Process vs. Results and Being #1 in the World 7

While at Tennis Congress USA a couple of weeks ago I was giving a presentation “Storytelling: A World Champion’s Secret to Playing the Best Game of Your Life” and was pleased to see Jeff Greenwald in attendance. He is a former #1 in the World 35 and 45 and over player and a top San Francisco based sports psychologist.

As I was talking about stories I shared my personal mission about competing. In my mission I refer to igniting the highest end of my talent and skills, being a good winner/loser, accept outcomes with dignity and class, being accepting of my inability to be perfect, not judging, being detached from results and growing from each match. My audience was impressed but skeptical because I didn’t mention winning in my mission. How can you be a winner if you don’t make winning more important?

Jeff and I smiled at each other knowingly.

We share the experience of knowing that the wins are not nearly as meaningful as the journey to achieve. You have all heard it but, until you have experienced it, you think that, for you, it will be different. Give me a World Championship, a #1 World ranking and I will be happy.

Years ago, Billie Jean King told a group of coaches to always remind their students that it is not about the trophies, the wins and the championships. It is about who you meet, where you go, the endless hours of practice, the growth that comes out of the adversity, the evolution into who you become and the character you develop as a result of competing.

I raised my hand and smugly said, “that’s easy for you to say, Billie Jean. You have won 22 Wimbledon titles.”

She said “that is just why you should believe me. I have been to the very top of the mountain and it is littered with trophies. They mean very little.”

Jeff and I concurred that neither of us achieved any longing satisfaction from our World Championship victories and subsequent #1 World rankings. It was nice, of course, for a few days of attention and glory. Jeff said that he was pleased that he won the tournament, but was dissatisfied with how he had competed, even in victory.

For me reaching #1 was an amazing feeling. I was focused on it for weeks leading up to the World Championships. I had it in sights the year before but came up just short. So when it happened I was excited.

Then, within a few hours of welcoming the congratulations, the pictures and calling my family and friens, I realized that it was just a number and that I was not the best Bob Litwin player that I could be. The true win would be when I could achieve being the person that I wanted to be in victory, or even defeat, if that is how it plays out.

In fact, #1 made me realize that I am just another player trying to get the most out of my game. #1 gave me the gift of humility. #1 gave me the freedom to go out, play, win, lose, improve, whatever. To have the experience and to feel the way I want it to feel: joyous, challenging, interesting, free from judgment and fear. The feeling of flow.

Athletes, especially those in individual sports, become #1 and, at that moment, change. The truth that #1 is just a number becomes clear.

It is NOT who they are. They are people who want to get better. Not better than #1. Better players, competitors and people. #1 provides a platform for being a model and to teach the world.

People who are #2 keep thinking that once they are #1 they will be complete. Quite the opposite. Becoming #1 is the moment of discovering the road that is ahead. It is almost as if another journey begins. A spiritual journey.

But that question always remains. How do you stay in the growth process and also try to win?

It is the trust that I have built up in tennis, having seen that when my focus is on the journey, the results, often good ones, flow out it the process.

I keep the faith. And to those of you who are trying to balance process vs. results I say, as Billie Jean said, “Listen to me. I have been to the top of the mountain and I know…”

Stay in the process. The results will always flow from there.

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7 thoughts on “Process vs. Results and Being #1 in the World

  • Peder

    I’m somewhat surprised that it took such a long journey for you and Jeff to discover that winning is a pointless game. Many people realize this at an early age without having reached any such zenith; it just requires that one applies logical thinking. I think I was maybe 12 years old when I figured this out, but for people who are hyper competitive, perhaps they have a special blind spot for this type of “obvious” insight that could be genetically encoded. What do you think?

    Come to think of it, the image of a room full of competitive people by nature (aka tennis instructors) suddenly realizing this insight from a speech so late in life paints a rather funny picture. 🙂


    If you dedicate your life to be the best you can be and ,unconsciously or consciously ,become a champ , it is a beautiful accomplishment.
    In fact , it is a little bit for that reason that we compete: to be recognized.
    But ,beyond. the ups and downs of competition, you love the game because it gives you a sense of freedom: the freedom to create, to move, to challenge…the freedom to discover yourself ..the freedom to expand your limits and limitations.
    Your search for “good” competition is a must, and consequently , you need to raise the level of your play in general. This commitment to tennis should be taken in relation to your work, family and health. It becomes a matter of choice and understanding to what extend this game is helping me to fulfill yourself .

  • Peder

    Bob just pointed out to me that it was not in fact a conference for instructors, but for adults just love the game. So I just kicked myself for poking fun at the conference. On another note, I wonder if the need to compete and succeed is cultural. For example, is Wall St. in New York because this part of the world has taught people to be naturally competitive through the city’s 400 year evolution, so it’s deeply ingrained?

    I grew up in a country where we were taught, for better or worse, that we should all be equal and there was no point in really competing, because even if you succeeded, it was socially wrong to put yourself on a pedestal. This was Scandinavia in the 1970s as I remember it, but I think that attitude has really changed as the political and cultural climate has changed.

    Anyhow, I used to compete in a sport at a national level as a teenager, and all I remember is that I love to practice because it was fun. But perhaps tennis requires more, because the aspect of mental toughness is such a big factor, so there must be a fire there that goes way beyond mere skill. Only people like Bob would have that insight, so I look forward to hearing what he thinks.

  • Da-lai Wu

    First of all, congrats on all the recent wins!

    Secondly, I am in total agreement. Spend time with any champions, and they are always moving their lives forward, almost to the day after the win, whether they are players, or coaches. The lessons learned on the court, are directly transferable off court, and more importantly, much more fulfilling. That is why tennis isn’t just an activity or a sport; it’s a way of life.

  • Paul

    if you spend all your energy towards being #1,what happens once you are there? it is only a number, true happiness is being out on the court