Lessons From Tennis, Useful At Work

Prima-facie, it might seem surreal.  What lessons can the game of tennis provide in professional life?!  Yes, it didn't occur to me either until very recently, although I have been playing tennis for a couple of years now.  It happened when I was looking to hire a person, and I realized that the potential candidate was someone I had played tennis -- my mind started racing trying to map the qualities I had observed about him as a tennis player.  Observations of his play would possibly reflect upon his attitude and couldn’t be very different from personal and professional life.

As I thought a more about it, I realized that tennis could provide a lesson or two that can be adopted in one’s professional life. This is a quickly penned down version of what I lessons tennis teaches us, and which can be adopted in professional life.

It’s got to be a shot first!

To start with, for a shot to be a ‘good shot’, it needs to be a shot first – it needs to fall within the boundaries of the court. Else, the swing may be great, and the speed and power may be awesome, but if the ball does not land into the court, the shot is not worthy of it – it loses a point rather than earning one!

Similarly, moves made in work life have to be within the legal and acceptable professional boundaries. Else, it may possibly get you some benefits/brownie points in the short run, but exposes the business/organisation to a much larger malice in the long run.

Gotta play, and gotta play properly

Its important to ensure while playing every (baseline) shot that the swing of the racket is correct, almost every time. If the swing is wrong, chances are the shot will either hit the net, or fall outside the court. Albeit, it may still fall into the court, though not at the intended spot. So, while the shot may still be technically correct, it will not be the right one. Such lucky shots may get you some lucky points, but cannot help you win the game in the long run.

In professional life too, you may be able to get away with some correct shots in the shot run, but its important to play the right ones, in order to win in the long run.

Catch it forward

When playing baseline shots, it is advised that you catch the ball on your racket about almost a foot ahead of the line of your body. That gives you that much less time to play your shot, but that is the correct way, and will help you play a better shot. If you catch it late (say in line with your body) it gives you extra time, but that much less freedom to play your shot, and you end up playing the shot that is available, rather than the one that you would otherwise have intended to. If at all the ball races past the line of your body, chances are high that you will not be able to play a shot at all.

Likewise, in professional life, it is always useful to tackle things head on, before they come to you. That possibly gives you that much lesser time to tackle, but it will ensure that you have lot more solutions to choose from. When you wait for a problem to become an epidemic and then reach you, your ability to suitably address that situation is now fairly restricted.

Kaizen: keep on improving

Many a times you win a point/game/set, not because of your strengths as a good player but more due to the weakness of the opponent. In the game, this can give you a false sense of achievement. Such a win does not warrant that you bask in the glory of this phantom win.

Similarly in work life, we cannot let a temporary win/upmanship let us get a feeling of achievement. Its another thing to be good on your own account and then win/be successful, and its quite another to be a large fish in a small pond, where you may win just because you are less worse than the others. Else, if the pond got bigger, you will probably end up standing nowhere.

Warm-up is crucial

A drill, which the coach makes you go through for a few minutes every time you hit the court, to warm up the body to the rigour of a match, is very important, before the start of the match. It also provides you the much-needed practice, since you play each type of shot, albeit in simulated circumstances, with no adverse consequences. Yet,the warm up is pertinent for improving your reflexes, for warming up your body, and for identifying your weaknesses and working thereon. If at all you start the match immediately without any warm up, chances are you will feel the cramps very soon.

And so is true for a professional life. It is of paramount importance that you have gone through the rigmarole of a grilling experience at the early stage of your career. It prepares you for what will come in the future. The implications and costs of making mistakes at the early stage, as compared to later, are not big/huge, as long as you learn from those mistakes and benefit therefrom in the future. If you wanna know how it might adversely impact someone’s work, think of someone you know – someone who has moved in a higher position very quickly, often directly, without learning the ropes from grounds up.

Cover up for you partner, but only just

When playing doubles, coordination between the team members is of paramount importance, especially if the two come have differential skill sets. You play to each other’s strengths, and cover up his weaknesses, at least when on the court. You can help him train and overcome the weakness even during the training sessions.

The same is also true when you are talking about your co-founder/colleague. You have to cover up his weakness when critical – especially against clients/outsiders – while, in parallel, assisting him with working towards bettering his lacunae!

Winning is important, but the game a lot more!

There will always be some superb hits, some mediocre ones, some lucky points, and some losses in spite of an otherwise good shot. Its pertinent to enjoy the game; to appreciate the opponent’s good shots, even if that meant you lost a point. You win some, you lose some; it's the nature of the beast. The important thing is you still give it your very best. Just never give up!! You will see certain players vying for every shot, no matter how implausible it may seem, and certain others who would give up their attempt even if its seems a trifle difficult. Who, do you think, has a better chance to be a good player? It is not uncommon to see players move up from a very poor position in the match, play well, and go on to win it. But to be able to do that, you not only need to know and play the game, you need to love the game!

Same is true in professional life too! You have to take the occasional downs/failures in your stride. No matter how hard the circumstances, if you love what you are doing, you will get there, may be later than sooner, but you will!

About the author:

Pratik Singhi, a member of Mumbai Angels, is the founder-CEO of Lakshya Consulting, a boutique corporate finance advisory services firm. His firm, inter-alia, assists VCs/PEs with their portfolio companies and potential investees; and also assists early stage companies who are in the process of raising funds, or have raised funds. He can be reached at pratiksinghi at gmail.


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