Building Capability and Capacity

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So, we’re nearly through the second week of Wimbledon. The main draws in both women’s and men’s singles each feature 128 of the most talented players on the planet. It’s now been narrowed down to the last four in the men’s and the finalists in the women’s singles.  Technically there is little difference between those who’ve already lost and the woman and man who will raise the trophies at the weekend.

The scoring system in tennis means that those that have got so far have not only played well but are those who have managed themselves and their energy most effectively at the right time.  This enrgy ebbs and flows through the course of the match.

At this level the margins are fine but it’s also being able to stay present, or stay in the moment, at critical points that makes the difference.  In tennis this is done by developing the ability not to be rattled by set backs.  At the top level in tennis players learn routines to still their minds after a point and re-focus on the next point.  These can be things like playing with their racket strings, bouncing the ball before serving.  Whatever the action they are ways of tuning out of the last piece of action and re-focusing on the next.

The pioneer in researching this in sport, Jim Loehr, has also extended his work into business, where senior people often start early, work long hours and go from meeting to meeting.  Understanding how to use small amounts of time to tune out and re-focus has been critical to build capacity (and hence productivity).  We have used similar techniques with teams in challenging environments to great effect, building capacity and ensuring positive outcomes.

Building capacity is not about working longer hours, it’s about working smarter. This includes becoming aware of your own energy and capacity and learning and practising techniques to increase your focus.  Even when you’re at your busiest you need to take breaks, your productivity can drop-off without you noticing.  Learn how to use the break time to tune out, then in returning take stock and re-focus.  It also helps us to manage the ebbs and flows that we face and so readily affect our confidence, one of the most significant factors in our performance in all areas of our lives.

Young Guns Upset at Wimbledon – Are They Just Imposters?

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The first Monday of Wimbledon and there were some interesting upsets.  Some members of the younger generation in men’s tennis have been making significant strides over the last year.  Alexander (Sacha) Zverev won the end of season ATP tour title last November and is currently ranked five in the world at the age of 22 (he has been as high as 3).  Stefano Tsitsipas, at the age of 20 has risen to six in the rankings with some excellent wins.

Both were expected by most to win their first round matches, however both went out, Zverev in four sets to Jiri Vesely and Tsitsipas in a fifth set decider to the 30 year old Thomas Fabbiano.

In his post match press conference Tsitsipas seemed weighed down by the expectations on him, upset that he had let down those around him.

Zverev was quoted as saying ‘my confidence is below zero’. John McEnroe, commented later that Zverev has a habit of quickly developing negative thoughts that clearly impact his performance.

On the same day in the women’s event, world number two, 21 year old Naomi Osaka lost to the lower ranked Yulia Putintseva.  Osaka is a two time grand slam champion and may have been expected to win, though she had played Putintseva twice previously, losing on both occasions, the latest being on grass in Birmingham just prior to Wimbledon.  In her post match press conference she was visibly upset when asked whether the weight of expectations had got to her and left the interview room.

It seems that a combination of doubt or lack of confidence and the weight of expectations has got to these young, talented players.  It often leads to what is referred to as imposter syndrome – not uncommon in the workplace.  While the successful experienced players on the tour learn to deal with it over time, for young players having early success it can still play on their minds – a rapid rise through the rankings and questions like ‘what am I doing here?’.  The problem for the individual athlete, unlike in the workplace of course, is that there is nowhere to hide.  Performance becomes affected and it is evident in results.

It may seem strange that highly successful young athletes (all between 20 and 22 years old) should face such self doubt but it is amazing how a little uncertainty and self doubt can affect performance for all of us.

So, when you face it find someone who you can talk about it with.  Learn to be realistic about performance, we all make mistakes, yet it is easy to magnify these, particularly when doubt sets in.  Finally, challenge negative thoughts – you can also turn these around.  Tiger Woods reputedly after hitting a poor shot would tell himself that this would give him the opportunity to show how good he was in getting out of it.