Are You Playing to Win?

November 2, 2009

What I appreciate about athletics – tennis in particular – is that sheer persistence, just keeping the ball in play, can often win the point and eventually the match. But there are times as well when one just needs to put the ball away. ‘Cause if you don’t, your opponent is going to. Trouble is knowing when to play it safe and when to go for a riskier, winning shot.

I decided some time back that I was going to play every shot that I could, as aggressively as I could. Even when I couldn’t get a clear winner out of a shot, I was going to try to set up a play so that the next shot could be. But my problem is that I lose a lot of points on very close shots. The upside is that when I win the point, I feel even better knowing that I wasn’t playing safe. Whether I win or lose the match, I go home with the knowledge that I played my heart out.

What’s required most days in my work, though, is persistence. Keeping at the tasks of the day – keeping the ball in play, as it were – is what keeps my day in motion rather than slamming one or two big projects or goals and feeling like I’ve scored a winner. What troubles me about a persistence mindset, however, is that it can draw me into a play-it-safe attitude, and I know after many years in business that playing it safe is one of the biggest risks one can take.

Playing it safe virtually eliminates exploration, which shuts down creativity. You can’t create without trying new things, which is what exploration is all about. And in this economy, when so many people are playing it safe on every front, what better way to set yourself apart in business, and in all of life for that matter, than being creative, attempting the unexpected? In other words, going for a winner, which is what taking risks is all about.

So how about you? Can you afford the risk of not taking risks? Are you playing to win or to just keep from losing?

Charles Gupton

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Hustle Doesn’t Require Talent

October 6, 2009
Lady Vikings Tennis Team

Lady Vikings Tennis Team

For the past several weeks, I’ve been driving up a couple of days a week to work out with the girls’ tennis team at Northern Vance High School. My buddy Jeff Arthurs invited me to help out with some of the drills and offer general encouragement. What’s been amazing to me is how much I enjoy the time hitting with these ladies as well as how emotionally involved I get when I watch them play.

One of the most gratifying feelings a teacher or coach must experience is when students “get it” and begin to apply their newfound knowledge.  I come home from each practice just totally rocked because one or two of the girls has made progress on her ground strokes or volleys. Although I want to see each of them “kick butt” in their matches, what I really want to see long-term is for them to develop into well-rounded, well-grounded, confident women. I believe that when one’s confidence grows in one area of life, it builds a foundation for confidence in other areas as well.

One of the aspects of tennis, and athletics in general, that I appreciate is how much of competition is psychological. It’s a head game as much as it is a physical one. As I watched matches at Wimbledon and the US Open this year, I saw the pros affected by their mental lapses just as much as these high school players are. And I’ve seen how much of an emotional/mental bounce comes from a well-hit winner.

Other life lessons I’m reminded of each time I go out to the courts are the importance of persistence and conditioning. In sports, it’s usually called hustle.

I’ve found that it’s difficult to consistently hustle on the court without conditioning – both mental and physical. Too often we mistakenly believe that more talent or knowledge is all we need to succeed in our endeavors, but as I recently read on a t-shirt, “Hustle doesn’t require any talent.”

That’s not to say that talent isn’t important, it’s just that persistence and conditioning can prepare the way for talent to show itself as it develops. My high school coach made us chase down every ball that came over the net and hit it back with the reasoning that even if we didn’t get to it on the first bounce that time, by developing a “get to it” mindset, we eventually would.

I still remind myself that I can’t hit a winner if I don’t get to the ball.

Joining these ladies on the court has been a blast for me. Don’t know how much I’m helping them but they allow me a great opportunity to learn from their growth.

More to come…


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Competition vs. Winning

October 30, 2008
My doubles partner, Art.

My doubles partner, Art.

I enjoy playing tennis. I have a standing date every Sunday afternoon with a group of regulars to play doubles. What I enjoy most is the competition to play my best, even more than winning. Don’t get me wrong,  I enjoy winning. But I’d rather play my best game and lose a set than play wimpy and win. Although there are different guys who show up each week, there are certain combinations of players that are going to make me rise up and play my best. Those are my favorite days.

It’s the same with my work. I love the jobs that make me a little uncertain of what I’m going to encounter on a location when I arrive. What are the challenges of communicating the message I have to convey for my client? They force me to rise to the occasion, to be “on game.” I enjoy looking for the best image, not just the first one we find. Getting a solid, safe photo can be considered a “win,” but getting a tougher image that better conveys a client’s message pushes me in a more satisfying way.

What pushes you to be your best?