When I was about 8 years old my dad signed me up for tennis lessons. It seemed like a natural progression, given Dad’s love for the sport, and my brother was already playing competitively so I guess it was my time to learn.
I played competitively right throughout my junior years and genuinely enjoyed the early Saturday morning games, meeting up with my team, being car pooled to different tennis clubs around Adelaide as the parents took turns to look after us. I remember the days my Dad would car pool our team more than most. Not so much for the drive to the games and not because I knew he would be watching me from the sidelines. No, I remember those mornings because of the drive home.
You see my Dad loves tennis, and rarely missed an opportunity to provide feedback in his ‘post match’ analysis of my game. After car-pooling, Dad would have me all to himself on the drive back home. The critique became so predictable that he wouldn’t get much past saying “great game today” before I’d unload on him. Children rarely accept advice from their parents and I was no different. Looking back now, he was on a hiding to nothing.
My Dad was just trying to offer advice. That was it. Back then I wanted to focus on that one awesome shot in the fourth game of the first set. The backhand that I had no right in returning, coming off my racquet with interest, across court, leaving my opponent flat-footed at the net. Sure I lost the game 6 – 2 but what a shot! And there it was. While I was focused on that one big moment, Dad was looking at the bigger picture. And his advice was simple: stay in the point. Don’t try and make every shot a winner. By staying in the rally, you increase the chances of your opponent making an unforced error. Do the small things well and the games and sets will take care of themselves.
His advice is not dissimilar to how I advise my clients today. Goals aren’t achieved by winning big moments. They are achieved by doing the little things really well, consistently and frequently.
In today’s world we are constantly striving to find the quickest and simplest path to success. The introduction of the internet and Google have fed our desire to achieve tasks in seconds and minutes – tasks that used to take hours. Once upon a time if you wanted the latest U2 album, you had to go to a record store to buy it. Now you simply download it. You can order your groceries online and have them delivered to your door. This type of service has lead us to believe that our health and fitness can be achieved with the same mindset. But the one thing we can not do (without surgery) is lose 10kgs by Tuesday. There is no app for that. You have to work at it. And to be successful, you must focus on implementing change daily, for longer than 2 weeks.
Once I understood my Dad’s advice, I learnt that tennis was more than just trying to hit a winning shot every time. My attitude to the game changed, as did my training. And while each rally I became involved in appeared boring in comparison to an awesome passing shot down the line, I had a bigger goal in mind. Stay in the moment. Win the point. And when you win enough of them, the game takes care of itself.
Thanks for your patience Dad. Your advice got through.