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.