Kevin Anderson. Photo: AP
Kevin Anderson. Photo: AP
Raven Klaasen. Photo: EPA
Raven Klaasen. Photo: EPA
JOHANNESBURG – Earlier this year we were all enthralled by the performance of the South African tennis players at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.

Both Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen played in the finals, Kevin in the singles and Raven in the doubles.

We all value toughness. Grit. Resilience. Sport remains the most public of stages for us to see exceptional levels of these attributes at play. Athletes and players are the modern-day gladiators.

As a performance coach, I get to work with athletes wanting to increase this ability in themselves. For many, their definition is very rigid: the toughest guy is the last man standing.

In practice it is a bit different: we zoom in on the way they handle their everyday training, for this is where they increase their capacity to withstand the onslaught of their competitors. Adding to that, we dissect the way they think and act when they are actually in competition. So when we see the likes of Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen making breakthroughs and performing at a new level, many hours have gone into them working on their mental toughness.

Discomfort. Change. Challenges. Disruption. Setbacks. These are part of our everyday lives, especially as business owners. Business owners who can lead their teams through these tumultuous times are the ones who get rewarded with growth, acknowledgement and eventual success.

Having worked with Klaasen for the past eight years, as well as Anderson earlier in his Davis Cup career, I think there is some value in examining some of the lesser-known aspects of being a professional tennis player and making it relevant to business.

High performers make tough calls when needed. They are not afraid of embracing change when a specific partnership is not working for them any more. At the end of last year, Kevin announced that he would no longer be working with Neville Godwin, his coach. What the specific reasons were aren't as relevant as the action taken by Anderson. He made the call. Committed. Then he played in his first Wimbledon final, reaching a career-high ranking of 5, beating Roger Federer for the first time. It’s early days, but most would argue that his new coach added some value.

Tennis is tough in the sense that there is only one winner every single week. The challenge for players is to remain positive, confident, motivated and committed without winning each tournament. Mentally, they are required to handle disappointment as well as keep on developing without getting the sense of accomplishment that good weekly results bring. This takes a very specific skills-set, which is just as valuable in business.

Included in this skill-set is the ability to recover, refocus and re-energise quickly. Having the correct mindset is what makes the difference. Over time, we condition that mindset by emphasising appropriate mental structures, self-talk and decision-making.

In the end there is no one specific way that will guarantee a professional tennis career. Over time you will want to introduce intensity, consistency and "bouncebackability". The combination of these three elements will build capacity in terms of resilience. More players have had careers because of resilience than any other attribute; talent and resources alone will only take you so far. Every player has a story of when they nearly gave up. Those who didn't get to have the career.

The recent success of Kevin and Raven should inspire others to examine the way in which they handle themselves during tough times, for the pressure of excelling in business is not too different from that in sport.

Gielie Hoffmann is a performance coach who does business consulting in the fields of performance, culture and change.