It is widely accepted that in order to become a successful tennis player, you must not only develop a strong athletic physique, outstanding technical proficiency and a sound theoretical knowledge of the game. There are a number of cognitive skills that are crucial when it comes to winning tournaments like the Australian Open.
Formerly ranked as the world’s number one tennis champion and a proud winner of seven Grand Slam titles in the singles category, Venus Williams attests that:
“Tennis is mostly mental. Of course, you must have a lot of physical skill, but you can’t play tennis well and not be a good thinker. You win or lose the match before you even go out there.”
So what does it take to be a “good thinker” in tennis? Well, first and foremost you’ve got to be able to solve problems and make decisions; you need to be flexible and adaptable; but you also have to be confident, competitive, passionate and motivated.
Interestingly though, these sort of qualities transfer directly to a business context and are considered among the top desirable skills for recruitment in this field. Let’s take a look at some of these in a bit more detail and see how the attributes of a tennis player actually translate in business.
Problem-solving and decision-making
“It’s one-on-one out there, man. There ain’t no hiding. I can’t pass the ball.” (Pete Sampras)
Tennis is generally not a team sport. When you are out there on the court, you are completely alone. You are the sole controller of your fate and it is entirely up to you to solve each problem that arises without any coaching. You can’t pass the ball like in football, basketball or rugby, so you have to make complex judgement calls at every turn. You have to take risks and you have to learn very quickly from your successes and failures under immense pressure.
The ability to solve problems and make decisions is also an essential aspect of managing a business, because it is rarely a smooth running affair. Problems arise whether they are internal or external and it is up to the manager to resolve them before they get out of hand. Great business leaders always strive for improvement. They are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to bring their company to the next level, increase sales and revenue, and stay ahead of their competitors. As in tennis, a business strategy often involves a trial-and-error approach. Some proposed solutions work, while others fail miserably. The point is that attention must be paid to what direction the business is moving in at all times, while simultaneously keeping a close watch on what the competition is up to, so that strategic adjustments can be made.
Flexibility and adaptability
“When you have beaten guys a few times, you don’t want them to think they know how you are going to play them. You have to try and find different ways of beating them. You have to do things they don’t expect sometimes, put something unpredictable into your game.” (Andy Murray)
It is vital to adopt a flexible strategy at all times on the court. You can’t use the same tactics over and over again because your opponent will out-play you. You need to be able to adapt your game plan to changing circumstances as they arise.
Similarly, successful business models change and evolve over time. The Observer released an article in 2009 that analysed the mission statement of Facebook and how it has evolved since it was founded in 2004. From a social network reserved exclusively for Harvard students to a global platform that grants everyone “the power to share and make the world more open and connected”, it is clear that Facebook’s overwhelming success has relied on a highly flexible and adaptable business plan.
Confidence and competition
“In terms of playing ability there is nothing to choose between number 1 and 100. Instead, it’s a question of who believes and who wants it more? Which player is mentally stronger? Which player is going to fight the hardest? These are the things that determine who is the champion.” (Novak Djokovic)
To succeed at an international Grand Slam such as the Australian Open, it really comes down to who plays the hardest, fastest and strongest game all-round. If you aren’t mentally prepared to deliver your best performance and raise your game to the highest level imaginable, then you have already lost the fight before you’ve ever set foot on the court.
This equally applies to a business environment. The ambitious entrepreneurial spirit of Larry Page, CEO and co-founder of Google, offers an ideal example here. As Fortune Magazine points out, there were many who ridiculed Google’s initial venture to create a car that could drive around autonomously, without a human driver. In 2015, the prospect is verging on becoming a reality and the automotive industry is struggling to get up to speed in the technological race to the top.
Passion and motivation
“You always want to win. That is why you play tennis, because you love the sport and try to be the best you can at it.” (Roger Federer)
To become a star tennis player takes many years of hard work and dedication. Without a real passion and love of the game, it is unlikely that you will be motivated enough to succeed and improve your play. It takes many lessons, hard-core training sessions and endless practice, with lots of failures in between, which are all absolutely necessary to advance further and reach your full potential. A good tennis player will use his mistakes as a motivational exercise in improvement.
Nobody understands this better than billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. When Branson released his book in 2012, Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School, his number one recommendation for anyone starting a business is: “If you don’t enjoy it don’t do it”.
Growing a successful company is an incredibly arduous and time-consuming process and things don’t always go to plan, so it is vital to keep that positive pep in your step.
How to fast-track your business career
It doesn’t have to be tennis, or even a sporting background. If you are considering a career in business and possess one or more of the above skills, you could be automatically entitled to a range of nationally recognised qualifications, from Certificate I right up to an Advanced Diploma. Take a free skills review today to determine your eligibility for a simple Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) assessment. It might be much easier than you realise to live life in the fast lane.