Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment", by George Leonard

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, by George Leonard (New York, NY: Plume, 1992), 176 Pages, 3 Parts, 14 Chapters with Introductions, Acknowledgments and Epilogue.

"To be a learner, you've got to be willing to be a fool. [T]he carefree fool . . . who bears the awesome number zero, signifying the fertile void from which all creation springs."
George Leonard, Page 172-173
Epilogue (The Master and the Fool)

In this short yet focused book, George Leonard outlines the roadmap common to success in any human endeavor - what he calls "mastery". Leonard is a martial arts master, Zen philosopher and author of the highly-praised book, The Way of Aikido.

In Mastery, Leonard defines "mastery" as a process and a journey which brings rich rewards. And he argues passionately and convincingly, I believe, for what makes for "mastery".

What are the elements of "mastery"?

*Instruction or Coaching - Valuable and supportive feedback
*Practice, Practice, Practice - "Perfect practice makes perfect"
*Surrendering to Your Passion - Finding purpose and power from your passion
*Intentionality or Vision -
Your mind's eye creates what you seek
*Playing the Edge -
Pushing your own limits

Leonard goes on to elaborate on each of these elements, and examines how they have applied to many who have excelled from Larry Bird to Arnold Schwarzenneger to Chuck Yeager. Along the way, he describes personality types who fail to achieve mastery, such as the Hacker, the Dabbler and the Obsessive.

He talks about tools to help with mastery such as physical fitness, setting priorities and "learning to love" any plateau in your progress. He discusses pitfalls to mastery such as laziness, vanity and over-competitiveness.

In a fascinating discussion, he explains how being balanced and centered in your body, and developing relaxed power, is similar to developing chi in the martial arts - and is vital to achieving mastery.

Mastery is a wonderful exploration into what makes for human excellence in any endeavor. And it offers valuable and cogent insights for all those who seek to elevate their performance in whatever they do.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: "Talent is Overrated", by Geoff Colvin

"Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from."
From: Talent is Overated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin, (New York, NY: Portfolio, 2008), (Available on, Page 188, Chapter 11 (Where does great performance come from?)(Explaining that Japanese figure skater Shizuka Arakawa's road to Gold Medal performanceat the 2006 Winter Olympics required painful and massive practice designed to push herlimits, powered only by her passion)

What made Mozart, Tiger Woods, Jerry Rice, Chris Rock and other world-class performers reach their levels of excellence? Most would say "natural talent" or "hard work". But is that really true?

In this thoughtful and well-written book, Geoff Colvin, Editor at Fortune Magazine, challenges these and other basic assumptions we have about world-class performance in business and sports. And by doing so, he offers a journey into the physics of "performance excellence" - with the democratic promise that some part of that excellence might be available to us all.

Colvin employs some ground-breaking research and data to question the "natural talent" or "hard work" schools of thought about world-class performance. He suggests that something else, perhaps startling at first but actually quite intuitive, is at play in a critical way. And it's not special intelligence or memory or experience or in-born genetics. Rather, it is something he calls "deliberate practice".

"Deliberate practice" is a methodology carefully designed to constantly push a performer past his usual and tired limits - to stretch oneself - into what Colvin describes as the "learning zone" which is a place where the performer is continuously improving his skill sets.

Over many months or years or thousands of repetitions, a "deliberate practice" performer begins to rise to the highest levels of excellence. Colvin suggests that even such a performer's cognitive perception, powers of creativity and intuitive knowledge and memory begin to grow.

Unfortunately, "deliberate practice" is "hard", says Colvin. "It hurts, but it works." It is an intensely mental drill, and thus it is not "inherently enjoyable".

What are the elements of "deliberate practice"?

*Exercises designed specifically for the individual to improve performance past his limits.
*It is repeated over and over.
*High level feedback on results is continuously available in a supportive environment.*It's highly demanding mentally.
*It's not much fun, thus implies the need for passion.

Colvin goes on to show how this methodology can apply in business and sports, and to individuals and teams. Colvin lastly explores the "deepest question about great performance" - namely, where does the passion come from? He suggests that performers might have intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivations, and among them the pleasure of great accomplishment, the need for achievement, the need to do good, and the drive for power and purpose.

For Colvin, the ultimate questions about performance excellence for anyone are: What do you really want? And what do you really believe? Do you want to pay the price of sustained "deliberate practice" to reach your level of excellence? Do you really believe that you can achieve it or not?

Talent is Overrated is an intellectual exploration into what really makes for world-class performance, with useful and challenging ideas for everyone to reach a higher performance level.

Well worth reading for anyone wishing to improve at whatever they do.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tennis Quote of the Day: Justin Gimelstob

"I contend that tennis is the toughest sport in the world. It is emotional by its very nature, and it's the only sport that demands so many different types of physical and mental skill sets. And it all takes place while you stand alone in a gladiatorial ring thinly disguised as a simple tennis court. But there is nothing simple or serene about it. Competitive tennis is a battle!"

-Justin Gimelstob, Tennis Commentator & Former Professional Player
Foreword to Tennis: Winning the Mental Match, Allen Fox, Ph.D., (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2010).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tennis and Yoga

Are tennis and yoga perfect together?

Yes, say many - including world-class stars Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Andy Murray who all practice aspects of yoga.

Yoga is the ancient Eastern system of exercise and mental discipline which helps to build flexibility, balance, core strength and mental relaxation - all vital components of the modern game at all levels.

Experts say that your tennis will be always be stronger if you can stretch and reach for your serve farther, and if you can swing on your groundstrokes more flexibly and quickly while on balance.

And staying focused and mentally relaxed, of course, cannot be over-emphasized in tennis.

An evening with the Philadelphia Freedoms, July 2011

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Philadelphia Freedoms match against the New York Sportimes on Wednesday evening, July 13, 2011 at the Villanova Pavillion in suburban Philadelphia. The Freedoms and Sportimes are part of World Team Tennis (WTT), a fan-friendly team tennis league which often showcases past stars, new upstarts and top players returning from injury or layoff. John McEnroe and Martina Hingis played for New York, while Melanie Oudin and Lisa Raymond played for Philadelphia. The play was at a very high level and competitive. The format offered 5 matches with "no-ad" scoring: men's singles, women's doubles, mixed doubles, women's singles and men's doubles. New York edged out the Freedoms in overtime, 21 to 19 (final team score). It was a fun and entertaining evening for all the fans, supporters and players. Best, Gary

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tennis Quote of the Day: Why Winners Win

"One way of looking at it is that winners get in their own way less. They interfere with the raw expression of talent less. And to do that, first they win the war against fear, against doubt, against insecurity - which are no minor victories."

-Timothy Gallwey
Tennis writer on mental tennis topics including the
best-selling classic
The Inner Game of Tennis

The Return of Serve: How the Mind Works

"The movements of elite athletes are beautiful to watch. But what goes on inside their heads? The best players learn their moves by encoding whole sequences in the cerebellum through intensive practice - and then in game situations, activate them without conscious thought. To return a serve, for instance, a tennis player uses his thalamus to focus on her opponent [or ball], while the prefrontal cortex quashes distractions. Visual information from the occipital lobe activates the unconscious mental program in the basal ganglia, which passes instructions to the posterior parletal cortex (which calls up automatic movements) and the pre-motor cortex (a staging ground for complex movements). The pre-motor transmits commands to the motor cortex, which orders muscle movements. Swing!"

- Sharon Begley
Ilustration by Brian Christie for Newsweek from: "The Science of Triumph", Newsweek Magazine, July 11, 2011

Tennis Quote of the Day: Andre Agassi

"It is no accident that tennis uses the language of life: service, advantage, break, fault, love. The lessons of tennis are the lessons of maturity. In tennis, you prepare and you prepare . . . [and] you improvise. Tennis makes you perceptive, proactive, reactive all at the same time. Tennis teaches you the subtlety of human interaction; the curse and blessing of cause and affect . . . and there is nothing quite like a tiebreak to teach you the concept of high risk, high reward. Tennis teaches you there is no such thing as perfect, you hope to be perfect, then you're out there and you're far less than perfect."

-Andre Agassi, July 09, 2011,
International Tennis Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tennis and "The Art of Seeing"

Every shot in tennis is about moving your body with racket in hand while a ball is moving towards you. Thus, the key visual skill is depth perception.

How can we improve our depth perception?

In 1942, British author Aldous Huxley wrote a book called The Art of Seeing.

(Most people will remember Huxley for his more famous book Brave New World.)

What most people might not know about Huxley is that he suffered a severe childhood illness that left him nearly blind.

In The Art of Seeing, Huxley documents his journey to overcome his near-blindness with a program of simple eye exercises known as the Bates Method.

These exercises focus on improving the human eye's depth perception.

Though this system is sometimes controversial with some eye doctors, Huxley credited the Bates Method with saving the quality of his eyesight.

Watch and consider this short video describing some of these exercises, and the potential impact on one's tennis game.


Video: Eye Exercises to Improve Your Tennis Game
By: richmorr9

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What do these guys have in common? (Part 2)

Photo Credit: PBI Magazine

In this side-by-side comparison of the great Bill Tilden with Roger Federer, we see that racket preparation for the one-handed backhand has changed little in the 75 years between these photos.

1. A wide base with the weight on the front foot
2. The core moving through the line of the shot
3. The head looking forward and down
4. Racket head below the level of the ball
5. Eastern grip with the butt cap pointing at the ball

Timeless preparation!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wimbledon 2011: The Joker is "King"

Photo: AP

He pounded shots from the baseline, exchanging - and winning - long and powerful rallies with one of the best baseliners in memory. His defense and cat-like quickness covered the court like a blanket.

His volleys were deft and precise. His return of serve, as usual, was among the best in the game. And his improved serve was a key weapon, often driving his opponent back or off-court.

Novak ("The Joker") Djokovic (No. 2, Serbia) decisively defeated Rafael Nadal (No. 1, Spain) in a gripping Gentlemen's Singles final on Centre Court at the 125th Wimbledon Championships before a sold-out crowd and world-wide television audience in 4 sets, 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

It was his first Wimbledon title, and 5th win over Nadal this year. Together with his amazing 48-1 win-loss record in 2011, Novak's Wimbledon victory lifted him for the first time to World No. 1, only the 25th man in tennis history to achieve No. 1 rank.

Probably every player's dream is to win tennis' most prestigious tournament and become No. 1 in the world. Novak realized that dream on a brilliant sunny July day at the All England Club before a jubilant family and team, and fans and supporters.

"I managed to achieve a lifetime goal and I managed to make my dream come true," said Djokovic. "It's just an incredible feeling that I'm never going to forget. This is the best day of my tennis career."

Today, the man called "Joker" was the King of Tennis.

Yesterday, meanwhile, 20-year old Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) blasted a victory in straight sets over Maria Sharapova (Russia) in the Ladies' Singles title match, 6-3, 6-4.
It was Kvitova's first Wimbledon Championship and Grand Slam crown.

Her smooth and efficient groundstrokes generated uncanny pace and accuracy. And her easy transition to net and powerful volleys were natural and flowing.

Her convincing win likely represents a new generation of power and assertiveness in women's tennis.

"She's like the first-strike queen," said Mary Jo Fernandez, TV Commentator and Fed Cup Captain. "She hits harder than anyone I've ever seen."

Meanwhile, the Bryan Brother Twins (Mike & Bob of USA) lifted another Wimbledon Doubles' Wimbledon Championship trophy, this time over Robert Lindstedt (Sweden) and Horia Tecau (Romania), 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (2).

It was the Bryan Brothers' second Wimbledon title, and overall 11th Grand Slam title, tying them with the legendary "Woodies" doubles team (Aussies Mark Woodford and Todd Woodbridge).

"To equal the Woodies - a team that we idolized, the greatest team in our mind - is unbelievable", Mike Bryan said.

Congrats to all the winners, competitors, fans and supporters on a fantastic 125th Wimbledon Championships!

See you next year!