Enlightenment in the Uber Lane

Everyone has a Uber story, here is mine 🙂 !

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Couple of days back I was en-route to the Bay Area from Dallas to visit my sister’s family and my parents for a summer vacation recharge. As my Uber ride pulled up and the windows rolled down, I heard my Uber driver call out,

‘The back door’s open for you. You please relax and get comfortable. It’s my job to get your stuff put in the trunk.”

As I strapped on the seat belt, I wondered to myself, “I have never heard that before! Looks like it is gonna be one hell of a chatty 30 min drive to the airport today !!”

By the quick time it took to get to the tollway, we had become couple of buddies catching up on the living room couch… I had learnt by then that my Uber driver was an Army veteran, originally from Trinidad & Tobago and grew up with a lot of Indian people, food, cricket and culture around him (sounded like my own childhood!!), who had served 22 hard years in the Army(not so much like mine on this one !!), retired at an early age of 42, now 49 (this particular piece of information could have been the motivation of the day for me…little did I know that there was more to come …haha!!), happily married with 2 kids and about to become empty nesters. He had been a Tank Commander in the army, traveled the world, been in few wars (Iraq, Afghanistan to count a few) and was now unfortunately, getting treated for PTSD due to the stuff he had been through.

As we sped on the tollway, I understood,  my man was passionate, sensible and a people person…but my slightly distraught eyes kept flipping between his face on the rear-view mirror and the car’s speedometer. The speedometer seemed like a mirror of my EKG in front of my eyes as it fluctuated…hitting the highs as my man’s passion ebbed and flowed …haha!! We had covered an array of coffee table topics by now around Indian culture, arranged and love marriages, family values, the currently ongoing  World Cups(Women’s soccer and Cricket), life in America, life in the Army etc. Pheww….

About 20 mins in, we saw the first signs of traffic due to the closure of couple of lanes on the tollway…and my man, took a safely, well executed turn into the exit and wove through the traffic like an expert, picking the lanes that moved faster like a surgeon making decisions in a critical surgery…..As I saw him make his moves, I saw a man who knew his stuff…which is when I first noticed that he did not have his phone stood up near the instrument panel, with the GPS on, as most drivers do….

As we sped on an empty lane, waving to the long line of GPS followers on their pilgrimage to the airport, my respect for the man grew.

We entered the airport stretch and he asked me for the second time what my gate was (first time being at the start of the trip)…. I was about to reduce some points after a so far stellar performance..but thought what the heck..lemme have a glance in the app . Lo and behold…. my terminal and gate had been changed! My man had just saved me some minutes and hassle of changing terminals with less than an hour left for my takeoff !

As we pulled over to the curb at the airport, he asked me, “I watched you on the mirror as I took the alternate route and you didn’t show any signs of stress or discomfort…Why was that ?”. Pondering on what to reply, I realized I hadn’t even thought about it! I gathered up my best reply, which was, “You just seemed to know your stuff, I didn’t want to bother !”.

As I disembarked, he brought up my luggage, we shook hands and he handed me a couple of packs of cards…. I blurted out, “Oh what is this, I can’t take this !”. I noticed that it seemed like a used, yet high quality pack of cards having the Choctaw casino branding on them, with the drilled hole in the pack (which I learnt casinos do to make sure the used pack doesn’t get sneaked back into games).

He responded calmly, looking in my eyes, “Never lose your great attitude, man…. I would work for you any day if you were the CEO of the company I worked for. I just wanted to give something for you and your sister”. I felt a wave of pride wash over me for whatever reason and it felt good to be drenched in it, even with the full clothing on !

As I saw his car depart and started wandering within the airport, I wondered, I didn’t even ask his name (but I guess I can just lookup the app!!), but had learnt some high quality life, work and tennis lessons from this one high speed Uber interaction !

Which leads me here, where I thought of sharing few things that hung on to me from this chance encounter,

"Only in this country can you wake up one day and make money"

I recalled his story of his neighbor’s son who was withering away his late 20s and early 30s without a job. He had asked him to mow his lawn, given him 30 bucks for the work but more invaluably advise to put out posters in the neighborhood for lawn mowing services… After the guy posted the fliers, he had gotten around 30 calls just in one day, in his neighborhood for lawn mowing work and was onto earning about 200 bucks a day. Since then, he had expanded his business to 5 employees, providing more home services and running a thriving local business. Even to this day, the guy mows his lawn for free every month !!

"The top thing I learnt in the army was Patience."

Being a tank commander, it required him to just hold position and stay at one place  for hours, sometimes days. He shared how he had learnt the value of being patient in life and with people, through this experience.

"I ain't getting counselling from a school kid."

He had been suggested counseling for his PTSD, but felt that the only person who can counsel him is a person who had been in the trenches with him and can say, do this, if this. This made me think of the many trusted adviser/ coach/ mentor/ leader situations that I am in typically in life, work, tennis etc… and what I can do to improve my ability to lead.

"I just trusted my training ...
... If you are not fearful, you are gonna die."

This was his response to what I thought was my best question of the day, “How did you face the fear of death in the Army ?” He said that before his unit went out on a mission, his commander used to say that, “Your Life expectancy in this mission is negative zero.” Being prepared for what to expect, just focusing and trusting the training he had got, was the only way he could handle this situation.

This made me think instantly of how crucial practice/training is in all aspects of life, be it tennis, work or other things.

An unexpected and amazing perspective on a Uber journey, that enlightened, as well as reinforced my core beliefs.

Godspeed.

Posted in Lifestyle, Mental, Passion | Tagged , ,

Finding Gold in Tennis Drills and Practices, Part 1: Framing The Challenge

Recently a friend of mine did a tennis drill at a well-known tennis facility in town and shared, “I had a good drill in the morning. It was exhausting and refreshing”. I assumed that it was exhausting because it was a physically intense session, and a great workout. It was refreshing because …, maybe the early morning aerobics increased the neurotransmitters in the brain! But I wondered, what about the learning aspect of tennis…

Was there a piece of gold that you could make your own from the session?

Exhausted

I thought about the typical ‘Amateur’ or ‘Adult’ Tennis Athletes (ATA) practice session – hours spent trying to build the muscle memory on the same ‘old’ forehand and backhand, followed by competitive match play.

During the competitive play, old habits and patterns of play overpower the nuggets from the last drill or coaching session.

The latter getting filed away inevitably in the archives for a later date which in large probability may never materialize!

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Image Source:  Medium.com

I thought about instances when I have shared my 2 cents of advise to my peer ATAs in practice. For example, something like, “I think shortening your swing and swinging slower on that approach is better” has evoked a response such as, “I know what to do, my execution is not there today… my forehand is just not working”. So ATAs seem to “know what to do”, have a sense of what works for them and their goals, but do repeat old mistakes and revert to deeply ingrained patterns of play and shot selection in competitive match situations.

ATAs face challenges with converting the nuggets of learning/insights assimilated from various sources into long term ‘muscle memory’ due to various reasons.

They also won’t take advise from just about anyone and rightfully so.

They are selective about who they will listen to based on various factors.

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Image Source: Business Insider

Applying ‘Design Thinking’ to Frame the Challenge:

To help frame and articulate the challenge faced by ATAs based on these thoughts , I drew inspiration from my ‘design thinking’ (https://www.ideou.com/pages/design-thinking) skills to do a session at one of my team’s practices along with 3 of my ‘lead user’ team members, in order to understand the needs of the ATAs better. Here is the drill session’s blueprint I had put together with focus on doubles and one of the most important tactic of ‘Poaching at the Net’ with intent to finish the point with one lethal shot.Drill

There were some interesting feedback from my peer ATAs at the end of this session, such as,

“Superb method. Just a simple ritual of chatting for a few mins after 20 mins of game was so helpful… and planning out every point with your partner is also a good idea.”

“Very good session. Enjoyed it. Our constructive critiques helpful.”

I also made my own personal observations through this session and framed the challenge statement as,

The ATAs need a new pro-active and intentional approach to practice sessions to change ‘old habits’ by recreating common competitive match situations in adult USTA league and tournament matches (3.0 – 5.0 levels), and reinforcing new behaviors (mental, physical and tactical) that will lead to ‘success’ because ATAs want to maximize the ROI of time and money spent in drills and practices. 

The measure of ‘success’ varies for ATAs, but in most cases, it is characterized by qualitative measures of enjoyment/fun in the process and progress with learning and growth goals, as well as quantitative measures of win-loss ratio in competitive match play.

In addition, I also captured what I felt were some of the needed elements of a solution to solve the above problem. There is a need for,

  • Core group of ATAs with a mindset of commitment, open-mindedness, collaboration, learning and the courage and willingness to continuously disrupt their game.
  • An ATA with a Design Thinker’s mindset and skills who can lead/facilitate the session and the self introspection.
  • One or more trusted expert Coaches who can guide the group of ATAs with the appropriate drills, coaching, feedback, resolve differences in opinion and takes an active interest in the group’s improvement.
  • Definition and buy-in to a common Team Philosophy/Vision for change
  • Definition and adoption of Ground-rules for the Session (especially, when a Coach is not present)
  • Library of Proven Drills that can change mindset/behavior, build capabilities, enable ‘success’ and be fun. (Drills with match play simulation are fun.)
  • Of course, some tennis courts and the necessary tools/equipment for the job would be ‘Nice to Have’ Wink Emoji !!

Stay tuned for the next posts in this 3 part series where I discuss the solution and learnings in more detail after testing and refining the solution over a period of time.

Think

Please leave your comments and thoughts below or reach out to me directly at tenezious@gmail.com to discuss more if you are interested.

Posted in Drills, Practice, Tactics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Practical Toolkit for Having Fun in USTA Leagues

I am no old timer, but been through the thick of things in USTA League (4.0/4.5 levels) for the past 5 years as a Player & Captain, which in no way makes me a Guru, but more closer to Rufus, the Hawk, an integral member of the Wimbledon Security team for the past 14 years.

Rufus

Now that we are at the  dawning of another USTA League season, thought I would share my 2 cents on a practical toolkit for having fun playing this ‘Team Sport‘.

  • Foundational Culture of the Team matters: A lot of players I have found take the approach of a ‘Promiscuous Mercenary’ to team tennis. Nothing wrong with this, has benefits as well since playing regularly with a diverse group helps. But ‘Fun’, hmmm…. it still leaves something missing, the camaraderie and bonding of a team, the hanging out for a beer or a cup of coffee. Rome stayed true to it’s foundational culture of fratricide and violence. The same applies to any team, it usually stays true to its foundational culture. Find a team whose foundational culture is learning, positivity and growth. You will not go wrong and end up having the max fun based on what you put in every season.
  • ‘The Dream still Matters’: As they say, the ‘American Dream’ doesn’t work for most people but the dream still matters. Same is true in team tennis, if you may dream, you may as well dream big.  Finding a team committed to traversing to the end zone (‘Nationals’ @ the sunny courts of Florida), will bring meaning to the season and channel the fun!
  • Winning breeds Fun & more Winning: Ever wondered, why does a team keep on winning ? There are good tennis players everywhere. Constant focus on improvement is the key. Assimilating from your opponents, practicing and competing with a diverse set of players who challenge you is important. A team that recruits well, and is constantly on the lookout for the best and is open to change constantly creates fun automatically.

And lastly, a Captain who watches how the chips fell week after week matters. Having a first hand account of what happens in the written word matters. After all, our story is our biggest asset.

Every team needs a storyteller, who better to do it, than the Captain !  Image result for wink emoji

Now, go have Fun !

Fun

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Match Tiebreaker – is it a roll of the dice ?


results

Results of a quick & dirty survey that I had run a while back with my hardcore tennis friends in my tennis/social network.


In my opinion, the answer to the match tiebreaker as with any facet of a tennis match is,

  1. Mental
  2. Preparation

Playing a match tiebreaker shouldn’t be looked at as any different than the way you play the tennis match from start to finish. Don’t dread it, don’t fear it, don’t blame it … Embrace and Relish it !


Mental:

#1: Focus on current point and being positive. 
Implies:  Be present 100% and focused in the moment.This is your best chance to succeed. Be in the moment.

#2: Play to win – Be Aggressive
Implies:  
Compete hard & play free, all the time, no matter who the opposition is, no matter what the score is + Play to your strengths & play smart (high percentage)

#3: Focus on the first 4 points
Implies:
 The average point lasts fewer than four shots. That means that you (and your partner) need to be rock solid on the first two balls. Serve (or return) and the next shot. (Source: http://www.theprevidisystem.com/index.php/services/226-three-steps-to-your-best-doubles-in-2017)


Preparation:

Nothing prepares you like practice. Practice. Practice. Practice …


 

Sources:

 

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A Role Model for every Athlete

Sachin

A billion people needed good stories around them to forget themselves … In a place where poverty prevents any system to prevail, he gave hope, something to look forward to and a prism through which the country could be visualized.

– ‘SACHIN: A BILLION DREAMS (2017)’


Over the weekend, I went to see the movie – ‘SACHIN: A BILLION DREAMS (2017)’. The movie is a treasure for folks like me, who will probably never get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the ‘God of Cricket’. It is an opportunity to cherish and learn in the words of Sachin himself, about his journey.

I may not have heard anything significantly new nor seen any drama of Bollywood caliber, but I am not one to complain, for I will lap up any opportunity to get an insight into what built and drives the man, the athlete and the cricket player, with whom I grew up.


What built Sachin ?

  • Yes, it does require a village to build a Champion. His support system was the ‘People’ in his life,
    • His Father: His strongest role model was his father who exemplified to Sachin the values of calmness, respecting others, integrity and humility. Every time he looks up to the skies after an achievement, he thinks of his father.
    • His Mother: In his own words, he imbibed the quality of tenacity from his mother.
    • His Brother: His brother was an anchor, a soundboard, a pillar to lean on and a source of motivation. As Sachin states, every time  he walks in to the arena, there are 2 people walking in, his brother in spirit.
    • His Coach:  A Coach who instilled the work ethics and kept him grounded and focused on the task at hand.
    • His Wife: His wife sacrificed her career for him to be the rock in his life whenever he needed amidst the madness of it all.
    • His Friends: His circle of close friends who gave him an outlet to relax, be himself and be a pillar to lean on in difficult times.
    • The army of Fans: who scream for him every time he walks out
  • Work ethic
    • It’s what Sachin did with his gifts that made him a legend – the hours of work that went into practice and preparation.
    • He took in the knowledge from his coach and mentors, but he still had to apply his mind to it
  • He went to a Champion school – Sharadashram Vidyamandir (English) High School,a school at Dadar, Mumbai, India, which had a dominant cricket team and had produced many notable cricketers.

What qualities he exemplifies as a role model Athlete ?

  • Practice hard, play hard and put the team first
  • Don’t chase the money. He represented the middle class virtues of humility, integrity and loyalty
  • Treat each and every one with respect
  • “If I am stuck with technique, how will I watch the bowler” – Sachin
  • “You have to learn to look after your kit and the kit will look after you” – Sachin

What drives Sachin ?

  • Cricket was like oxygen, without which he could not live. “I treated the game like I was going to a temple” – Sachin
  • “My father always used to tell me … it’s one thing that you’ve chosen to play cricket in life … but the thing that will remain with you for life … will be the fact that, what kind of a person you are”
  • “After any disappointment, it’s important for every player to stand up on their feet and fight” – Sachin
  • Family
  • Country
  • Music

Sachin Tendulkar – Player Profile and Statistics

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Leadership Lessons from Captain Cool

“When I die, the last thing I want to see is the six that Dhoni hit in the 2011 world cup final.” – Sunil Gavaskar

ms DhoniIn 2011, “Dhoni finishes off in style. India lift the World Cup after 28 years” .
Click here to  experience this incredible moment —> pic.twitter.com/Q61sLx10VA

I have been leading a USTA team for the past 5 seasons and MSD is a great case study for leading teams.  Having watched on TV, MSD play and lead over the past decade and read the many articles published on his smart leadership style, I correlated this with my own experience leading a USTA team and have summarized my assimilated point of view on Leading Teams.

Leadership is more art than science. Being maximally effective as a leader means being able to diagnose the situation and adopt the leadership approach that works best. And that’s exactly what MSD has excelled in and I have tried to adopt.

  1. Display Competency: Establish credibility through display of knowledge and expertise in the domain the team engages in. This encourages the team members to follow and look at the leader as a role model.
  2. Establish Trust: Listen and incorporate inputs from team members. Active coaching and providing means to get better, is better than giving negative feedback. Being transparent about difficult decisions helps build trust.                                 
  3. Promote Communication:  This is probably the biggest one from my perspective. Team members must have the ‘energy’ and comfort level to interact face to face and the more the interactions you can help facilitate and build, the better. And secondly it is not just enough if few members exhibit this, the entire team or a majority must. The level of ‘engagement’ within the entire team is a critical factor. And lastly team members must ‘explore’ opportunities in the field outside the group and network and bring back those ideas into your team. This is the ideal communication model that you as a leader must ensure happens.
  4. Embrace the Cause: Take complete ownership and responsibility of the people, process and outcome.
  5. Learn Constantly: Stay humble, learn from peers and more experienced/skilled people.
  6. Know Yourself: Self assurance comes from knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Trust your instinct/gut feel: The key here is that you have to turn up for practice and competition,  build more experiences, broaden and deepen your knowledge of the domain, fellow competitors, your own team members , match & conflict situations.
  8. Manage your emotions and Stay calm under pressure:   Oh, what we all wouldn’t give for getting this quality transferred over to us from MSD !! But it can be learned and practiced like any other skill. Staying composed, focused, and effective under pressure are all about your mentality. People who successfully manage crises are able to channel their emotions into producing the behavior they want. Based on my observations, the secret is a 3 step process,
    1. Forestall the panic, manage your emotions
    2. Think logic and critical reasoning, it’s time to ask yourself important factual questions
    3. Take action, but don’t beat yourself up, keep your energy on things you can control.

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Well, this is just here so that you will come back for atleast this video again ! –  The famous helicopter shots of MSD, ENJOY! 🙂

629-Star_dhoni_mainGod is not coming to save us., Captain Cool

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If you can’t start the point, there is no point!

That’s right, If you can’t start the point, there is no point! The probability of success in doubles play at the competitive amateur level of play (4.0 and 4.5) goes up dramatically, if you can keep your return of serve success % at around 80% or over.

One of the main things I have been working on since my return from Tennis Congress 2016, has been the ‘S.A.L’ (Short, Angled and low) service return in doubles that I learnt from Coach Billy Previdi and Matt Previdi ‘s session (The Previdi System) at the Congress. This is a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal in many match situations (discussed more below) and helps with high percentage play when your drive returns aren’t working or when you just want to keep your opponents guessing!

Keys for Success – What I learnt after using it for around half a year now in competitive amateur (4.0 & 4.5 levels) level play….

  1. Objective:
    1. Take away angle, time and opportunity from opponent.
    2. Play high percentage tennis.
  2. Preparation: Before the Point of Contact:
    1. If you know you are going to play S.A.L, keep the continental grip ready.
    2. Set your 2 target points and Visualize it
      1. Where it is going to pass over the net: Target the middle of the net or a bit farther away from the opponent net player depending on the opponent net player’s ability and frequency to poach.
      2. Where it will land on the opponent’s side of the net: An ideal target is usually around the intersection of service line and the inside alley line
    3. Split step as the server tosses and contacts the ball.
    4. Be aggressive with your feet and get to the ball fast
  3. Execution:
    1. Always meet the ball in front and lean into the return.
    2. Before you start the swing, make sure the racquet head is above the point of contact.
    3. The ideal contact point is to meet the ball somewhere at mid-point between the service line and baseline.
    4. At the point of contact,  execute like you are playing a volley.
    5. Drive through the ball with confidence, don’t try to guide and hold the shot
    6. Finish up high, don’t let your hands drop down on the finish (avoid chopping action or slicing down on the ball)
  4. When to use it:
    1. At the start of the match, gauge the opponents with S.A.L.
    2. Convert S.A.L into a lob over the net player occasionally to mix things up. Use this in non-critical match situations only since this is a low percentage play.
    3. Second serve is a great candidate for the S.A.L.
    4. Critical points such as 30-30, break points, match points are great times to use, to keep the return high percentage and get the point started.
    5. More effective against a player who tends to stay at the baseline after service or doesn’t move fast into the court or doesn’t bend down well to reach for the low shot.
    6. Also very effective when hitting into the wind since the ball will tend to hold back.
  5. Additional Tips:
    1. Play the piano on the grip until the last moment, helps to keep hands loose and not tighten up.
    2. Focus on the impact point, that is more important than the swing. It is key is to meet in front of the body.
    3. More effective when you can create more angle and hit as close to net as possible
    4. Hit as soon as you can, to take time away from server, take the serve early
    5. Vary the target position, find out what makes the opponent uncomfortable
    6. Don’t try to return back at same speed as serve, visualize and think soft hands
    7. On a hard first serve, stay back a little bit to give yourself time
    8. Talk with partner and let them know your plan
    9. Be aggressive with your feet, not with your arm

S.A.L Drills:

Chip & Charge:

S.A.L Strategies:

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