Play Your Game

by Sandy Nelson on September 11, 2012

There’s not a lot we can do about the playing field we find ourselves on today.

Is it possible to take up or create a new game with a different field of play and rules? Of course it is. But, today, our job is to deal with the playing field we find ourselves on, accept its limitations, and bring our best game to bear regardless of the circumstances, no matter how much we might like to change them.

The men’s final of the US Open at Flushing Meadows last night offers a good example. As gusting winds swept the arena, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic found themselves at the mercy of the unpredictable. Early on, Murray accepted the conditions he found them, adapting shots as best he could and maintaining equilibrium while Djokovic complained, broke a racquet and pouted. Not surprisingly, Murray took the first two sets before Djokovic gathered himself and made it a match to be remembered.

Tennis courts measure 60’ x 120’. A net bisects the length of the court. Well-designed courts run from North to South and have ample space on the sides and ends for players to have optimal room for mobility as they pursue shots that land at the edge or end of the court. Within each court, there are service boxes within which serves must land to be good. The net is of a certain height at the ends and in the middle.

There are specific rules by which the game is governed. To choose to play tennis is to tacitly accept the dimensions of the court, the placement, height and inherent characteristics of the net along with the rules of the game. If we choose to play, no amount of complaining will change these basics of tennis.

And, there are variables that affect play as much as dimensions and rules—wind, sun, temperature, crowd noise and engagement, the pace, spin, kick and placement of our opponent’s shots. Once we take the court, we can accept these as givens and play our best, or alternatively moan and whine about the unfairness of the wind, sun, temperature, draw or the limitations of the court.

The same is true on all playing fields. Take, for instance, the businesses to which we contribute our creativity and efforts. And, at the end of the day, this is the work we have chosen. This is our field of play.

Yes, we might well prefer that those pesky customers we have to interact with would just get a life and let us go about getting done what we promised to do today. How about the unfairness of the pervasive political milieu that frustrates and compromises everything? What about the fact that the way we’ve always done things doesn’t seem to working anymore? And, why is it that our CEOs or managers aren’t leading our companies in the manner we prefer and feel confident would be much more effective?

Let’s be clear, if we are committed to winning, our job is to bring our “A+” game to the playing field and play it. Sure, we can complain, distract ourselves and others with negative conversations, or even throw and break our racquets as Djokovic did at the Open.

But, for all our grousing, we’re still choosing to play this game on this court.

So, until we choose to change the game or leave, our job is to bring the best self we can to the playing field, play our game and let go of the rest.

Yesterday, Murray chose to practice in Arthur Ashe Stadium—the site of the finals match—while Djokovic spent his preparation time outside the arena on courts where the variable of the wind was quite different than within the stadium. Suppose he had chosen a different path? What if he had accepted the conditions as they were, spent time acclimating and chosen to treat his racquet like a friend, not an object of derision and frustration?

Every single playing field I have ever encountered has limitations and frustrations. My job is to play my game. How about you?

Sandy Nelson

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