Having the opportunity to sit in conversations with perhaps the most iconic sportsman of a generation was surreal and at the same time felt so normal. Having admired Federer’s poise and seemingly effortless execution since the early 2000s, it wasn’t until the Wimbledon final of 2008 against Nadal; the longest singles final in the history of the tournament lasting a gruelling 4hrs and 48min; that I realised the gladiatorial spirit of this man. It is a day that is etched in my memory, we lived a few roads up from Centre Court at the time, and as Federer and Nadal exchanged superhuman blows we could hear the roar of the crowd witnessing sporting history. Hearing the sound of the crowd erupt travel through our open windows milliseconds before the sound signal came through the television is one of my favourite sporting memories. Since that day I had looked forward to the occasion that I would sit down with this formidable athlete to learn more about his winning mindset, a little less than a decade later I had that chance.
We were invited to meet with Roger at a Nike event in London a few summers back. Although experiencing the fanfare that surrounds Rogers life somewhat overwhelmed us, his ability to isolate the distractions, drown out the noise and to give us his full and undivided attention was remarkable. I realised at that moment that we were witnessing the ability he has honed over the years to drown out the crowd and ruthlessly execute on his game plan.
Out of our conversation and the time we had with Roger – these are the four points that I journaled about that day – and the points that I reflect on as my conversation with Greatness.
Decide and then Execute
Roger shares that early on in his career he decided to focus. And? He smiles because he knows I was thinking he was going to give me a complex perhaps philosophical response. He expands and shares that deciding is the first step – what he decided on was Focus; focus on his game, on his mental strength, on winning his next match, and an ironclad commitment to execute on the decision.
I realised how we over complicate things to avoid taking action. In our businesses, in our relationships and in our health and wellbeing, we often add more layers than necessary rather than just moving forward on the premise that action is necessary now.
Takeaway: “To start seeing the results, progress and breakthroughs that we desire we simply need to Decide, Commit and then Execute on those decisions now.”
Build a great team on Organisation and Communication
Roger explained the importance of having an effective and cohesive team around him. This is a product of being organised and having open communication both in terms of expectations and objectives. Roger highlighted the importance of this on a more personal level in terms of how he and his wife Mirka prioritise communication especially given the added dimension of children on Team Federer whilst travelling.
Reflecting on this I realised how in teams we sometimes forget to communicate expectations and objectives in a motivating and collaborative way. At times we can get so caught up in doing the do that we fall into the trap of expecting that our team will just “Get” what we are aiming for. We know how this ends, often with conflicts, passive-aggressive behaviour and underperformance. It highlights once again that doing the simple things consistently compounds results – focusing on organising the execution of a strategy and communicating regularly but efficiently with our teams build momentum, motivates individuals and heightens performance.
Takeaway “Organising and communicating effectively will result in highly effective and organised team performances”
Respect the game – Work hard
The juxtaposition of Federer’s graceful yet panther-like movements around a court is the hallmark of his game. An inform Federer will float along the baseline, seemingly not leaving a footprint on the grass or clay, and can leave you having to look closely to confirm that he has in fact broken a sweat. He’s a natural we say, a genius, talented and gifted, and whilst his physical structure does enable him to be lighter on his feet and joints than most of his competitors, we need to realise the immense amount of work Roger has put in to be perhaps the greatest men’s player in the Open era.
What we may forget when we watch Federer move around the court is the many hours spent both on and off the court preparing his body for marathon matches. None of Federer’s shot-making would be possible if he did not get to the ball in the first place, and his ability to do so is the result of the work he puts in on both his physical and mental training.
Although he does bashfully admit to not always taking advice and input early on in his career, true for many of us I think, Roger explains the importance of working hard. It may seem very basic advice that he recalls from his upbringing, but it’s the piece of advice that he is already sharing with his children.
Takeaway “Work hard and have respect, there is no substitute for this, no amount of intelligence, natural ability or financial privilege can outperform hard work in the long run.”
Roger shares that although on the match and training court they can seem like a serious bunch, the team ensure they have fun. Wrestling and pranking seem to be what they get up to more often than not with Roger admitting to being the one that is most likely going to jump out from behind something and give a fright.
I think this video provides a pinhole view into the light-heartedness that goes on in Team Federer, rather well.
Again, my reflection on this was the reminder to enjoy what you do and the people you are with. We all find ourselves in challenging, high-pressure situations and environment, but there is always an opportunity to have a laugh, to be grateful, and to invest in our relationships with those around us.
Takeaway “Take time to have fun, to invest in relationships with your team, the bonds that are forged in the good times reinforce and bind the team together in challenging times. A core characteristic of high performing teams is acknowledging and celebrating not just success but also progress.”
This time with Roger was a massive privilege and I was extremely grateful that we were able to spend this time with him as a family. His interest in and consideration for Matt was intuitive, in fact, it was something very special to see. I wish that Matt would be able to remember the day he had a knock on a tennis court with Mr Federer, but at least he has Mr Federer’s racquet and a lasting message of encouragement.
And I have new perspectives and ideas on developing potential, building teams and