Let’s talk about Maria for a moment. Maria Sharpova has earned a reputation for being mentally tough. She walks with a ramrod posture, reflecting her spine of steel and indomitable will. There is no quit in her, period. That doesn’t mean she always wins, it simply means that she doesn’t give up. EVER. She won the French Open on Saturday for the second time. It took all three sets to beat her worthy young opponent (when Maria lost the second set, it was like watching more hot water being poured into the tea pot). She overcame mistakes and missed opportunities to win the day.
Here are five “tea bag” lessons we can learn from Maria:
1. Maria leverages her strengths, preparation, and experiences to increase her tolerance for pressure
She likely has the Strengthsfinder themes of Competition (hates to lose) and Restorative (relentlessly attacks obstacles) and Focus (intensity of concentration). Watch her eyes when she plays. She looks like a tiger tracking its prey. She has also taught herself to perform well with no regard for history. And when I say history, I mean immediate history. When she screws up a point, she turns her back to the court, mentally regroups, forgets about it, and comes back with greater resolve than she had on the previous point. Her ten second ability to “turn the page” and recover from setbacks is astonishing. Combined with her “no quit” belief system, it scares the crap out of her competition because they know she will never, ever stop fighting. Therefore, Maria never buckles under the pressure. You have to beat her. She doesn’t beat herself.
Call to Action: Know your strengths and how you leverage them to achieve your goals. Prepare well, and practice immediately letting go of mistakes or setbacks. Don’t beat yourself.
2. Maria has overcome her fear of a challenging surface
Maria grew up playing on the hard courts of Florida and was well-suited for the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. She was considered unlikely to ever win the French Open because it is played on a slippery, slow clay surface. Maria herself described her early adventures on clay courts as a “cow on ice.” Again, she didn’t quit. It was simply another obstacle to overcome, and she figured out how to adapt her game. Is she the best clay court player? No. But she has a strategy for how to succeed on a surface that is not natural for her. Her “no quit” philosophy is blended with her ability to learn, and it has paid off with two French Open victories.
Call to Action: Don’t let fear of the unknown or awkwardness in new situations / environments keep you on the sidelines. Stay engaged, knowing that long term success is a journey (complete with flat tires), not a destination.
3. Maria always lives to play another day
This is slightly different than her relentlessness on the court. It’s about the relentlessness between her ears. She does not undermine herself, engage in negative self-talk, or in any way feed attitudes that might hurt her ability to perform. If she loses, she will win the next point, the next set, the next match, the next tournament. Maria has managed to create a “success wall” between what was and what will be. She is always focused on achieving her next goal. My friend Vicki Flaherty blogged with a quote that summarizes this important success factor perfectly:
“We simply cannot live up to our potential unless we are willing to live boldly and take adaptive risks. But if we are to continue to learn and grow, we must also know that at the end of the day there will be a home to return to, where we will be loved for our hearts as well as our deeds. We must be steadfast in our love and respect for ourselves, both when we soar and when we stumble.” ~ Rolf Gates
I like the idea of “love and respect for ourselves” under all circumstances. This practice can help separate you from those around you. We will all be in hot water at some point – the universe provides these opportunities so we can adaptively learn and grow. Embrace the challenge, the struggle, and the pain, rather than avoid it. It will make us better prepared to succeed, before and after we stumble.
Call to Action: Dial down the negative self-talk. Accept disappointments and setbacks as a chance to prepare for success next time. Being in the arena is better than being a spectator who wishes they had the courage that you have.
4. Maria surrounds herself with a supportive team
We can’t succeed alone. Find people who are as committed to the journey as you are, and lock arms with them. Talk, engage, share – this is what great leaders and coaches do. Maria is coachable without relinquishing her belief system. Be coachable. Ask for authentic feedback. Hire someone who can talk you through a success plan during times of transition. Nothing is more disappointing than watching talented but uncoachable folks lose their ability to self-lead themselves to success when they get stuck.
Call to Action: Build a supportive team, a personal board of directors who understand who you are and what you want more than anything else in the world. Accept feedback. Adapt.
5. Win or lose, Maria is graceful
In her post game interviews, Maria always begins with praise for her opponent. If she lost, she says, “(Name) was the better player today. I did my best, but it just wasn’t enough.” If Maria wins, she says, “(Name) was really tough, I always have to bring my best game to compete against her. Congratulations for such a great tournament.” She often adds observations about what the player did well. Maria is graceful, even when her heart is brimming with disappointment.
Call to Action: Effective self-leadership is memorable. People will remember more how you behaved in the hot water moments more than they will remember the outcome of the day. Be generous with praise, even if you’re feeling the sting of frustration in a particular moment, project, or circumstance.
With awareness and practice, we can all get stronger when things heat up! Remember to use your rock star strengths to provide you with another gear you didn’t even know you had. It works. Just watch Maria.
Be Strong! ~ Maureen
(Ideation * Strategic * Learner * Achiever * Individualization * Maximizer)