It was such a great mother-daughter experience recently when I took Emma, age 13, to New York for the U.S. Open tennis championship. This is a sporting event I had been to years ago, but never before with any of my daughters.
I could have settled for telling her details when I got back home, but now was a perfect time to bring her along. My oldest daughter Emma plays tennis, and a picture is so much more powerful than words (especially those from a mom!).
Emma saw what it takes to succeed at this high level. Throughout our few days together, the matches provided an awesome metaphor for life on and off the court. She experienced the behaviors that drive these elite performers to success, and the takeaways are equally applicable to life off the court.
1. Never give up. We watched Madison Keys with her back against the wall, down 7-5, 4-6 against Naomi Osaka, free falling 1-5 in the third set. How hard is it to turn things around when your back is against the wall? And yet Madison stayed confident, didn’t let nerves or adrenalin get to her. She played her power game, swinging hard. We were thrilled to see her win the final set 7-6 in the third tiebreaker. Watching her comeback, I was so impressed with her guts and aggressiveness. “I just knew that if I stayed in the match that I could maybe have a chance to come back and get back in it,” she said afterward. “I’m never giving up and I’m fighting to the very end.”
2. Believe in yourself. Lucas Pouille was playing in only his 11th major tournament, and his opponent was Rafael Nadal, who had won 14 of them. Pouille would have had every reason to be proud of himself in a five-set loss. As we watched, it was obvious that Pouille didn’t want anything but a victory, period. Because he knew his only chance was to push Nadal to the brink, he prepared himself for a marathon. In the fifth set, Pouille basically was more ready than Nadal to deliver on a narrow victory, and he broke Nadal’s serve to go ahead. What an epic match, and Pouille was every bit deserving of the New York Times headline: “Bringing Down a Tennis Goliath.” Big things happen when you believe.
3. Be curious. Emma and I were so fortunate to watch a match with Dr. Jim Loehr, a friend of mine and a mental coach for some of the best in the tennis. Jim is a prominent sports psychologist who has helped elite athletes overcome mental barriers to peak performance. As the match unfolded, Emma and I asked him questions, listened, and learned his perspective as he generously broke down the action. He explained the mental side of what we were seeing, from shot selection to body language and so much more. Because I love getting into the minds of great performers, and respect Jim to the hilt, this experience was analogous to watching a basketball game with John Wooden. Great knowledge starts by asking.
4. Hard work is non-negotiable. No one gets to the highest level of any field through luck or accident. You reap what you sow. Put in the time and sweat to master the basics. Never let go of your goal, and use all your patience and grit. That’s what it takes to set a goal and keep going to your purposeful destination. Emma could see so vividly through the pure physical stamina, the mental focus, and the relief with victory that what we were watching was a culmination of hard work.
5. Observe carefully. Signs of big-money tennis piqued Emma’s interest, reminding me how important observational skills are to break into competitive fields. At the main court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the women’s match was over and the men’s was about to start. Emma watched the changes on the sides of the net, as the Chase Bank signs of the women’s match were replaced by the Mercedes signs for men. Emma wanted to know why the change. Her observation unlocked a fun, important conversation about the financial framework of pro tennis, and I got to share some stories from my days as an agent. Again, another avenue for collecting valuable information.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
Even if you’re not a tennis or sports fan, watching anyone at the top of their game can be inspiring. Tennis players show us what we need to do when we have the ball or when we are on the sidelines, to grow and keep going toward our most meaningful goals and purpose.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Her e-learning courses spark both personal growth for individuals and corporate development for organizations. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.