I love what Tennis has taught me!
Exactly two years ago, I picked up a tennis racket, never anticipating that the journey of learning a new skill would be so challenging and enjoyable. I believe that new skills and habits can be successfully acquired or changed, no matter what we tell ourselves to the contrary. In the process, we gain insight into who we are as individuals.
While on the tennis court, I gleaned three key insights on the importance of embracing life-long learning.
First, love what you do!
Find something that is of great interest to you to develop, something that has personal meaning and will gain your total commitment. Angela Duckworth, in her insightful book “Grit” argues that if you care deeply about what you do, you are more likely to keep at it. And if you keep doing something you love, you are likely to love it more and more. If you don’t love it, then you are unlikely to improve. This is what separates a “job” from a “lifelong calling”.
My lovely wife, who took up tennis a year before me, introduced me to the sport. Her enthusiasm inspired me to join her in an activity we could enjoy together. Before long, I was absorbed in a game that tested my abilities and inner self. I truly love the game; I can’t get enough of it! Which was a reminder to me that I feel the same excitement and joy for other parts of my life – my volunteer efforts with Scouts and my career at RBC. The fulfillment that I find in my life-choices influences my progress, whether as a tennis player, volunteer or professional.
Second, let go of internal judgement!
When I first started playing tennis, my serve was the weakest part of my game. I was so embarrassed with my motion and the lack of pace and accuracy that I would commonly apologize to my opponent. What I did not fully appreciate was that the serve is considered one of the hardest skills of tennis to master. Of course, I was going to be horrible at the beginning! The trap I fell into was my inner voice. This voice, what I call the saboteur voice, would constantly reinforce negative thoughts about how bad I was at serving.
“The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey, is a fantastic read about how to develop the inner skills required to attain high performance. Although taught through the metaphor of tennis, this book is applicable to all aspects of life. In everything we do, we must be aware of our two selves. Self One is your conscious ego-mind, Self Two is you and your potential. Self One is telling Self Two how to perform and act, and in some cases acting as that saboteur voice. When our internal mind (Self One) is talking to Self Two, it causes us to overthink and over-analyze the situation. Recognize the roles of Self One and Self Two, for they both play a vital role in achieving peak performance and full enjoyment of the experience.
Third, appreciate the value of deliberate practice.
Enjoy the journey and remain less fixated on the outcome. Do you ever wonder why you don’t get better at a skill, even though you may exercise it repeatedly over a long period of time? This is the difference between practice and deliberate practice. For example, children who grow up playing competitive hockey, are exposed to deliberate practice plans put into motion by coaches to develop specific skills. Children who regularly play pickup hockey games, have little exposure to specific skill development offered by organized practice sessions. Children in the former category develop their skills at a much higher rate than the latter.
In tennis, I took the deliberate practice approach. Over the course of a year, I spent intentional time each week practicing my serve. I watched YouTube instructional videos, video-recorded myself and tested out new techniques in games. After a year, the results of my deliberate practice approach were impressive. My efforts were confirmed when a pro coach commented on the high quality of my serve, especially since I developed it on my own. You recall my serve was my weakest point. Now, my serve is the greatest strength of my game, giving me much confidence to improve other parts of the game. The same approach can apply to changes made at work and in my personal life. Taking the initiative and time to practice deliberately and follow a practice plan, produces outcomes that generally exceed our expectations.
Tennis is an inner game that prompted me to compete individually and to develop a new set of skills and revisit my ingrained habits. My challenge to you is to identify your “game of tennis” and commit to a learning journey. Find your passion, manage that saboteur voice and embrace the opportunities that await your explorations.
Walter Wallace MBA(FS) 2013, Senior Director, Transformation Management office, Group Risk Management at RBC, leads high performing teams that focus on delivering transformational change. He facilitated the establishment of a new Global Shared Services Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia and was the founding head of a global data centre engineering and operations group and the lead in a multi-hundred-million-dollar strategic data centre build program. Walter has graciously agreed to be a repeat contributor on CFAME Connection.