Recently watching some great tennis players, who were also board members of Dealer.com, I was reminded of some great corollaries of tennis to web development and to a career. Here are five tips that are born from tennis but apply to a great many fields. These tips that I elaborate on were originally published in Tennis magazine as advice from Azarenka’s (top women’s tennis player) coach. These help to give me motivation and clarity. I hope they can do the same for you.
1. Practice with the intensity of a match.
Yes you need to be confident, but confidence alone is overrated. It doesn’t matter how confident you are if you don’t put in the work and are not disciplined enough. When I get the chance to go speak in front of an audience I’ll admit I’m confident. I even have to be careful not to get over confident. But, here is the thing, I spend a lot of time preparing. I research the company, I look at their social feeds and projects they are involved in. I take a lot of time to learn the most about my audience that I can. It helps give me the confidence when I go to present. Yes I can change on the fly, but put the work in so that when it’s game time, you’re ready.
2. Stay calm, but not too calm.
Whether you are a speaker, coder, or manager you want to make sure you can be counted on in a crisis. This means keeping your cool so that you can reason your way through the situation. That said, it’s important to recognize when something is big, it’s what gets you going, it’s what pumps you up to perform. You can’t sluff off everything and deaden your reaction too much. Recently, I had to save an account, and I realized I could come at it from two perspectives:
Option 1: We’ll do some fixes for them, and hope they stay.
Option 2: We’re going to do what it takes to save the account and make them happy. This is an opportunity for success.
I took option 2 and saved the account. I got myself fired up about the account, did my research, and worked with my staff to get them pumped up about saving the account. I made sure they respected the client, and the changes we put in place improved usability for many of our other clients.
3. Find a teaching pro who lets you develop your way.
Mentors in business are important and I’ll admit, I’ve never really had one. I think back to certain points in my career where I would have loved some advice. Most of my bosses were either too busy to offer advice, or didn’t know themselves. I did, however, have an amazing tennis mentor, who actually managed to extend me multiple career opportunities including teaching tennis and my first real website development gig besides consulting. Find someone who can help you grow and develop your way. Find someone that shares mutual respect with you in your organization and utilize them to help you grow.
4. Go back to basics when you are losing.
Sometimes no matter how much you love something, you can lose site of the basics. Especially if you get too comfortable in an existing position. It’s easy to build the foundational skills, then build up on top of that, then forget the foundation. I recently experienced this in my own career. Early on my management career I had spent a ton of time working on performance management. Then as I had accumulated more and more direct reports, I got in a bad habit of not putting enough time and energy into each person. When a reorganization put me with my most recent boss, he didn’t see any of the historic effort I had put into it, just some of the bad habits I had developed over time. I had to remind myself to get back to basics. Here is a good list of some of the basics that I liked to fall back to: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/keep-the-boss-happy-8-rules.html . Remember, you’re not going to be 110% every single day, make sure you have the foundation in place to fall back to when needed.
5. Enjoy the game.
If you aren’t having fun at your job, it’s time for a change. Yes frustration occurs, you struggle, claw, muddle, work your way through tough situations. Last year, Azarenka considered retiring from professional tennis. Azarenka’s grandmother told her the story of her life to contrast from her own emphasizing the hardships through work that she had experienced. She convinced her to continue. Azarenka went on to win the Australian and Wimbledon this year. The point is, it’s possible to love something, and have your moments of frustration and doubt, so don’t confuse the two. I have a lot of things that I love to do, and I have had a lot of different roles that I enjoyed. Find the things that you love, because, life is short, don’t make it about the money. If you find that thing you love, you will be successful at it, the money will follow. Work, even though it is work, is done best when fun.