Business Lessons from the Golden Girls of Tennis
By Ellen Wallace
I play a lot of tennis. My husband has missed many a meal because if I have an evening match, I can’t eat a heavy meal — so he gets a sandwich. He tries to be a fan — it is good exercise for me after all. And he has golf, which tends to ruin a Saturday afternoon for any couples’ activities, so he suffers with his PBJ in silence.
As an avid tennis player, I have a process when I get to the courts for a match. First there is my mental checklist during warmup: Are my opponents familiar (2,000 players in the county, and I swear I’ve played them all at least once)? Are they lefties? How’s their serve, forehand, volleys? Do they seem aggressive?
My partner and I powwow with our observations, and then I tend to go on autopilot. I am not proud of this trait. I give forth only enough effort and thought to win … unless I am playing one of the dreaded “golden girls.”
Who are these “golden girls,” you ask. They are the sweet (or some not so sweet) senior players who literally have rolling bags for their tennis rackets and a brace on almost every appendage and joint. Do not fall for it. The thought goes through my head every single time. No matter how sweet they are, or how frail they look, they kick my bootie almost every single time. Not to brag, but I am a pretty good player and I should win.
So how do they do it? They are so darn tricky, genius tricky, a tricky I aspire to. They have taken their years of court play and turned it into an art form. Draw me to net then lob over my head. Return my first serve so deep I am on my heels and then drop the ball over the net on the next shot. Absorb every screaming forehand and hit it back, but just out of my reach. Basically they keep my partner and me scrambling throughout the match, making us think.
It sounds like such a simple concept, THINK, but in tennis you have to think and react in less than a second of time. I also realized as I was playing these dear devious goldens that they are thinking and reacting, so what is the difference between me and them, besides a decade or so in age? I realized that their thinking has become instinct over their years of play and practice.
As Venus Williams (one of the older women on the professional circuit at 37) said, “Tennis is mostly mental. Of course, you must have a lot of physical skills, but you can’t play tennis well and not be a good thinker. You win or lose the match before you even go out there.”
It dawned on me — if I start thinking more, would that make me become a golden girl? Hmm … I’m not sure if I am ready for that, but if it gets me the win?!
What about you? In business you don’t always have to hit hard. You don’t always have to be the one shouting the loudest or putting the most pressure on customers or clients. Take some time to think, prepare, test some new things … something other than the knee-jerk response to hit hard. Aspire to be a golden girl.