Managing Tempo – From the Court to the Meeting Room!

We’re into the French Open and the following is relevant.  First, if you get a chance read Emilio Sanchez’s blog at it’s always worth reading – his latest entry “Los 4 mejores también pueden mejorar” is about where the  top four players in the world are and how they can all improve.  It’s in Spanish (Emilio often has entries in both Spanish and English but not this time), so if you can’t read Spanish it’s easy to translate using Google translate.

For each of the top four Emilio describes where he believes they are after 2011, what their current weaknesses are and then provides key points of improvement for each and how these can be applied by the club player.

He makes the point that tennis is a mental and emotional sport.  None of the top four would be where they are without the amazing technical skills they possess but it is their ability to manage themselves that sets them apart.  However, even here there are issues.  Emilio points out that Nadal having lost to Djokovic seven times last year presents something of a mental barrier.  Similarly, Federer has clearly developed something of a mental block to finding a way past Nadal, particularly in best of five set matches.

The point that I wanted to pick up on, as most relevant, both in tennis and for us to think about in a work context, is one of the limitations that he raises of Federer.  He describes the current world number three as someone who plays mainly in one gear, he is the one who is least able, or likely, to change pace.  For Federer it may well be that he is such an instinctive player that changing pace is not something that is likely to occur to him.

On the other hand, one of Murray’s strengths, is to change the pace of the ball during rallies.  However, Nadal is the master of changing a game’s tempo between points.  It may seem a trivial point but that ability to take that extra fraction of time when under pressure can be critical in ensuring top level performance at key moments

This is something we can apply very effectively, in a number of ways.  On the tennis court taking time between points to tune out of the last point and re-focus on the next can be the key to ensuring match winning performance.  Changing pace during rallies gives your opponent a different look and feel and is likely to move them out of their comfort zone.

We can use similar techniques in the work context. This can be done both through appropriate breaks or pauses, both during the working day and in meetings.  These techniques  can help manage the tempo of teams and improve the management of team energy to ensure higher levels of engagement and productivity.  Similarly, managing the pace of meetings (along with ensuring participants understand why they are there and what they are trying to achieve) is also key to ensuring attendees are engaged.

Madrid (Blue) State of Mind – Prophetic?

It was interesting to hear the comments of the top players in last weeks Madrid tournament about the new blue clay courts and to observe how they performed.  The top two (though Nadal has now dropped to number three) both criticised the court surface and threatened not to play if the tournament retained blue clay next year.

Djokovic described the Madrid Open’s blue clay courts as “impossible” after his first round win and following his quarter final loss to Tipsarevic said that he would not play next year if the blue clay was retained.

“If things continue, [there] will be one less tournament in my calendar,” Nadal said.

Both players were knocked out earlier than would normally be expected, which is not surprising given their mental state of mind about the surface.  Others were more sanguine, while nobody praised the surface and Federer said he understood the frustrations of Nadal and Djokovic, the conditions were the same for all in the tournament.

It’s a lesson for us in whatever field or activity we undertake, if we go into it with external factors as excuses the outcome is likely to be less positive. In managing change programmes one of the frequent symptoms in those that are failing is the teams belief that what they are trying to deliver can not be achieved – not surprising that they don’t achieve it then.  However, what is often also true is that those managing or sponsoring the change don’t listen to the feedback from the team and address it.