How To Win (Or What I Learned From The French Open and Rafael Nadal)

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I was talking with my dad this morning about the French Open tennis tournament. Before I lose you with sports talk, this is a great metaphor for life that I think is worth your time, so stay with me.  One of the tennis greats is Rafael Nadal, who had a stellar early career, and in the last couple of years has really fallen back in terms of the elite tennis players. The French Open marked a triumphant return where he crushed everyone. He’s 31, which is old for tennis, meaning he doesn’t have the strength/speed of the youngsters coming up, so he has to play his game now and play it smart.

And that’s where the life advice comes into play. I noticed, observing Nadal, that he doesn’t play on the defensive. He directs the flow of play, puts himself out there hard. He plays with aggression, and he plays to win at every moment, and more importantly, no matter the score, he never lets up with that.

That’s the attitude it takes to win. You have to be aggressive, you have to push hard. You have to fire your shots and let the chips fall as they may. Nadal was drilling his shots down the lines, inches from being out so often, and yet those are the shots that his opponents can’t recover from. Think about it.

Life is a risk, and it’s about attitude. The winners in life have confidence, and that’s one of the big key determinants of their success. Nadal has the confidence to take those shots, to play a smart game even though he may not have the physical prowess he used to – and it pays off. Moreover, what confidence does is it makes your opponents feel overwhelmed by you.  Over time, they see your prowess and they start to panic, and when they panic, that’s when they’ll make their mistakes. Confidence is something you can train yourself in. It’s all about how you talk to yourself internally. There’s plenty of books about cultivating that that you can check out, and I recommend Gorilla Mindset.

Next, you have to have a solid strategy in place to begin with, and stick with it. There’ll be points where commentators and bystanders will be out there criticizing your every move – when it looks like you’re against the ropes. That’s part of the swing of life, but it’s also nothing to fear. The commentators don’t care, their “concern” for your strategies is not something that should be second guessed in the middle of play, and it never helps you to do so. The peanut gallery is not there to help you win. Those people are only there to tear you down, nothing else. Stick with your game plan. The minute you equivocate, you lose. Nadal stuck with his game plan through a whole tournament, and through his smart play, he achieved his victory. You can too.

The last thing that you have to follow like Rafael Nadal is to strike hard, and strike fast. Pick your targets with precision and execute. It can’t be haphazard, it has to be according to plan. His shots right down the line or cross court are intentional every time, and that’s what it takes to throw your opponents off balance and achieve victory.

It’s really beautiful watching Nadal play, and inspiring for life. You can take everything he does in working hard, being supremely confident, and executing your game plan into any situation. It doesn’t matter what it is. That type of mindset will ALWAYS come out on top. Just power through the injuries and the bad times and you’ll get there.

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10 thoughts on “How To Win (Or What I Learned From The French Open and Rafael Nadal)

  1. Personally, I’ve found truth and honesty to be a better guide than notions such as “Stick with your game plan. The minute you equivocate, you lose.” When it comes down to right and wrong doubt is important. We have a capacity to doubt for a reason.

    Now I’ll grant that self-doubt can be debilitating, particularly in any creative field or when you need to promote yourself. However, that points to doubt being something you need to manage rather than deny. Doubt is like mental pain system or your mental immune system – inconvenient, uncomfortable and unpleasant but there for a reason.

    Within an artificial setting like a tennis match, where the game is constructed into a simple division of winners and losers, the complexities of interacting with others on a personal level can be ignored. In real life, attempting to split the world into foes & allies, winners & losers will be dysfunctional for most and implies in its extremes a kind of self-imposed psychopathy*. I don’t think that is a wise course to take.

    Anyway, that’s my five-cents.

    *[not to say that anybody who adopts the “mindset” you describe is a psychopath but that what they are inadvertently trying to do is emulate some of the signature elements of people who show symptoms of psychopathy]

  2. This reminds me of The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow. Has similar conclusions, talks about progressing and sustaining long-term excellence through self-talk, confidence, focus, positive affirmations, dealing with mental errors, etc. While it talks a lot about athletics, it also has practical real-life application, I find it can easily be applied to writing. It’s classic “Doubting yourself? Start doubting your doubt!” because when you’re actively involved and engaged with something, stopping to ponder about whether you’re doing something right gets in the way of actually doing. It can paralyze a person, slow them down, even defeat whatever they were working on, especially if they’re prone to excessive doubt and giving in to negative self-talk.

    Time for reflection and analysis comes during rest periods and after the game/active period. This analysis involves the following three questions;

    What did I do that was good?
    What needs to get better?
    What changes should I make to become my best?

    This kind of Plan-Action-Reflect cycle keeps momentum going while also learning from experience and not repeating mistakes. It’s about being the best you can be, then learning to be a little better each time. In writing terms, I’d consider this Write-Publish-Reflect. Definitely give the book a read if that interests you, it’s written to be motivational and inspiring.

    And specifically on the concepts of destructive self-talk, there’s a really fun book called Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson that explores internal negative tendencies through reflection techniques. Highly recommend both books for studying mindset/attitude approaches.

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