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Roger That! The Role of Team in Individual Excel-lence

Posted by Joe Antle on January 28, 2018 7:20 AM EST
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The amazing journey of the great Roger Federer continues....

...and the lessons his unparalelled tennis singles career, an individual sport, continues to provide for all of us seeking to excel in our lives are many.  If more of us can "Roger That", capture the essence of the great performers and apply them to enable us to excel in difficult challenges and goals in our own lives, then we all can be the better for it-rather than being witnesses only to the excellence of the great ones among us.

Let me just say, it is easy to see the role of consistently great individual performance in sports when we witness another incredible performance in a popular team sport-say backetball, or football.  For example, we marvel at the enduring success and hard work ethic of Tom Brady and the impact of his role along with his coach Bill Belicheck.  Last night's 49-point demonstration by Steph Curry which  showed an incredible impact of an individual's excellence in a team sport as his Golden State Warriors delivered an incredible come from behind victory over a terrific performance by Kyrie and his awesome Boston Celtics team last night.  Every team sport has examples of where an individual's ability to consistenly excel affects great results for the team.

But what is the role of the team in driving individual excellence in sports like tennis which are an interesting mix of technique and skill, along with athletic talent?  Or in enabling the sustaining of individual achievement in any endeavor that is difficult for a given individual to achieve, and maintain?  It's clear, at the highest levels of individual achievement-in sport, the arts, workplace and in community action-the role of the team is everything!

What's all this have to do with Roger Federer's continuing journey and ability to excel in tennis-resulting in his 20th grand slam singles title?  Again, everything!

A small bit of background.  I took up tennis at the age of 14 and worked hard, learning to become good enough at the technique and becoming a resonably good athlete.  It lead me to a successful two year career in junior college tennis on a full scholarship which then enabled me to receive a full-scholarship at Lamar University-where I met my wife of 40 years.  Tennis has been an important part of my life since my teen years-having been self-taught and has provided me an opportunity to be a witness and a participant in a sport of a lifetime.  Even now, as I am past 60 years of age, with arthritic knees and a bum shoulder, I still have the sport of tennis as a central part of my life-as a participant and as a dedicated spectator.

I first saw Roger Federer play one of his first grand slam events with my fourteen year old son who had just started to play the game.  It was at the US Open in 1998 and the match was played on one of the back courts at the US Open facility in Flushing Meadows, New York.  Nobody really had heard of Federer, so my son and I, along with a few dozen other spectators, had the opportunity to witness Roger's first US Open match-which he won in a three set contest over Daniel Nestor, who in his mid-40's is still playing top level professional tennis doubles-a story of sustained excellence in its own right!

It would have been inconceivable then to even imagine the success that Roger Federer's storied career would enjoy!

I recall even now-almost twenty years later, how impactful it was to see his smooth and flowing style and the dedication and cheering that four of the twenty some-odd spectators would provide him after the win.  Those four people, literally jumping for joy, were folks I would see many times on TV as I watched all of Federer's big matches over the next two decades.  They were his father, his mother, his coach and his girlfriend, who later would become his wife.  His support team, the expert technician coach (who he has changed a few times since then), and his family and friends support group will burn in my memory for the rest of my life as I continue to watch these final moments of a historic career of individual achievement in one of the world's true "sports of a lifetime".

So, you may ask, especially those of you who don't play or watch tennis much, what does this have to do with teamwork, the role of the team in an individual's quest to excel at a hard goal and living a healthier lifestyle or achieving recovery from poor lifestyle habits and disease and sustaining that?

Again, I say everything!

While Federer's career is hard to imagine, as is Curry's amazing individual ability to excel and thus bring his team along for the ride.  Ditto for Tom Brady.  This I can say, having witnessed it for two decades.  Federer has been great for a long time, but for an astoundingly long time during the latter stages of his career, I watched as he lost big match after big match to Nadal and Djokovic.  Most of them were very close matches, and Federer performed well...but in the end his two younger rivals often got the best of him.  It would have been easy for him to quit, retire and count his $millions.  After all, he had already crafted a "Hall of Fame" career before ever playing these two amazing champions and rivals who had come on the scene.

There is much to say about the ingredients of great athletic comebacks-especially those that have to do with an individual's profound improvement and rise from career obsolesence.  The one thing that I noticed during those years of Federer's losing to his younger rivals and that I saw again earlier this morning as I watched him in tears address the crowd while accepting the Australian Open singles winner's trophy and check was this:

The TV camera pan his "team's box"-and there was his team-his support team-the same people or others in the same roles that were there when he won his first US Open match.  Their tears of joy were genuine, as was his...and mine!  You see, great individual performance, the spotlight on the enduring, and endearing success of one person, begins and stays with the role of those who provide the HOPE the individual has to embrace through thick and thin.  As much as it's a core cultural value for us to embrace an individual's ability to excel-it is the role of those who "help other people excel" that we should also salute!  In resolving the healthcare crisis and the substance abuse dilemma, the importance of HOPE in the lives of individuals makes all the difference.

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