What I Learnt from Watching Tennis

I’ve been watching the tennis, at the Australian Open, and there’s a lot to learn that can be applied to my work.

The players demonstrate great skill, fitness, mental strength and athleticism, but that’s not what got my attention.

I found myself watching the ball kids.

At the Australian Open the ball kids are aged between 12-15, and they demonstrate fantastic team work.

  • The have a common purpose, they’re there to serve the players.
  • They know their roles, whether it’s on the baseline, where they pass the balls to the players and provide towels during play, or at the net where they retrieve the balls at net and support players during change of ends. It’s hard work being a ball kid.
  • They communicate, they’re watching each other, making sure they’re ready to pass and receive balls.
  • They demonstrate their knowledge, they know the rules and the system they need to follow. That system makes things run incredibly smoothly.
  • They show good judgement, it’s unpredictable on the court, they have to figure out stuff on the go – but they also know when to ask the chair umpire a question.
  • There are individual moments of genius, in one game I saw one of the net ball kids extend backwards, cat-like, to snap up a stray ball mid-air, she quickly returned to her starting pose. It’s a team thing, and the game isn’t about them.

Throughout the matches the ball kids did their job with pace, focus and attention to detail. Sometimes their attention to detail was so extreme it amused the crowd, and the players, as in the Nadal’s water bottle incident.

These attributes of teamwork apply in a company. When a team has a shared purpose, clear roles, expertise / knowledge, good judgement, and communicates well the performance will be greater than the individual contributions could deliver. If you’re a team leader watch your team and look for those characteristics, reward them, build on them. And take some time to figure out the shared purpose and define the roles and systems of working.

As for me, my holiday is almost over – I can’t wait to get back and start working with my team again.

image tennis via pixabay

Plain Sailing

I’ve been away. I’ve been sailing.

It’s the best holiday I’ve had in years; everything was very different from my normal life – including the sunshine.

I was learning to be a ‘competent crew’, which was fantastic – you learn skills but you don’t have to make any decisions. The other students were doing their ‘day skipper’ course, which is the next step and you’re required to navigate the boat, make decisions and command a crew (ie; me!). They each got to be skipper for a day.

We’re all so highly trained to be part of a team, and to discuss all options before making a decision but there’s no time for that if you’re under sail. Someone has to make the decision and the crew needs to follow orders. On a training boat you have to switch between being the skipper (leader) and the crew (team-member), and it was essential to be flexible on which role you were going to have.

For everything we did communication was essential – timely, clear and SHORT instructions worked best. For a number of maneuvers – mooring, anchoring and man overboard (practice) –  it was not always easy to understand what was happening in the cockpit when you were at the bow. So short communication lines were best.

Our trainer coached us on all aspects of sailing including how to behave on a boat, one of the things he drilled into us was not to “keep calm and carry on”. He pointed out that if we were in a real emergency getting panicked and shouty will make your crew feel more concerned, less safe and more likely to make mistakes.

So I went away from work for a break, but actually some of the things I learnt apply to work;

  • be flexible
  • be prepared to lead, and to follow
  • communicate clearly
  • keep your head – particularly in tough times, particularly if you’re leading a team

I came back rested and refreshed, ready to enjoy work again, with new energy and new ideas.


image sailing