8 ways you can think like a champion: Lessons from Martina Navratilova and more

In 2016, I had the honor of:

All of these were unforgettable experiences, because I was speaking with and learning from tennis champions of all kinds — including some of the most accomplished tennis coaches and players in the world, like Roger Federer, Samantha Stosur, and arguably the greatest doubles team in history, the Bryan brothers!

Throughout these presentations and conversations, the theme of thinking like a champion continued to surface, and I was struck by how universal these principles are. Here are 8 ideas for you to consider, all of which can greatly increase your results both on and off the tennis court.

1. Believe in yourself.

We perform consistently with who we believe we are. Something I share with audiences is: “What you believe about yourself is what you get out of yourself.” Champions understand that their most valuable resource is their mindset.

“Once you start believing in yourself, anything is possible.” – Martina Navratilova

2. Have a target before you hit the ball.

An important aspect of a winning tennis strategy is deciding exactly where you want to place the ball before you hit it. If you swing at every ball with no clearly defined plan, you will surely be defeated. Some players hit the ball as hard as they can and pray it goes in. Before we attempt to achieve any goal, we must precisely know what we want to accomplish. If we do not have absolute clarity, then we are relying strictly on hope and luck to achieve our goals. Having a clear aim before you take action is the first step towards turning the impossible into the possible.

3. Preparation, then concentration.

Martina told me, “Concentration is born on the practice court. You must mentally treat your practice sessions as matches, concentrating on every ball you hit.” On the court and off, our ability to concentrate is essential for success. Champions understand the importance of the phrase, “practice like you play.” They take practice as seriously as competition.

4. Be consistent, not perfect.

If your measurement of success is perfection, it will invariably lead to disappointment and loss of confidence because you will consider yourself a success one moment and a failure the next. This emotional back-and-forth can cause you to be risk-averse and less resilient. It is important not to confuse excellence with perfectionism. Striving for excellence is not the issue. It is our response to failure that can sometimes be so paralyzing. Even successes and victories can often be scrutinized and seen as less than perfect. As a result, perfectionism will not improve but actually decrease your effectiveness. Peak performers think in terms of excellence instead of perfection.

5. Reduce unforced errors.

An unforced error on the tennis court is one not caused by your opponent’s actions, but by a mistake you make. When both players are equally matched, the player who makes the fewest unforced errors will likely be victorious. Certainly, mistakes are part of the game, but it’s important to make sure it is not caused by carelessness, lack of concentration, or inadequate practice. World-class performers understand that they will experience defeat. However, they are careful not to defeat themselves. They make sure they are prepared both mentally and physically as they enter into a competition.

6. One point at a time.

When we experience anxiety, nerves are what tennis players call the “cement elbow.” Often it is because we are focused on the end result rather the current point. The top tennis players intentionally forget about the previous point and do not worry about what may happen during future points, because they do not want to be distracted. They stay intensely focused on the present. I remember writing my first book and feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the project. One of my colleagues offered advice that immediately reduced my anxiety. He said, “Write one page per day, and in 200 days your book will be completed!” Another example of this same principle came from a marathoner who told me that his best strategy for running a successful race was to focus on one telephone pole at a time.

7. Find a way to win.

Martina told me, “What matters isn’t how well you play when you’re playing well. What matters is how well you play when you’re playing badly.” We have all experienced occasions when it just “isn’t our day,” and when this occurs with champions, they find a way to win. High achievers move past the problem and look for the solutions.

8. Constantly look for ways to improve.

A hallmark of peak performers is they understand the greatest risk to continued success is in standing still. Even if they have reached the pinnacle of success, they are continually looking for new ways to better their best. As a result, they never allow how good they are to get in the way of how great they can become.

“The better I get, the more I realize how much better I can get.” -Martina Navratilova

These world-class coaches and players articulated the thinking habits of champions that all of us can use. By applying these powerful habits and ways of thinking, we can increase our results and realize exceptional achievements.

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