A long time ago, legendary college football coach Bear Bryant once said, "It's kind of hard to rally around a math class."
While math classes can lead to a discoveries that can change the world, millions of people don't scream at their TV when the final part of a theorem is pieced together. Likewise, people don't put on their Differential Equations gear and parade it all over town.
People do, however, rally around sports. Sports can show you, right in front of your face, the best of what humans can be. And when we see that visceral excellence, it's inspiring.
Recently we had one of those special sports moments. With the world watching, we saw an aging superstar make an improbable comeback, cementing his unquestionable status as the greatest of all time.
Of course, I'm speaking about Roger Federer's Australian Open championship. You weren't thinking of this, were you?
Federer's victory was unfathomable and riveting, both with how the match played out and because it was against Rafael Nadal, maybe the second greatest player of all time.
But a match between those two goes beyond great tennis and stirring entertainment. When you look at them deeply, there's more there than just tennis. There's a lot that they can teach us.
That's why I wanted to write a post about how two of the greatest tennis players of all time can help us reach our potential. Without further delay, here are:
10 Ways Federer and Nadal Can Change Your Life
- Old dogs can learn new tricks. Because he had won more Majors than anyone else, Federer was always loathe to deviate from his previously successful style. The problem was: that style didn't work against Nadal (at least on slow to medium surfaces). But instead of just stubbornly saying, "This is who I am," Federer changed it up in the Australian Open final--the most important Grand Slam match ever played. He didn't accept fate or stay in his lane, he changed. He moved up on the baseline and attacked, especially when he needed it most. We can do that, too. We can change who we are or how we are or where we are, no matter how old we are. We can change. It's never too late, and Federer showed us that.
- Be beautiful. One of the reasons Federer is the most popular tennis player of all time (and also the most stylish!) is that his game is so beautiful. His strokes flow like a warm Malta breeze, and he glides across the court effortlessly. His game was designed that way. He and his coaches were trying to be beautiful, much like Brazilian footballers have always aspired to be beautiful. Beauty is something we can do on purpose. Instead of just hitting a forehand or kicking a ball, we can do it elegantly. Instead of just solving a problem, we can solve it appealingly. Like Federer, spend all your time finding beautiful solutions to life's problems, and I bet something amazing comes your way. Soon.
- No matter what, fight. My favorite thing that Nadal does happens at press conferences. He always admits that the odds are probably stacked against him. He always admits that the road will be tough. But then he always finishes by saying, "I'll just go out there and fight hard and see what is happening." Nadal doesn't care about the odds. He only cares about fighting. Both he and his uncle/coach have admitted that Federer is a better tennis player than he is. Nonetheless, Nadal goes out there every time to fight, and find out what's happening. When you fight relentlessly, what is "happening" is usually you winning.
- Be humble. No matter how many titles he wins or how many millions he's earned or how many awards he receives, by all accounts Roger Federer is a humble, kind human being. And it pays off. Besides the millions of people who have been touched by him in some way, Federer is always the crowd favorite. Always. (Compare that to how some American champions are routinely rooted against at their home tournament: The U.S. Open). If we always treat people kindly, we can make others' lives better. If we're always humble, we can always learn something new. Champions and humility can go together.
- Be honest. I was watching a Nadal match one time and the linesman missed the call. Nadal didn't even wait for a protest, he immediately gave his opponent the point and walked to the other side. The message was clear: Yes, we're battling for millions of dollars and, yes, I will fight you to my last breath. But I'd rather lose than win something dishonestly. How much better would the world be if everyone acted this way?
- Go slow. Nadal, famous for playing every point with an intensity never before seen, always goes slowly. Sometimes he goes so slowly that he gets point penalties. But he goes slowly so that he can focus. He beats people because he's constantly gathering himself and constantly focusing. Other players' concentration always seems to fade at some point, but Nadal's never does. By going slowly, he gets the most out of every second. Don't get distracted, don't rush into decisions. Take your time and go slow, and you'll succeed where others fall off.
- Go fast. Federer, famous for his 1-minute service games, always plays at a brisk pace. He knows that it's easier to get into that magic "flow state" if you keep moving. He knows beautiful means no waste, whether that's extra, unneeded time or anything else. As Federer knows, it's easiest to maintain optimum performance if you keep going with the flow. Slow down to ponder, perhaps, but use a quick rhythm to keep good times going.
- Don't be afraid of missing out. This might be the number one contributor to unhappiness in all of our lives. If we don't get out there, we won't get chosen. If we don't get started right now, we'll get left behind. If we don't make this decision, we'll never have this opportunity again. In 2016, Federer blew that way of thinking into smithereens. When Federer got hurt around June, 2016 his doctors said he needed about three months off. Federer said, "What if I gave you six months?" He could have pushed it and come back for the U.S. Open in September, but he wanted to play the long game. He wanted to be completely healthy--even if it meant his ranking would plummet. He didn't care about missing out. He only cared about being the best he could be. Guess what happens when you aren't afraid of missing out? This.
- "You don't have to be mad to be intense." There's this notion that only screeching maniacs are intense. I've seen coach after coach run programs that look and sound like boot camps because they think that's what intensity "looks like". Their player loses a match? Run 10 miles, maggot larva!! Honestly, there's nothing I liked better than watching my students destroy those "intensely trained" players. Intensity has nothing to do with that killed-or-be-killed, shrieking attitude. Nadal shows us that. No tennis tennis player has ever been as intense, or as calm under pressure. My favorite story is Nadal's quote from the 2008 Wimbledon final against Federer (the greatest match ever played). Nadal had reached match point in the 4th set tie-break. He was one swing away from his life's most passionately sought-after goal, and Federer took it from him with a lightning bolt down the line. Federer then went on to win the tie-break a few minutes later, sending it to a deciding set. Nadal had come so close and yet had watched it all slip away. After the match, the press asked, "What were thinking when you lost that 4th set?" Nadal replied, "Nothing." No screaming, no tantrums, no "intensity". Just calmness. Guess who won the match? You don't need to be a maniac to be the best.
- Embrace hard work without distraction. It's so easy to get distracted. If you want to be the best you can be, however, you have to stay on track. In the middle of Nadal's amazing streak of French Open titles, he faced a young up-and-coming player named Novak Djokovic. Although Nadal had beaten him soundly that day, Djokovic spent his time at his press conference saying how unimpressed his was by Nadal and how he'll dominate him next time. A bit later, Nadal was told by the media how Djokovic said he was the better player and should have won. Nadal's response? "Okay." Nothing Djokovic said made a shred of difference. Nadal knew that. He gained nothing from throwing back tough-guy quotes. The only thing that matters is doing the work. Amazing things happen when we never deviate from that.
Federer is definitely the greatest player of all time and Nadal is definitely the greatest competitor or all time. By learning from them, maybe we can become great, too.