Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ tennis coach, shared a fascinating insight about a few talented tennis players he coached. He noticed that they threw away matches when they started making mistakes early in a game.
In his first few years as a coach, this behavior used to drive him nuts. Throwing away matches, in his eyes, disrespecting the game and the opponent.
As time progressed, he began exploring why these talented players do this. He realized that it was easier for them to throw away the match than acknowledge that their talent didn’t get them through. Easier to say “Oh, I wasn’t trying” and give up.
He realized getting angry wasn’t solving this problem. Instead, he had to first empathize with their feelings of insecurity and then instill grit, discipline, and a strong work ethic that would help them make the most of their talent.
There are a few powerful lessons in this story about coaching and developing talent. But, it also resonated with me for a different reason.
There were phases in my education where I did the same. When I realized I wasn’t going to get what I wanted easily, I stopped trying. I went down the path of believing myths about fellow students with incredible memories and smarts.
Every time I got to know one of these students, however, I always found hours and hours of intense study that contributed to their success. They may have been smarter. But, they sure as hell worked significantly harder. And, doing so consistently meant their abilities compounded.
NBA All start Damian Lillard’s wise words sum this up – “If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.”