Monday, 8 July 2013

What makes a winner?

Yesterday was a great day for British (and Scottish!) tennis.  I've always enjoyed both playing and watching tennis, however sadly my winning moments haven't been as numerous as Andy Murray's. I think though that there are lessons to be learnt from the three significant winning occasions that I can still remember.

1. When I was at school.

I never made the tennis team, even though I was in both the hockey and netball teams and quite sporty. My fate was sealed early on, when I was in the first year. We had to hit the ball backwards and forwards, with six or even eight of us sharing a court, while our PE teacher walked past glancing at our attempts. I clearly wasn't deemed good enough at that early stage, so every year after that I was banished to the no-hopers courts while the better players had the opportunity to play actual tennis.

In spite of this, I spent a lot of time hitting a tennis ball against the wall beside our garage. It was made more challenging by the fact that the drive-way was made of stones, so the ball would frequently bounce at difficult angles. I guess that this improved my tennis skills more than hitting a ball against weak opponents in our tennis lessons at school.

My significant winning occasion was years later, when a friend who was in the tennis team asked me if I'd like to play a few games of tennis with her.  I won! She was as amazed as I was and said that I should be in the team too, but I wasn't interested by that stage as I preferred to spend my weekends horse-riding rather than playing tennis.

The main lesson here is that if you are dedicated enough and practise regularly you can improve - and we're not just talking tennis here, as it applies to any skill in life.

2.  When I played against my first husband.

My first husband Chris was good at badminton, so when we decided to have a few games of tennis on the local courts it was clear that he expected to beat me. He had racket skills and he was a man, wasn't he?! I don't think his game was helped by the fact that there were some teenage boys hanging around the tennis courts, and they were cheering me on. A couple of times he thought his ball was in, but they were shouting "out!"  Yes, I beat him easily. I tried to console him by saying that my tennis was good but my badminton was rubbish, and that clearly each game required different skills. Funnily enough, I can't remember us playing tennis after that.

The first lesson is obviously never to under-estimate your opponent's abilities. The second lesson is not to let yourself be distracted by outside factors. Novak Djokovic was prepared for the highly partisan crowd in his Wimbledon final against Andy Murray though so I don't think the reason he lost was because he allowed himself to be distracted by Andy's supporters.

3. When I played against my Mum

My mother firmly believed that children need to learn to be good losers at an early age. She would happily beat us at Scrabble, at cards and also at tennis, though years later we suspected that she might have cheated at times - but only in the interests of us learning to lose gracefully!

Mum really loved tennis, and when Wimbledon fortnight was on we knew that she would be sitting in front of the TV whenever we returned from school. For 50 weeks of the year she would look after our needs, but for those 2 weeks we had to fend for ourselves! She also loved playing tennis and eventually persuaded my father to create a grass court in the back garden.

Growing up I was used to Mum beating me at tennis and I remember that she was particularly good at returning the ball into the far corners of the court. Maybe not quite up to Andy Murray's standards, but she was still good.

I was married with three children, and living in Welwyn Garden City. I had started running regularly, taking part in 10k races and the occasional half-marathon, so my stamina was very good.  Mum visited us one summer and not surprisingly she wanted a few games of tennis.

I'm not sure which of us was the most amazed when I managed to beat Mum. In her defence, she was 25 years older than me and in her 60s, probably the same age I am now. She still had the ability to place the ball well, but the difference was that I was fit enough to race backwards and forwards across the court to return the ball. I think she was quite impressed by my stamina and, of course, she was a good loser. In our family we know how important it is to be a good loser!

The main lesson here is that it's important to consider all aspects of any game or activity where you want to succeed. Work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths. His increased fitness levels and mental strength have helped Andy Murray to succeed. Although I didn't start running to increase my stamina and beat my Mum at tennis, it was an added bonus of my decision to become fitter.

Do you have any good tips for becoming a winner?


  1. We aren't competitive by nature in my family - if it gets them moving then I will LET THEM WIN - because otherwise they won't play. My daughter is 7 years old and recently has become OBSESSED WITH TENNIS. I just love watching the joy that's created by simply HITTING IT - lol.
    Interesting I just wrote a post about winning at the horse races - something that could not be more by chance...
    And I guess I'm one of those crazy people that run for fun, for release, to escape from my family - I'm not training for a race or trying to beat my time. I simply want to run.
    So my point is "winning" isn't necessary for everyone - and I guess I don't have any tips. But working towards something is very, very important - but doesn't always mean you have to "win" - unless you're winning for yourself. Thank you for the post. Coming over from UBC.

    1. Thanks for your interesting comment. I wonder what I would have been like if my Mum had always let me win!

      I started running as it's a cheap way to get fit when you have three children and not a lot of money! To my surprise I enjoyed it and joined my local running club, who persuaded me to enter several races. I don't think of myself as being competitive, but I do think it's good to aim at being the best that you can in life, so long as it's not at someone else's expense of course.

  2. Wonderful stories and awesome lessons learned! You've given some good tips for winning. I would add believe in yourself and have the right mindset.

    1. Thanks, Leanne. I totally agree with the importance of your two extra tips.