So this week I am going to do something a little different; I am going to give you second hand information. I am doing this because I spent three days listening to my mother talk about information she got at the Phi Theta Kappa honor society convention. She was in San Jose, California chaperoning 5 college students to the convention. The theme of the organization for the last year has been “The Culture of Competition.” Obviously, this fits in with our world! The speakers were legendary tennis player and civil rights activist Billie Jean King, Fortune magazine editor and author of “Talent is Overrated” Geoff Colvin and many others.
Geoff Colvin wrote a book that was based on the same research that was used for the famous book about putting in 10,000 hours of practice to be successful at any endeavor. Robert Dover talks about this book at clinics. The original research was done with violinists at a school in Europe. The professors were asked to rank the students in three groups. Those that would be ‘world class’ and play in the world’s greatest symphonies, those that would be performers but not at the world’s greatest orchestras and finally those that would most likely be teachers and not perform for a career. They did in-depth interviews of their families, their roommates, and their friends. The researchers also took data on every aspect of their lives. They found several things. It wasn’t IQ or an innate talent that made some better at the violin. In fact, when they did the study with World Class chess players (who we assume are smart) they had below average IQs! All had begun to play violin (or chess) about the same time; early in childhood. All performed about the same number of hours in concerts or matches. The difference was in what was called deliberate practice. Those that were considered world class players practiced in a different manner and for an unusually high number of outside hours. The practice contained several traits. The practice was designed to work on the players specific needs. It isn’t for fun. It was designed specifically to improve performance. It was to be repeated often and had built in feedback. Finally, they learned more by focusing on less. All that dissolved into a lot of the things we have been told by the greats in our business. You can’t be World Class great at 15 things. Tiger Woods might be a crappy basketball player, or Billie Jean King might be a crappy bowler but WHO cares! Also, find a trainer, coach, and a parent or mentor to give you regular feedback about how to continually push and improve yourself. NEVER rest on what you have achieved; daily try to build. Repeat, repeat and then repeat again over and over deliberately.
I have to admit I did not really know who Billie Jean King was when my mom excitedly called me and told me about her speech. Then I googled. She was a world class tennis player with so many titles I stopped reading when I lost count. I watched the most amazing clip on a famous tennis match called the “Battle of the Sexes.” This thing was bigger than the Super Bowl! A top ranked guy player called Bobby Riggs was playing Billie Jean King to prove women couldn’t compete with men! Can you imagine the pressure to win that game during the civil rights era? Today we take so much for granted. Mom said Billy Jean talked about Serena Williams and many women pro tennis players who make millions of dollars a match. In her day women got often only 1/20th of what the men got for the same tournaments. They didn’t have their own association or tour. Billie Jean started the women’s tour. She fought for their rights even when they were told if they didn’t just play they would be banned and not allowed to play anywhere! More importantly for so many young women today Billie Jean King won that game and changed how men perceived women and women in sports from that day on! Anyway in the speech she said she has learned a few tricks to succeed! First, she said she often gets afraid or starts to focus on what is going wrong. When she does she breathes. Always a full four count breath in and a full four count breath out; then she replace the negative thought with concentrating on a positive one. She was very particular about the positive. She said she thinks of her very best strength. She thinks about the thing in the match or practice or in general with tennis that she does the best. She doesn’t beat herself up as is so easy for all of us to do. Whenever she faces a fear or a negative she immediately does the breath and reminds herself of her greatest strengths. It gives her courage, focus and determination. It helped her win in sports and life.
Another interesting story Ms. King told was about the people that changed her life. In fifth grade a friend turned to her in class and said, “Do you want to come play tennis with me after school.” After the first time she played she went home to her mother and said, “I want to be a professional tennis player.” She knew she had found her thing. They encouraged her and supported her choices and she said she was lucky in that she had teachers, coaches, and parents who worked to help her achieve her goals. They didn’t tell her she needed a ‘backup’ dream or that her dream was not ‘realistic.’ They told her to follow her heart and work hard. They told her brother the same thing and he became a pro-baseball player!
Finally, one historical fact about Billie Jean King; have you ever heard Elton John’s song “Philadelphia Freedom?” It was written about her! That was the name of her mixed doubles pro-team she played on in the 1970’s. Can you imagine being so World Class not just in sports, but in changing perceptions in the world that you get a song written about you? Now that is inspiration.