Last night was a special night in the game of 'mental'. I tuned in to watch the Federer / Monfils quarterfinal match of the US Open expecting to see my favorite player of all time cruise easily, but instead, I was treated to one more lesson by the Master on what it means to be a Mental Giant.
I have been playing tennis for about 15 years and truly love the sport. I work very hard on all facets of my game and am pleased to state I have risen to a level of being highly below mediocre...but I swat at the ball with glee anyway.
I love playing tennis. I love talking tennis. I love watching tennis. And every year when the sun starts to dip a bit while the heat remains strong, I tune in as much as I can to watch the US Open. At the Open - and the other tennis majors - we can see the best of the sport at the pinnacle of their physical, AND MENTAL, prowess. While we stare in awe of their athletic abilities, what I now study most is their brains. And last night was a 'Super Bowl' type presentation of the best player's brain in action.
As mere mortals trying to understand how those we idolize think, we sometimes muse that "we'd love to see what goes on inside there". Well last night we did! Sport is the only thing I can think of that offers a direct view inside the brains of our idols because we see results - we see the results of decisions that are made (often times in split-seconds) and how it effects others. Sure, top musicians, artists and cultural thinkers are fun for us to study, yet they don't participate under the same amount of duress as do star athletes on big stages. Which brings us back to last night's match.
I'm sure you've heard by now, but Fed was down TWO MATCH POINTS in the fourth set against a younger, faster, exceptionally ambitious (and exciting to watch) Gael Monfils. Well of course you know how this ends: Fed won the match. He did it with guile, savvy, determination, and nerves of steel. (And extreme physical talent too.) But anyone watching that match would tell you that Monfils was outplaying Fed for most of the night.
So how did Fed do it?
His brain. When he was down, Fed did not allow his mind to dwell on anything negative. In the words of announcer John McEnroe, Fed has an incredible ability to forget the past and only see the potential of the NOW! There was no other way to explain how Fed fought through mental stress to turn defeat into a victory. Remaining resilient, resolute and aggressive while staying focused is an art form...and a winning combination in sports and business. Next post: taking this concept to the board room. Stay tuned!
(Here's a clip if you want to catch up on the match last night!)