What you can learn from Roger Federer and how it applies to your basketball team!

In this week’s version of Sports Illustrated, L. John Werthen published an article on Roger Federer just as The U.S. Open is about to begin where the 36-year-old Federer looks to cap off a season for the ages. At a time when most tennis players at his age are either retired or struggling through their last years of competition, Federer and his excellent skills have not only failed to diminish but rather may have reached a level we have never seen. In the article, Werthen attempts to wrap our heads around how Federer has changed his narrative and continued to rewrite his legacy.

Entering the 2017 season, Roger Federer had gone winless in 17 straight majors. Arguably the greatest tennis player of all time had been pushed aside and the throne taken by the younger talent in Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic. People wondered, ”Is Roger Federer done?” On the eve of the last major of the year, all Federer has done this year is: win 2 majors- the Australian Open and a record eighth Wimbledon (where he didn’t drop a single set) win big events at Indian Wells and Miami, and defeating rival Nadal (who had Federer’s number) in three finals. He now seeks his 5th U.S. Open title, which would give him 20 major victories for his career and cap what is arguably the greatest year of his unrivaled career.

How has Federer been able to achieve all this? This is what Werthen set out to find. What he found were lessons that we could all take and apply to our own lives.

LESSON #1: Change is difficult, but becoming obsolete is worse.

Roger Federer is not afraid to make changes at the end of his career after going 17 straight majors without a win, Roger Federer was looking for ways to get better.

“He continued innovating and making personnel changes. He switched to a larger racket. He released and hired coaches. He tinkered with playing patterns.”

He never remained comfortable. He continued to push to get better. He was looking for new ways to become more competitive. Past success does not guarantee future success.

LESSON #2: Don’t live quarter to quarter.

“Federer plays the long game, willing to endure set backs to peak at the right times.”

Instead of worrying about the ups and downs, Federer chooses to get lost in the process knowing that it will help him better reach his goals. This year, he has sacrificed the #1 ranking and tour titles (even skipped The French Open), knowing that the rest and focus on recovery would prepare him for competition and the long term.

LESSON #3: Embrace Rivalry.

Federer has used his rivalry with Nadal to continue to get better. Over their careers, Nadal has gotten the better of Federer, 23-14. However, Federer has not allowed that to get him down. Rather, it pushed him to evaluate and find ways of getting better. Competition is a great evaluator. It makes it possible to look at ourselves and perform SWOT analysis- our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

LESSON #4: Leaders set the culture.

For all the praise bestowed on the guy, you will not hear him likened to ‘an assassin’ or a ‘cold killer’ or, for that matter, ‘a tiger.’ Federer performs with a grin on his face and a calm demeanor. Federer treats his colleagues as opponents, not enemies. Federer played his entire career without controversy, much less scandal. This affects the whole tennis culture. Note how many players today sign autographs are leaving the court, even after defeat. Note how few act cantankerously. The message is clear: If the guy at the top discharges his duties with just professionalism but with joy, and he’s generous with time and refreshingly candid, what excuse is there for a lesser player not to do the same?

This says it all. As coaches, we must strive to set the standard for our players. Our best players set the standard for the rest of the group. If we want our players to act a particular way, we must first demand it of ourselves. How can we ask a player to act or perform in a particular manner if we don’t? Players will see right through it. The standard slips, the bar is lowered, and it is hard to recover. Whether we like it or not, coaches and team leaders are at the top and set the culture for everyone else.

LESSON #5: Balance is key.

Federer has a great perspective on life. He understands that tennis isn’t life and “that sometimes working less enhances productivity and helps stave off burnout.” Rather than playing in every tournament out there and hitting thousands of balls a day, Federer dedicates himself to his family and time to recover from the stresses of work.

All coaches can take something away from these lessons. All people can seek to be better and help others be better.

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