Ingredients of an Outlier

Picture of John Cavill

John Cavill

An Outlier is something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body OR a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.

For the past 2 years I have had a book called ‘Outliers… The story of Success’ sat on my shelf. Written by Malcolm Gladwell, this book has been recommended to me by several people but only until recent I have made the time to read it…and I wish I had done it 2 years ago!

Call it luck, fate, fortune or coincidence but these are some of the ingredients of an Outlier, or someone who has achieved exceptional things in their life. The book looked at numerous exceptional achievers, their upbringing, parental guidance, financial background, intelligence quotient (IQ), where they grew up and many other influential circumstances. People like Bill Gates and pop legends like The Beatles all have attributing factors that have align to realise their success. What fascinates me is that in a world of endless opportunities, why do a few stand miles above others.

This book got me thinking about a lot of things but one of the major messages I got was that success cannot be achieved alone and opportunities are essential. Many people know of the Bill Gates story so I will try and make it brief, as this is a great example of being fortunate to have opportunities. Gates was successful because in 1968 he was taken out of the public schooling system and started the 7th Grade at a private school in Seattle.

Coincidently, that year the school started a computer club which was funded by the ‘mothers club’ fundraising. Most colleges didn’t even have a computer but the computer they had was also one of the most advanced of its time, so Bill Gates got to start programming from a young age on the best machine.

Then Gates had a rare opportunity to access free computer time at the University of Washington because a mother of one of the children at his school was able to present this opportunity, so his evenings and weekends involved hours or programming.

After this he access more free computer time in exchange for working on a piece of payroll software. In one 7-month period, Gates and his cohorts ran up 1575 hours of computer time which equates to 8 hours a day for 7 days a week! Due to Gates huge amount of experience of programming, in his senior years of High School he was asked to work on some software for a power station.

All of this experience was gained within a 5-year period in an era when computer time was expensive and there was scarce access. The opportunities Gates got were incredible and this allowed him to drop out of his first year at Harvard and set up a little company called Microsoft!

This story isn’t uncommon to other achievers, for example, the opportunities Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray were given and the support from their family, but opportunities are not enough!

I some paths of life, intelligence will enhance your opportunities of success but it is also known that super intellect does not equal super success.

From what I observe in tennis and those I know who have also gone on to be top performers in their sport, without the support of parents, coaches, schools etc. who present these opportunities and enable the players to train and compete, then their opportunity to be better tennis players is immediately compromised.

The chance of every junior tennis player being fortunate to have the support, financial assistance and access to facilities is something they should be grateful for as millions of others don’t have this fortune. BUT by being one of the fortunate few, that is not enough and there are two key ingredients missing that no one can give you! They are called HARD WORK and PERSERVERANCE.

Like with Bill Gates at his machine, David Beckham taking free kicks and Nadal on the practice court not even stopping for water, those who choose to fight to become better will and no one is born great or as a good tennis player.

By putting in hours and making sacrifices like successful people do, players may not be rewarded immediately but one day their time will come and then they’ll appreciate how lucky they are to be given the opportunity to fulfil their dreams!

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Top Mistakes in Coaching Communication

Picture of Marcin Bieniek

Marcin Bieniek

There are a lot of great tennis coaches in each country. They have solid experience, huge knowledge and desire to be the best they can be. There we also have great tennis players. Skilled, motivated and willing to sacrifice a lot of things to achieve own dreams. Looking at these facts we should see a lot of champions from all countries but we know that it doesn’t happen. Why? There are several answers but one that we can’t omit is communication.

Tennis coaches have to play a lot of roles. They are teachers because they have to provide instruction on how to hit forehand or where to return 1st serve. They have to be psychologists because dealing with emotions and coping with loses are frequent situations that all players have to go through. Nutritionists? Of course. Proper energy intake, eating well-balanced meals and recovering quicker are steps that can be achieved by choosing right products.

What about being a friend? Coaches can’t get too close to players because they risk losing respect but having strong relationship with a player is a must to gain trust and talk about everything without any secrets. These and many others roles all coaches have to play to make sure that players develop at the fastest possible pace. But without one skill all these areas mentioned above can’t be successfully reached.

Communication. If you want to be successful at coaching you have to be firstly successful at communication. Your job is based on delivering information in proper way. If you want to correct flaw in backhand stroke you have to provide information on how to do it. If you want to educate your players about healthy nutritional benefits you have to deliver knowledge. If you want to analyze match during the tournament without communication it is not possible.

Focusing on how much you know is the first step to fail at coaching. Smarter approach is to focus on how can you pass your knowledge to player so he/she understands your message perfectly. Remember that coaching is about player. Player is in the center of attention. That is why we should always think how to make our communication simple and effective so our actions are not wasted.

There are many examples of coaches who have exceptional knowledge but they don’t have results because their players don’t learn from them. Communication is a process that can be easy or hard so coaches should pay attention to own actions to make sure that information they want to provide is easily accepted and understood by their players.

Everyone makes mistakes. Coaches. Parents. Players. It is not a shame to make a mistake – shame is when you don’t try to correct them.

Below you will find 3 common mistakes related to communication. Improve these areas and you will see that coaching can be easier and can bring good results much faster than you expected.

 1. Wrong perception

While communicating anything we have to remember that there are 2 sides: coach and player. Too many times coaches take own perception based on own experiences and don’t take into consideration what player can feel, think, and finally do. This is mistake that can make coaching really ineffective. Coaches should always try to understand own players and focus on different factors that had impact on player’s personality. Person from rich neighborhood will act differently than player whose parents struggle with money. Always try to take your player’s perception before you say anything.

 2. One style

Another mistake that many coaches commit is communicating using only one style. Delivering information can happen while using different methods. Words are the easiest and most popular way but not often they are the best. We can also communicate using our body language. If you want to teach proper serving motion instead of describing all steps you can just show them. Many players have better visual perception than auditory so what they see is easier to transfer than what they hear.

Don’t forget that your communication can also be successful while being a model. Many coaches try to make own players eat healthy but words don’t make the job. If you will eat healthy on your own every time you eat with your player you can be surprised that soon enough your student will also change eating habits.

 3. Not listening enough

We are all guilty of that. We love to talk. It shows how much we know. People appreciate when they hear good tips. But real coaching is effective if you listen more than you talk. It is not about quantity of your words – it is about quality. Always listen to your players before you start because what you think can help can turn out to be totally off. The best communicators are also great listeners so practice your listening skills to talk less and achieve more. Again – it is about your player so firstly focus on your student. Only when you have feedback you can use your knowledge to help.

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Why I Failed as a Tennis Player 

January, 2003: I’m sitting on a Cliffside, overlooking the east coast of Australia, contemplating my future as a tennis player. I just battled through four rounds of qualifying to make it to the first round of a futures event. Today, I was up a set, 5-4 40-0 and lost in three sets against the 4th seed. My elbow is throbbing, my back is bothering me and my first round losers paycheck will only cover two nights of hotel bills. Is this really worth it??

David Mullins

We love to read the success stories of the greatest players in the world. We learn about the ups and downs they endured along the way, but eventually made it to the top. However, we rarely look at those who did not achieve the same level of success in their chosen area of excellence and try to dissect why. I think we could learn a lot from these stories, too.

What if we could avoid the mistakes these “average” people made while still aspiring for that top tier of excellence? If we aspire to be “great,” of course we need to understand how the elite reached that level of excellence, but we must also understand why so many others fail along the way.

Admittedly, I had a very below average professional tennis career and I don’t feel bad about it one bit. In fact, I don’t think you can call it a professional career as I was very much in the red throughout it! I don’t have any regrets or think that I could have raised the Wimbledon Trophy one day, if only I had just worked that bit harder, and ate more spinach!

I believe if all the stars aligned, and I committed to a professional tennis career for about 5-7 years, perhaps I could have reached about 300 in the ATP singles rankings and top 150 in the ATP doubles rankings. Instead, I played for about 6 months and reached a career high of 943! During that time, I spent about $25,000 and made roughly $11,000 (thanks mostly to money tournaments without ranking points).

The reality is, even if I had reached a ranking of 300 in the world, I would not have fared much better financially. Whether I was 300 or 1200, I would still be struggling to play in the events I dreamed of when I first started competing in the sport.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with staying out on the tour for years if you love the lifestyle, and are still very passionate about training and competition. It’s an expensive passion, but if it is financially feasible for you, then why not? I am all about doing what you love! However, I made a lot of mistakes along the way and these are a few of the lessons I want to share with young players who have the same dreams I had as a young teen.

1. MENTAL

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” – Lao Tzu

People don’t care about your results and performances as much as you think they do. Playing an individual sport, we tend to be somewhat narcissistic and think that everyone is watching us.

In truth, they are watching two people and where the ball is going, then they look at their smartphones between points. They cheer, they clap, they judge, but at the end of the day, they go home to their own lives, their own problems, their own passions. They don’t really care all that much about who won or lost, or who is playing well or not improving.

“People don’t care about your results and performances as much as you think they do. Playing an individual sport, we tend to be somewhat narcissistic and think that everyone is watching us.”

I know as a young tennis player, I would get so consumed and worried about what other people thought of my performances for all sorts of reasons. Instead, I should have been spending that time and energy critically evaluating my own performance, and what I could learn from it in order to apply it to my next match. Instead, I was overly concerned about pleasing others.

But, Coach Mullins, what about my parents, my coach and my best friend, Mike, don’t they care? Yes, they care, but not as much as you probably believe.

If you have overbearing parents, an intense coach or a buddy named Mike that appear to care a little too much, it is probably more of a reflection of their own issues in life and far less about yours. Again, proving that they are more consumed with their own image and how your tennis is impacting their precious place in this world than you! Your tennis performances have nothing to do with who you are as person. Learn to separate the two.

2. COAL SETTING

“Life favors the specific ask and punishes the vague wish”- Tim Ferriss

I had many vague wishes and no specific asks. I was very guilty of selling myself short, and a lot of that comes from my background and culture. When I decided to play full-time after college, I took the approach of, “Ahh, sure we will see how it goes,” and, “Hopefully I can pick up a few points here and there.” There was no plan, there were no concrete goals, there was no vision of how to accomplish anything. I was just reacting and going with the flow.

Hopefully you have a coach, mentor, or parent in your life that can help guide you on occasion in these areas. If not, there are plenty of books out there that can get you on track. One of my favorites is “The Slight Edge,” by Jeff Olson. It discusses the power of taking deliberate, consistent actions every day towards your goals.

3. PROCESS vs. WINNING

If you’re looking for a formula for greatness, the closest we’ll ever get, I think, is this: Consistency driven by a deep love of work.” – Maria Popova

Winning is great, and when you go out to compete, you should strive to win with every part of your body and mind. However, it has taken me a very long time to understand that it is not about the final goal, it is truly about the process.

Yes, we hear it all the time, but it is incredibly difficult to put into action. What matters far more than winning is what you put into preparing to compete and staying present throughout that process. I rarely walked on the court believing that I had done all I could to put myself in a position to perform at my best.

Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard, but there was so much more I could have been doing to take care of my body and my mind. If you can fall in love with the process, and put all your energies into your preparation, you will be far better off in tennis and in life, and winning will most likely take care of itself.

Ultimately, I never learned to love the process. The majority of the best tennis players I have been around absolutely love that process, and approach their tennis practices with childlike enthusiasm.

4. NUTRITION

“We are what we eat” – anonymous

I failed miserably at understanding how to fuel my body. I always felt sluggish in practices and workouts. I had a hard time finishing long matches in warm temperatures without my body breaking down. I had a lot of injuries from age 17 onwards. I attribute much of this to my cluelessness about how to fuel my body. Here was my typical daily intake of food during my college years:

Breakfast: Two Oreo Pop Tarts and a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

Lunch: Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl and liter of Mountain Dew.

Practice: All the Gatorade I could drink and a banana.

Dinner: Five 49 cent McDonalds Cheeseburgers and French Fries with a liter of Coke.

Desert: Chocolate Milkshake.

Supper: Another bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or some toast with Nutella.

I look at this menu now and I want to puke! I was operating at 60% capacity most days with a game-style that required peak physical fitness.

Athletes in general are far better educated nowadays on how they should be fueling their bodies, but I still see players making detrimental nutritional choices. You may be getting by just fine on your crappy diet, just like I thought I was, but understand you are not even scratching the surface of your true capabilities.

“Getting by” is not the same as maximizing your body’s potential. The cleaner you eat, the more in tune you become with your body, which in turn allows you to sleep better, recover faster, and reduce the risk of injury, just to name a few benefits.

5. MONEY

Never spend your money before you have earned it” – Thomas Jefferson. Well Mr. Jefferson, when it comes to starting out as a professional tennis player I am going to have to disagree with you.

I graduated college in December of 2001. I returned home for Christmas, then hit the road in January and did not return for 6 months. I stayed on the road, sleeping on floors, sharing hotel rooms with three other dudes, eating cheap processed food, stringing my own rackets with my drop weight travelling stringing machine.

I received no coaching or did any training blocks during this period. I just travelled and tried to save money in every area possible. I was rarely prepared mentally or physically to give even close to my best effort.

Looking back now, I see that in my attempt to save money I was costing myself a great deal. If I had spent more I would have won more. If I had won more, I would have received more money. If I had more money, I would have played longer.

If I could do it differently, I would have gone on the road for 2 to 4 weeks at a time. I would have played fewer tournaments and spent more money at each event in order to put my mind and body in a place where it could perform its best.

I would have let my body rest, ate nourishing food and received some feedback and help with my game and body. Instead, after 6 months, I was out of money, injured and had lost most of my desire to continue playing. Resources are often tight for those starting out in the professional ranks, so you need to get clear on where best to spend those limited resources.

As a junior player, you probably should stay in crappy hotels, take 17-hour bus journeys, string your own rackets and wash your socks and underwear in the sink. I think there is a lot of value in dealing with adversity on the road as a junior.

However, if you are serious about trying to maximize your time as a professional in a small window of opportunity, then don’t skimp in areas that will potentially be the difference between winning and losing.

If you are serious about your tennis, do not make the same mistakes I did. You can apply these lessons to many different phases of your tennis career. Some of the mistakes I made were out of ignorance, some denial and others laziness.

Once you have established a reliable technique and game-style you must start respecting all the other areas that impact your performances and training. These things will set you apart and give you a realistic shot at reaching your potential. Good luck and learn to love the process!

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The Business Case for USTA to Keep the Game from Dying

Over the past few years I had experienced junior tennis in the Florida section with great enthusiasm. As the year progress in this wonderful sport and as we see fewer players that once played with us. I started to look into why we were no longer seeing our friends or why did they quit? I started to ask more questions and then decided to study the data more carefully.

Picture of Javier Palenque

Javier Palenque

My conclusion which I shared in an article The data in American tennis tell the story last month explains how under the numbers hide the real problem in American tennis and how the organization entrusted in growing the game is in fact slowly contributing to its death.

After writing the article I received hundreds of emails thanking me for writing the article. So, I then felt compelled to help the USTA without being asked to explain what the business issues are. So, last night, I woke up at 3 am and decided to write what needs to be said. Below are two video links:

USTA BUSINESS CASE TO HELP USTA – LONG VERSION

USTA BUSINESS CASE SHORT VERSION

One is a long version and one is a short version. It is the presentation that I wish to make to the board of the USTA so they can listen to what I as a parent, a business person, a consumer of tennis sees in the problems that need urgent attention.  If you love tennis and I know most of you do, I encourage you to watch the long version and maybe have a choice of sharing one or the other with those who may benefit or with those that may do something.

The more people see and hear the more we can help. Because tennis in America will die if it continues to be managed this way and personally I find that unacceptable for all of those who love tennis and specially those kids in their learning stages. Please share if you agree. All comments are welcome.

I can be reached at jpalenque@yahoo.com or @palenquej

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Tennis is not about tennis. Why can’t people figure this out?

Tennis is one of the most difficult sports to learn, and one of the most complicated to master. This is why we have a sport in which only the top 100 make a living at it and the rest spend their lives trying. As we watch Roland Garros this week, we can all watch in real awe at the fantastic plays all the people on TV show us.

Picture of Javier Palenque

Javier Palenque

The truth is what separates the better from the rest are just the management of a few points and the control of the time at the precise moment. This mastery is of course incredible and that is why we, who love tennis, can watch a match or a particular play more than once to marvel at the ball control. As life if we could just control it for a little longer. Like life we only control the ball for a short while.

As I watched this morning some Tennis Channel at 4 am., I realized the unnecessary pressure we put all our kids under in the local USTA tournaments. Tennis in our family is not about being the number one in our neighborhood, our local academy or the state, or the country. For us tennis is about trying, it’s about life.

What does that mean? It means for us tennis is waking up early daily, organizing our time, planning the how to beat the day and end up a better person at the end of it. It means sharing time with other kids, learning from whomever we can and teaching those we see are in need of help.

Tennis is about self-control, managing losses, getting over tough situations and learning to keep trying even though we know that there will be always somewhere in the world, someone working harder than one. Tennis is understanding the stages in life and smiling at the end of a warrior effort, it’s about never giving up and keeping a smile in victory or defeat. Tennis is about winning with average days and its about becoming an adult.

“Tennis is one of the most difficult sports to learn, and one of the most complicated to master. This is why we have a sport in which only the top 100 make a living at it and the rest spend their lives trying.”

An honorable and respectable man or women, who understands that nothing is given to us for free and that in order to succeed in this life we need our feet on the ground and our eyes in the sky. Tennis is about helping others, respect, audacity, hard work and values and about being better citizens.

We live in a society in which most likely our kids will marry someone who comes from a divorced family. Those kids need the foundation of the hard lessons learned through tennis early on and need the link to a sport that they can carry for the rest of their lives. As we prepare our kids for the future tennis is what unites us as we grow, because it takes a special kind of person to like tennis and to master it. It takes a long time.

Personally I feel here in the US, not enough people understand what tennis means, including the governing body. Tennis is not about tennis. Tennis is only the vehicle that we use to contribute to our society. To make the country better than it is, to make our kids have the tools they need in their life when they leave the nest.

So, while others are pursuing a professional path with odds that don’t exist, we are focusing on life, on being better persons, better people, better citizens. We are trying to become the kind of citizens that the country desperately needs. Honorable, hard working, decent, fit, helpful to others and courageous, we may lose more games that we won, but we will have learned that we are preparing our kids for life.

So, this weekend while we compete in Boca Raton at a local event, I will enjoy watching the kids fight it out, but I will enjoy more knowing that we are well on our way to be better Americans. For that I understand that tennis is not about tennis. Tennis is about preparing our champions for life. I wish more people shared my point of view. Share if you agree.

I can be reached at @palenquej

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