to learn about life from my tennis coach (Nick Matthews).  

"If you are just trying to get the ball back over the net, you are surviving - you are not playing in any sense of the word." He's right, no one plays to survive, they are simply in survival mode. (In that mode, you are so easily impressed with your lucky shots, you are usually trounced right after you've made a modicum of progress.) 

"Instead," he continues, "you need to play to hit the ball well and to win." In other words, you have to play with a sense of confidence in yourself and trust in terms of where your senses tell you the ball will be.  I'm sure that for a professional, it comes second nature, and unless you are returning a 100MPH serve, you are never in survival mode. 

But I'm not a pro, and often I find myself in a tight spot. 

"You can't get the technique right unless you relax, and you won't relax until you get it right. It's the what-comes-first paradox of playing and sport." The idea is, you have to relax UNTIL you get it right, then you'll fall into a positive feedback loop. 

When I pushed him for more help on getting out of survival mode, he shared yet another Yoda-meets-Jimmy Conners piece of advice. "Key your focus on the opponent, then the ball, then after you hit it back to the opponent." We don't really do that, do we? In unfamiliar places, we key on ourselves (whether we will hit the ball, whether we just hit it well) and end up surprised by the next volley and often missing it all together. 

Now, let's apply that to our professional life. 

1. Play to win, regardless of the playing field, act 'as if' and you will be able to relax for easy power. 

2. Never stop to admire your last shot (sale, pitch, design, post). Instead, focus on the other (customer, competitor, audience) and activate your predictive skills about where the 'ball' is going next. Glide to your next shot and start the process all over again. In my life as a speaker, this means I should key my focus on the audience and not my content (or whether I think I'm doing a good job).  

Here's what this whole exercise gets to: Your reptilian brain. That primal 2nd brain that reacts before your conscious brain even springs into motion.  When you free up your 2nd brain by letting go of fear, self-analysis or distraction, you are likely to play in the pocket be it on the court or the game of life. 

February 01, 2010

The Hidden Value Of Loyalty

Last week, I gained a great insight from my tennis instructor, Nick Mathews. 

After an invigorating but challenging hour with him, he talked to me about his client approach.  He explained that he customizes his approach to ensure that the student enjoys the experience, yet stays loyal to the results over time. 

"Loyalty makes my career more interesting," he explained. 

Most of the time, when others talk about customer loyalty, the benefits are usually financial and reputational.  But to Nick loyalty gives you more than income.  "When I have a student for a long time, we get to try out new ideas for conditioning or game play.  The longer they are with me, the more we get to stretch the limits."  

Wow, never thought of it that way.  He's right, though.  If you constantly churn your clients, you may have novelty (new faces), but you are doing the same old thing (orient, serve, satisfy, repeat).  Only with trust do you get to collaborate with the client -- and have some real fun! 

"Besides," he concluded, "it's a lot more rewarding to think that people enjoy your service so much they can't live without it."  This brings up a point to companies from big to small: Customer loyalty creates a positive work experience for talent and an inspiring place for leaders.  If the client loves you, and there's no constant cycle of sales/marketing, work life and retention get better.  Daniel Goleman, in Primal Leadership, argues that a positive mood state at work will increase profits as it drives employee engagement.  Nothing creates a good mood like an old time client that loves you.  

Takeaway: Put loyalty at the top our your priorities. Don't view loyalty simply as an annual spend or "cost to replace" issue as you'll under value it dramatically.  Loyalty is more than repeat business, it is an emotional attachment with working with YOU.  

Deconstruct the customer/client experience to make sure you are setting good expectations, inserting an emotional value proposition, and making it easy to gather feedback from the customer.  If you get loyalty right, the rest will surely follow.