I was playing tennis with a buddy yesterday and a thought kept bouncing around my head. In life we rarely lose because the other person beats us. We usually lose because we beat ourselves. Tennis is a great metaphor for this because no sport I have played exemplifies this more.
My buddy and I are evenly matched yet when we play he was consistently beating me. The reason that he was winning was because of my unforced errors. This is a term used in Tennis when you make a mistake without the other player causing it. I was losing a lot of points because I was hitting the ball out of bounds, into the net, or not hard enough.
A lot of leaders fall victim to unforced errors. The reason they fail isn’t because of the situation but because of their own doing. In leadership unforced errors are things like indecision, procrastination, poor follow through, and inconsistency. This list could go on and on. Nobody caused these things they were simply our choice. Many time the prize is there for us to claim but we don’t do what is necessary to take it. We expect it to fall in our laps.
I have won very few tennis matches because the other guy gave it to me. I have lost a lot of matches because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. Sometimes the key to victory was a desire to win. Here are three keys to winning that I have discovered through tennis:
- Use your strengths: My strength in tennis is my serve. When it is on it is hard to return. Focus on your strengths and make them consistently rock solid. This is your path to victory. Don’t focus on your weaknesses. Focusing on what you are not good at only makes you mediocre because you haven’t worked on your what you are good at.
- Exploit the weaknesses: My buddy’s weakness was his backhand. I had a better chance of beating him by hitting the ball to that instead of his forehand. When you are going for something look for the easy victories. This builds your confidence and prepares you for tougher battles.
- Put the ball in play: I lost early on because I couldn’t get the ball over the net. Unforced errors were killing me. Get in the game. Don’t just stand on the sidelines and over analyze things. You are missing out on the thrill of victory if you are letting the "unforced errors" take you out of the game. Don’t be afraid to go after what you want.
Yesterday I lost the first set 6-1 even thought most of the games were really close. I was losing the second set 3-1 when I started focusing on my serve, I started hitting it to his backhand, and when all else failed I just got it back over the net. Result: 6-4 my victory.