Jim Courier, in his post match interview with Grigor Dmitrov, after his win over Nick Kyrgios, said ‘you used your noggin’. The context – a tight match, with a number of twists and turns, was Dmitrov’s ability to change his return of serve tactics during the match, stepping in to give Kyrgios less time on the next shot.
In the BBC radio commentary, Leon Smith, British Davis Cup Captain, was asked about the top players dealing with the mental pressures of competing at this level and dealing with the various twists and turns in a match. Leon has been close to Andy Murray for many years and while not giving too much away, he stated that Andy, like all the players at the very top of the game, always has a plan.
We may often think about the plan in the context of the project plan that’s put together at the outset of a project, or the agenda for a meeting or presentation. However, for the top players, like Murray, there are two types of plan. As Leon articulated, Andy Murray loves doing the analysis of his opponents and working out a match plan ahead of time and all top players do this. However, what happens when the flow of the match goes against you, or your level of play drops and the doubt creeps in?
For the top players they plan for this. Sure, changing the game plan may be part of it when the opponent is getting the better of you. But what if it is a drop in your own level of play and your confidence in your own ability to hit the shots you’re capable of dissipates, as it does to all at some point? The reason the very best remain at the top so consistently is not only that they plan for these eventualities too but that they have processes to help them recognise and del with these moments. They practice them and are very good at putting them in place.
It’s a challenge for us in the work context as well, for example in meetings or giving a presentation. We may put an agenda together but how do we respond when a senior person in the room spends most of the allocated time on the first slide of our deck, or wants to take the agenda in a different direction to that we envisaged.
It’s often difficult to find the time in our busy schedules to prepare for a meeting or presentation in the first place and then we are most likely to plan for it going a particularly way. However, in reality given meetings rarely go as expected we need to think through potential options and learn not to be de-railed by them. There are a number of different ways of dealing with these types of moment – winging it is rarely successful.
An initial recommendation would be to learn to stay present – different strategies work for different people. It’s also worth remembering, as one military strategist put it many years ago ‘no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy’. There are a number of other things we can do – many of which we can learn from elite athletes – more to come!