Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Wimbledon Diary: Novak Djokovic, A Peak Performance Case Study

"When my streak ended in Paris it was kind of a relief as well, because it's been a very successful five, six months, but it's also been long and exhausting. I needed some time to relax and I'm happy to see that I'm playing well again and I'm mentally really fresh to have more success."
--Novak Djokovic, whose streak of 43 matches won recently came to an end.
Over the past year, Djokovic has been playing his best tennis:  in addition to "The Streak," three consecutive wins over Roger Federer, a Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, a first-ever win for Serbia in the Davis Cup, and back-to-back wins over Nadal and Federer to win the BNP Paribas Open.  

Is Novak Djokovic positioned to win at Wimbledon?  Let's look at various aspects of a winning mentality.   

Realistic Confidence

"Rafa [Nadal] and Roger [Federer] are the two biggest favourites," he said, "because they've been so dominant the last couple years, especially on grass. They are the only two players who have been winning this tournament for quite some time. Obviously, there is Andy Murray, who is home favourite. He's playing really well on grass courts and Wimbledon last couple years.
"It's true there is a different approach to this year's Wimbledon from my side because I'm playing, I think, the best tennis of my life in the last six months. That's why I believe in myself much more on the court and I know I can perform well, equally well, on this surface as I do on the other ones."
Maturity and Perspective

""We grew up in the worst time for our country (war-torn Serbia).  But it made us stronger, made us fight for what we want to achieve, made us people who appreciate life more.  We have been through difficult things in our career, and we appreciate success much more, even though we are still young."
"This is a difficult sport. It just depends where you grow up. It's a matter of luck in the end, but that's life. But probably this hunger for the success which we all have and still have, you can see it in the girls like [Maria] Sharapova and the Williams sisters and the girls and guys from Serbia.
"You see how much they appreciate to be in that position and how much energy and emotions they put on the court. It's quite amazing. I know for myself I play with a lot of emotions, positive emotions, negative emotions. But this is how I feel and how I am. I'm a guy with alot of temperment, becuase I know how much it means to me to be in that position."

--Novak Djokovic, discussing the new wave of young players whose desire to succeed is born of economic hardship and cultural upheaval, particularly in Eastern Europe.

Focus:  Competition, Learning and a Continuous Improvement Mentality

When discussing his toughest competition, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Djokovic says that they help him focus and develop.

"They're always lifting the limits.  In each event--literally each event you're playing--you have to play at least semifinals or finals. It's ridiculous how successful and how consistent they are, how mentally strong.  It's a big challenge, something that makes you grow up.

"When I step on the court, especially with Federer and Nadal, I believe I can win against them.  That's what's different about me.  Before I was just trying to play my best tennis, but now I want to win."


Djokovic has been more emotionally balanced this year.  In the past, his performance was a source of frustration.

"He was more up-and-down, and physically, he wan't ready--he'd get more aggravated.  Emotionally , he's settled down," says his coach of the last five years, Marian Vajda.

"Think positive.  LIfe is too short to think otherwise" says Djokovic.

From a mental standpoint, it appears Djokovic could go deep into the Wimbledon draw, perhaps come out with the title.  He seems mentally prepared.

Are you mentally prepared for the challenge, unknowns, turbulence and competition of the future?  

Excerpts from the New York Times 1/29/08, Tennis magazine (June 2011) and Reuters (June 21, 2011).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where Did You Get Your MBA? At the 2011 NBA Finals?

I was speaking this week to a CEO about his business.  When we were through, he asked me what I thought about the NBA Finals.  I gave him my take on it, but later I thought that my answers to his questions about business were no different from my take aways from the playoff series.  Success happens when you do things the right way, whether in sports or in business.  

Here are my business lessons:


Dallas was on a mission of vindication and pride, but also established a strong following (outside of Miami) with those who wanted to see Miami lose because of what the Heat stood for and represented.

  • A clear team mission that is bigger than oneself is more important than individual missions. 
  • Leadership is more important than talent.
  • Leadership is earned not taken. 
From Mark Cuban to Rick Carlisle to Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks displayed more leadership than their opponents.  Humility, community, character and culture are more important than individuality, swagger and arrogance.   

  • Teamwork trumps talent.
  • Team chemistry is critical.  Chemistry takes time.
  • Role players are as important as stars.

Both offensively and defensively, the Mavericks had a plan and stuck with their plan to the end.  Crisp passing and hitting the open man overcame LeBron James and Dwyane Wade taking turns in one-on-one isolation.   
  • Teamwork is about workflow:  creating clear communication and roles; and making smooth passes, handoffs, transitions, and spacing.  Workflow is key.  Systems and process issues can hide problems.  Workflow fixes will illuminate talent and competency problems.  
  • Execution wins championship.
  • Winning is about closing the deal and finishing strong.

Dallas had the confidence, focus, perseverance, tenacity and mental toughness to prevail.  When the games were on the line, they did not choke.  They did not overthink things, because they had a plan.  When they meet adversity, the Heat responded with a lack of confidence and resolve.  


Miami set themselves up last summer for the expectation that they had to win now. They created pressure and impatience. When they faltered, they panicked.  It was a recipe for failure. Dallas had been building the team in steps and were ready to win now.
  • Championships take time.
  • Continuous improvement bests talent.  
  • Learning from mistakes is crucial.
  • There are few overnight fixes.
  • Success and excellence come in stages.    
  • Organization continuity will trump an quick influx of talent.

Dallas made adjustments to whatever their opponents through at them, Miami never adjusted their style of play.  In the playoffs, the Mavericks played and beat a young and hungry team, a former championship team, and a team of superstars in succession. They adapted and won.  

Thursday, June 09, 2011

LeBron Is Not Shrinking From the Stage, He's Thinking Too Much

“You’re at a point where you’re just not in a good rhythm.  You start aiming shots, you start thinking about plays too much. You start thinking about the game too much and instead of going out and reading and react and playing the game.”

--LeBron James, Miami Heat, after the Heat lost another close playoff game in the fourth quarter.

I have heard many people; friends and colleagues talk about LeBron James' struggles in these 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.  Many say he is shrinking from the spotlight.  Others say he can't handle the pressure.  Still others say he is unable to play well with his other star teammates in the spotlight: that, he is taking a backseat to his teammates.  But, is it really that he is choking?    

But how does a two-time NBA MVP, Olympic gold medal winner choke?  How has a player who has been in the zone so often in the past, lose it?  How can an 8-year veteran of the NBA seem so lost?    

Right now, LeBron is aiming his shots and telegraphing his passes.  So, he misses shots badly and makes sloppy passes that are easily intercepted.  Offensively, he looks lost; as if he has forgotten how to play.  Then when he transitions to defense, he is still thinking about being lost on offense and so he does not react quickly enough on the defensive end of the court.  

He doesn't look like he is having fun.  He often talks about the Miami Heat playing better under pressure and when desperate.  That may be true because if you are desperate, you aren't thinking.  Your instincts take over.  Choking is about thinking too much.  

Is LeBron choking?  

I point you toward the definition of choking as discussed by Malcolm Gladwell and several others in recent years.    

He says that from an intuitive standpoint, choking makes little sense. Experience seems to count for little in times of choking. Choking occurs when we lose our focus, our ability to be "in the zone". Choking occurs when we are too focused on what to do.

Choking is the paradoxical failure of working too hard and in too focused a manner. The more we try, the more we choke. When we choke we revert to the mode of explicit learning. We return to slow, methodical non-fluid movements. We go back to the mechanical, conscious method of re-learning. We get away for intuitive, quick processing and revert to the methodical.

Does LeBron look mechanical?  Indeed, he does.

Is he panicking?  Is he folding under pressure?  No, I don't think so.  Panicking involves a losing of one's bearings and orientation.  It is about losing one's head and perspective.  But it isn't choking.  Choking is forgetting.  Panicking is excessively getting caught up in the importance of the moment.  It is emotional. Panicking is fear.  Choking is excessive thinking.      

This choke vs. panic distinction is useful if we look at the importance of learning and rehearsal. Getting in the zone is about using explicit learning and making the learning implicit. Staying in the zone is about ensuring that the learning remains implicit.

A structured learning approach to peak performance and installing some type of a stress-and-anxiety management system provides the vehicle that improves our ability to use learning to get in the zone and stay in the zone. We become immune from panic and choking.

In reality, choking is a very particular form of failure. When we learn, we learn sequences or patterns of activity, movement, and behaviors. As we rehearse these movements we get faster and smoother. This early learning is called "explicit learning", or learning that is done within one's awareness. Later, that learning, through repetition becomes automatic. Explicit learning becomes "implicit learning", or learning outside of our awareness. Explicit learning is deliberate and mechanical, while implicit learning is what takes over when we can behave in an automatic, fluid fashion, without thinking. In sports and athletics, for example, this implicit learning involves the development of "touch" and accuracy in a throw or a swing.

Under extreme stress and pressure, the explicit learning system can take over. This is the process of choking. In these instances of choking, athletes lose their touch, their fluidity; they are out of the zone. The athlete begins to be excessively deliberate and mechanical again, as they would if they were beginners. They revert to the explicit learning system.

How do you get out of that process?  You just play and relax.  You have fun.  Feel the joy of the moment; as you did as a young player growing up.  LeBron, I know that your every move is evaluated.  So what?  

LeBron:  Quit thinking and just play.

Excerpts from the New York (June 8, 2011) and Failure:  The Peak Performance Field Guide #2.    

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Very Focused and Grounded Rafael Nadal Wins 6th French Open

"A big personal satisfaction, especially when you started [the tournament] without playing your best.  Finally, I was able to play my best when I needed my best.
"[The French Open] always is the tournament where I feel that I have more chances to win. This is my biggest chance of the year [to win a Grand Slam]. I know if I win this tournament, my season is fantastic. I then can play with more confidence and less pressure." 
--Rafael Nadal, after winning the 2011 French Open over Roger Federer.  
Nadal beat Federer without playing his best tennis throughout the tournament.  So, he had to deal with it and accept his less than stellar playing.   
"The real Rafa is both the Rafa who wins and the Rafa who plays well, and the Rafa who suffers and doesn't play that well," Nadal said. "You have to face this situation."
Typically, Nadal is exceptional at Roland Garros in Paris -- 45-1 for his career, and the same number of titles there as Bjorn Borg -- but the Spaniard already also has shown that he is much more than the King of Clay. And Sunday's victory only will raise more questions about whether Federer truly deserves to be called the Greatest of All Time if he is not even the Greatest of Right Now.
Nadal leads their head-to-head series 17-8. That includes a 6-2 advantage in Grand Slam finals and a 5-0 edge at the French Open (in the 2005 semifinals, and the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 finals).
Nevertheless, this is not what drives him.  

"When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it's not very interesting to me," continued Nadal, who would have ceded the No. 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic with a loss Sunday. "I'm very happy with what I have, with who I am. I'm not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I'm among the best. That's true. That's enough for me."
But, does Nadal have Federer's number?  Toni Nadal, Rafael's uncle and coach, spoke plainly after Sunday's match.
"The game of Rafael is not too good for Roger," Toni said, adding that Federer's "mentality against Rafael is not the best."
On Sunday, Federer raced to a 5-2 at the outset, but blew a set point by missing a drop shot that landed barely wide.  That seemed to unnerve Federer and open the door for Nadal. 

Nadal then won seven games in a row. Later, when Nadal went up a break in the third and led 4-2, the match appeared over, until Federer charged back to force a fourth set.
But Nadal once more assumed control, winning the last five games, then dropping to his knees and leaning forward with his hands covering his eyes.

"I was able to play my best when I needed my best," Nadal repeated. "For that reason, today I am here with the trophy." 

Excerpts from (June 5 & 6, 2011).

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Confidence: How Lady Gaga Has Become the Most Famous Pop Star of This Century

“I think it’s wonderful to be confident about what you create.  I think you have to be. I say that with the humbleness of the fans being so wonderful, but with the integrity and sureness of my abilities as a musician.”
“Every day, in the mirror, on the stage, in interviews, to go to sleep, to finish that chorus, I’m always in the boxing ring.  But I have a one-two punch: ambition and drive.” 
--Lady Gaga, discussing her confidence and work ethic. 
Lady Gaga’s multimillion-selling album, “The Fame,” was released in 2008, which has sold more than four million copies in the United States alone.  The million-selling EP “The Fame Monster,” released in 2009. Together, they generated seven Top 10 singles.

Her new album, “Born This Way”, was released on May 23 and sold 1,108,000 copies in the United States in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Some 662,000 of those sales, or about 60 percent, were digital downloads, the most any album has ever sold in a week.  
Lady Gaga, was born Stefani Germanotta and was still playing small clubs as late as 2007.  She has become the biggest pop star of the 21st century so far.  She has 10 million Twitter followers.

Excerpts from the New York Times.   

Friday, June 03, 2011

Anatomy of a Comeback: Mavs Recover from 15 Point Deficit in Game 2

"You can just sense it in us that we weren't going to give up, we were going to be resilient." 
--Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry.

The Miami Heat were fifteen points up in the fourth quarter of Game 2 when the Dallas Mavericks roared back to win the game, 95-93.  The Heat might have relaxed just a little.  But the Mavericks did not give up.  The Mavericks had to rely on many of the championship behaviors and personality characteristics of world-class peak performers.  Let's look at the ingredients of an historic comeback.    

Resilience and Tenacity

"Definitely a huge comeback for us and we never gave up, and that was big," Dirk Nowitzki, All-Star forward for the Mavericks said.  Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 24 points.  


"Dirk is the kind of guy that is going to be persistent and we're going to keep going to him. No matter what they try to do, we're going to keep going to him," Mavs center Tyson Chander said. "We know eventually they're going to wear down because they're spending a lot of energy trying to keep him out of the game."

Emotional Stability 

"We're a veteran team and we don't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows," Nowitzki said.  Nowitzki had to deal with an injury to a finger in his left hand.  Despite the injury Nowitzki won the game with a shot with 3.6 seconds on the clock.   The Heat led 88-73 with 7:15 remaining, but Dallas held the Heat to just one field goal from there on.

Ability to Deal with Ambiguity

"In this league you have to play 'til the end, especially in the Finals," said Nowtizki, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. "You never know what can happen in this league. And we kept fighting." 


"Just a different series, but we always believe we can come back regardless of the score," Shawn Marion said. "The game is over when the final buzzer rings."

Mental Toughness

"No man, Dirk's a warrior," Dallas guard DeShawn Stevenson said. "I've been on this team for a year-and-a-half and I never seen nothing like it. He's a true warrior. To hit a game-winner on that torn finger, to play the way he played with that torn finger, with people slapping on him, says a lot about him and what he does."

Failure is not an Option

"Guys just stayed together. Even with that last 3-pointer that Chalmers [Miami guard] made, everybody just looked forward and said, 'Let's find a way to win the game.' " 

--Jason Kidd, Mavs point guard.  

Ability to Deal with Adversity

"This team has been through some difficult situations," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've been down big a couple of times in the playoffs. We have shown that we have the ability to come back, and the guys believe that if we get stops, we'll always give ourselves a chance."

The Mavericks are making a habit out of overcoming large deficits in these 2011 NBA Playoffs. Tonight's comeback marked the fourth time the Mavericks have overcome a double-digit deficit during this poststeason run, one during each round. 


"Look, everybody is important on our team," Carlisle said prior to Game 2. "Heap it all on one guy, this guy or that guy, we've had to do things collectively all season long, defensively, offensively.
"We never know exactly who is going to score the points, but every element that we have, whether it's (guard J.J. Barea's) penetration, (center Brendan) Haywood's presence around the basket, Tyson's energy, you go right down the list, we need everybody to do what they do."

It looked like the Heat had the game won and had earned control of the series.  However, because of the Mavericks mental toughness and will to win, the series is tied 1-1 and the team is going home to Dallas for the next three games; and the Heat have lost home court advantage.  It's anyone's series, but the Mavericks have taken a huge psychological step towards a championship.    

Excerpts from & (June 3, 2011).