• lynneeveratt

Roger Federer Serves Up A Formula for Success

Updated: May 4

“I want to be remembered as a good player rather than an idiot.” - Roger Federer Tennis legend Roger Federer is often described as classy, smooth, and preternaturally calm. On the tennis court, Federer has the intense yet serene demeanor of a master craftsman seeking perfection in his workshop. But early in his career, Federer was goofy, hyperactive, and volatile. He would often get angry and throw his tennis racket in disgust when the game didn't go his way. How did this dude with bleached-blonde hair, a too-large t-shirt, and an orange bowl trophy…



...become this debonair gentleman holding one of his record eight Wimbledon trophies?



Federer's transformation becomes even more impressive when you consider the environment in which it happened. The mental and physical demands of tennis are unlike any other sport. The season is 11 months long and involves frequent intercontinental travel. The speed of a hard-hit ball in the men’s game has gone from 60 to 70 miles per hour twenty years ago, to 90 to 100 miles per hour today. Improved racket technology has made rallies longer and more punishing. And professional tennis is the only sport that doesn’t allow you to reach out for help during a match. When you’re on the court in the downtime between points contemplating the massive mistake you just made, you’re alone, alone, all, all alone. Tennis at the elite level has become a game of hitting near-impossible shots on the run, being a deft public speaker — ideally in multiple languages — and dodging burnout. Björn Borg was the first professional tennis player to walk away from the game at the peak of his career. He was only 25 years old when he quit. More recently, in March, the world’s best female tennis player, 26-year-old 2022 Australian Open champion Ashleigh Barty said, “I am spent” as she chose early retirement over the back-breaking grind of professional tennis. At 40, Roger Federer remains in the game and plans to return to the ATP tour in the fall of 2022 once his surgically-repaired knee has healed. Here are the lessons of Roger Federer’s dramatic transformation from hothead to cool champion with a long, lucrative, and illustrious career, lessons that you can immediately begin to apply to your own life. 1. Take a close look at yourself From a young age, Roger Federer has been surrounded by a team of specialists who believe in him, including a sports psychologist, a fitness coach who trained him in “explosive endurance,” — the quick bursts of intense movement over long stretches of time that the sport requires — and a head coach who oversees his career, providing support and direction. Although his team set him on an upward path in the professional rankings, it could only take him so far. The eureka moment came when Roger Federer watched his antics on TV, and didn’t like what he saw… “It’s just a bad look when you see yourself throw the racket. And I just said, ‘This just looks stupid and silly. Let’s get your act together a little bit.’” - Roger Federer Chances are you’re not having a tantrum on television, but do you know anything about your “on-court demeanor’” — the way you appear to others? Communication expert Vanessa Van Edwards challenges you to examine a recording of yourself, from a Zoom meeting or a video you create yourself, to see how you come across. If this homework assignment is too scary, you can also train the ability to take a step back and look at yourself through meditation that encourages you to examine your thoughts and actions as an observer. But there's nothing like the potentially life-changing jolt of seeing yourself, as Federer did, on a screen. Once Roger Federer changed his outward behavior and stopped lashing out, he had more energy to direct to his game. It’s helpful to see how you may be sabotaging your game. 2. Be purposeful It took a tragedy to shake up Roger Federer in a way that made tennis become something more than a shot at personal greatness. Peter Carter, one of Federer’s first coaches and a family friend, was tragically killed in a car crash at age 37 while he was on his honeymoon in South Africa. The loss of a close friend was devastating, but it gave Roger Federer a cause greater than himself, a mission with no finish line to honor the memory of his friend with his efforts. To Federer’s biographer, Christopher Clarey, having a purpose was the decisive factor that turned a promising young talent into one of the greatest tennis players of all time. “[Peter] Carter’s life had been far too short, but at least if Federer could achieve what Carter had envisioned on the court, that life had served some part of its purpose.” - Federer biographer Christopher Clarey What is the purpose behind how you spend your time? It doesn’t have to relate to your career. According to Brandon Presser, the author of over fifty travel guide books, the biggest mistake people make when traveling on vacation is putting place before purpose. Finding your purpose is like discovering an inexhaustible source of inner energy. 3. Be curious and curiouser Curiosity is one of the defining qualities of Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Oprah’s Oprah, but isn’t typically associated with athletes who tend to have a laser focus on a single discipline. Roger Federer is a curious exception. Harvard professor Francesca Gino asserts that curiosity helps us deal creatively with uncertainty and stress. Curiosity has given Roger Federer the energy to deal with the stresses of traveling the world, and the desire to learn how to speak nine languages including English, German, Swiss German (Muesli anyone?), French, Swedish, Spanish, and some Mandarin and Afrikaans. He has embraced learning about different cultures as a way of becoming an international ambassador for the game of tennis, and as an antidote to the grind. “The reason Roger is so interesting is because he is so interested.” - Paul Annacone, Federer's former coach As you go through your day today, imagine yourself as an inquisitive child and ask yourself some “why” questions. What areas of interest can you explore that will make you a more interesting person? Self-awareness, a sense of purpose, and curiosity are the key ingredients in Federer's formula for enduring success, but he isn't finished giving us great advice. “I'm a very positive thinker, and that is what helps me the most in difficult moments.” - Roger Federer Get Fully Charged on the Federer Formula

The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer by Christopher Clarey, Twelve, 2021.

Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication by Vanessa Van Edwards, Penguin, 2022.

How to Discover Your Why in Difficult Times” Simon Sinek TED interview, April 2021. (The Friends Exercise at the 10-minute mark will help put you in the ballpark of your “why”)

The Business Case for Curiosity,” by Francesca Gino, Harvard Business Review, October 2018.


The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey, Random House, 1974. A classic!

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