Brad Feld

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Play the Point, Not the Score

Feb 02, 2009

I watched Rafael Nadal play two incredible matches at the Australian Open over the weekend.  In the semifinals, he defeated Fernando Verdasco in a 5 hour and 14 minute match 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(2) 6-7(1) 6-4.  He returned to the court a little over 40 hours later and defeated Roger Federer 7-5 3-6 7-6(3) 3-6 6-2 in a match lasting 4 hours and 23 minutes.  If you are a tennis player, you know this is an amazing physical and emotional achievement.

Brad Gilbert – a great tennis player (and coach) in his own right – was one of the announcers for the finals.  He annoyed me at first with his whispery affect until I realized that he was courtside.  He completed redeemed himself when he uttered the line of the tournament: “Nadal is so incredible because he plays the point, not the score.”

Ponder that – Play the point, not the score.

If you watch Nadal’s face during a match, he’s 100% focuses on the point at hand.  When he finishes the point, win or lose, you see an intense emotion sweep over his face.  Amy – who thinks of Nadal as a lion – refers to this as his “I will now kill you and eat your family” look.  He then takes a breath, clears his mind (which is reflected in his face), and gets 100% into the next point, which is now the point at hand.

Watching Nadal come back from 0-40 on his serve, or continue to get back in games when down 40-0 or 40-15 when receiving, is amazing.  It’s as if the guy has zero short term memory.  He either doesn’t remember the previous point, doesn’t care, or has an incredible ability to focus on the point at hand.  I’m betting it’s some combination of all three.

This is such a powerful metaphor for business (and life).  Play the point, not the score.  Down 4-1?  Doesn’t matter – play the point.  Just had someone quit on you.  Doesn’t matter, play the point.  Fell short of plan for the month of January – doesn’t matter – play the point.  Just had a big deal go off the rails?  Doesn’t matter – play the point.

When you are in the game, play the point.  Play every point.  Regardless of the score.