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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Play the Point, Not the Score

Comments (39)

I watched Rafael Nadal play two incredible matches at the Australian Open over the weekend.  In the semifinals, he defeated Fernando Verdasco in a 5 hour and 14 minute match 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(2) 6-7(1) 6-4.  He returned to the court a little over 40 hours later and defeated Roger Federer 7-5 3-6 7-6(3) 3-6 6-2 in a match lasting 4 hours and 23 minutes.  If you are a tennis player, you know this is an amazing physical and emotional achievement.

Brad Gilbert – a great tennis player (and coach) in his own right – was one of the announcers for the finals.  He annoyed me at first with his whispery affect until I realized that he was courtside.  He completed redeemed himself when he uttered the line of the tournament: “Nadal is so incredible because he plays the point, not the score.”

Ponder that – Play the point, not the score.

If you watch Nadal’s face during a match, he’s 100% focuses on the point at hand.  When he finishes the point, win or lose, you see an intense emotion sweep over his face.  Amy – who thinks of Nadal as a lion – refers to this as his “I will now kill you and eat your family” look.  He then takes a breath, clears his mind (which is reflected in his face), and gets 100% into the next point, which is now the point at hand.

Watching Nadal come back from 0-40 on his serve, or continue to get back in games when down 40-0 or 40-15 when receiving, is amazing.  It’s as if the guy has zero short term memory.  He either doesn’t remember the previous point, doesn’t care, or has an incredible ability to focus on the point at hand.  I’m betting it’s some combination of all three.

This is such a powerful metaphor for business (and life).  Play the point, not the score.  Down 4-1?  Doesn’t matter – play the point.  Just had someone quit on you.  Doesn’t matter, play the point.  Fell short of plan for the month of January – doesn’t matter – play the point.  Just had a big deal go off the rails?  Doesn’t matter – play the point.

When you are in the game, play the point.  Play every point.  Regardless of the score.

  • http://www.mindtram.com Colin Ude-Lewis

    Brad – Tim Gallwey used this metaphor in his book "The Inner Game of Tennis", the classic guide to the mental state of peak performance. It has been adopted by Executive Coaches with business leaders – I could not agree more with your observations. I have coached leaders and when they get this, really get it – they truly boost their potential and that of their business.

    Colin

    http://www.mindtram.com“target=”_blank”>http://www.mindtram.com

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Colin_UdeLewis Colin_UdeLewis

    Brad – Tim Gallwey used this metaphor in his book "The Inner Game of Tennis", the classic guide to the mental state of peak performance. It has been adopted by Executive Coaches with business leaders – I could not agree more with your observations. I have coached leaders and when they get this, really get it – they truly boost their potential and that of their business.

  • Randy Castleman

    Great post. So true.

  • http://gwinscott.typepad.com gwin scott

    it was a great match and i missed hearing gilberts line…which is a good one and certainly metaphoric, outside the game too… i was more struck by the awards presentation. seeing roger break down like that was unbelievable. it was almost an inner sign that nadal has federer's # and that it is mentally really affecting roger. perhaps a passing of the torch, as roger isnt used to walking out first or being 2nd. it might take nadal not being in the finals for federer to hit #14, etc….

    good pick up….and oh, i wouldnt call gilbert 'great'… more just a solid player, who some would term a junk player…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Yeah – I guess "great" is subjective. He came of his own shortly after I stopped playing. He was pretty consistently top 10 and got as high as #4 in the world but never won a major. Definitely not in the Federer / Nadal league, but a serious player on the tour.

      • http://gwinscott.typepad.com gwin

        yep…and anyone who is competitive on the tour and breaks into the top 50—is doing something right…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Farhan_Lalji Farhan_Lalji

    Wow, love the analogy. Think that and skate to where the puck is going are the two sports related analogies that really ascend from Sport into life.

  • Dave

    Another line that fits his facial expression, from The Princess Bride: "My name is Rafael Nadal. You kill my father. Prepare to die."

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/steve_bergs2127 Steve Bergstein

    On the other hand, this approach would suggest that every point is as important as every other point. This just isn't true. Maybe Nadal's strategy (beat the shit out of the other guy until there's nothing left of him, which is supported by Nadal's sprinting from the coin toss to the warm up, when others take a more leisurely pace) requires him to behave this way, but I could imagine other approaches.

    Nor in business is every battle of equal value to every other battle. Sometimes, you have to allocate scarce resources to more battles than you can fund.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I’m more intrigued by his complete zen mastery of “being in the moment.”  I agree that strategy plays a huge role in the outcome (for example, notice the serve percentage to Federer’s backhand – 90%-ish of first serves), but the ability to be in the moment for every point (or anything in life) is extraordinarily powerful.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I’m more intrigued by his complete zen mastery of “being in the moment.”  I agree that strategy plays a huge role in the outcome (for example, notice the serve percentage to Federer’s backhand – 90%-ish of first serves), but the ability to be in the moment for every point (or anything in life) is extraordinarily powerful.

      • http://gwinscott.typepad.com gwin

        Makes me want to go back and read FLOW, by mihaly csikszentmihalyi that i think you initially recommended via an old blog post. it's the best when you too are in the zone…or what we used to call, 'treeing" (old tennis term) for playing out of your mind/surpassing your own normal abilities…to beat someone..

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fnazeeri Furqan Nazeeri

    A long time ago I was having a conversation with someone on the topic of sunk costs, how they didn't matter going forward, etc. And the response has stuck with me all these years when he replied, "sunk costs aren't sunk if you sunk 'em." I totally agree with your thesis about playing the point, yet so frequently it doesn't happen. How many times have you seen good money go after bad into a failing startup? How many times have you seen a CEO hang on to a problem employee too long? It's counter intuitive, yet so frequent that there must be some compelling logic there. Need to think more about this one…

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jpmorgan josh

    This saying is adapted to a number of sports, especially golf. The more time in between shots, strokes, plays, etc the more time to think. It all carries over into life and business.

    Great post, couldn't agree more.

  • Rob

    This concept goes for great performers in all sports. The pitcher who comes right back after allowing a homerun, the shooting guard who just keeps taking his shot even though he missed the last 5. I think it comes from knowing that you have what it takes and that each point, pitch, shot or deal is within your grasp. That only comes from practice and the lack of fear that it breeds.

  • Tony M

    Good post! Like most of the residents of Melbourne [the venue for the Australian Open] I watched the matches and the overwhelming consensus the next day was the sheer tenaciousness of Rafa's approach.
    Then in the local press the next day we were all equally impressed by the graciousness of his description of his win. He really is a man of character……….

  • http://www.capitalflak.com mark glennon

    Sports psychology has become a fairly credible science. Tony Gwynn's, The Inner Game Of Baseball" was a solid example. Kind of surprising that a broader field of performance psychology has not evolved for business and other things. (I don't think the mass of motivational books is credible science.) "Playing the point" sure seems to apply outside of sports, but do we really know if sports psychology works elsewhere and does not just provide appealing metaphors for business people? Somebody with some time on their hands should get on it.

  • Gigs

    Related, I saw this attributed to Will Smith of all people, don't know if he made it up:

    I don't have to build the perfect wall today, I only need to lay the perfect brick.

  • http://www.jeffhester.net Jeff Hester

    Terrific insight. I also enjoyed that match, though I didn't catch the commentators comment.

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  • http://alabut.com Al_Abut

    I think there's also something unique about the game of tennis itself – I remember noticing an even more dramatic demonstration of the point when I watched Steffi Graf play as a kid. I forget which tournament it was, probably Wimbledon, but I'll never forget – she was about to serve, then turned to the umpire and asked the score. Steffi was so dialed in that she didn't even know the score! The announcers had a field day with that one and I still remember it, all these years later.

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  • Erik B.

    this is exactly what you can learn by laotses "daodejing" or nearly every lecture in zen buddhism.

  • http://linecinema.ru/ Диана

    Right. I saw that match. Really amazing one!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/aziz_griese5636 Aziz Grieser

    Just catching up with negligent blogging and here's another great post to make me read more. Keep it up!

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  • http://linecinema.ru/ Диана

    You are the best!

  • http://rus-youtube.ru Rusyoutuberu

    Play the point, not the score.
    was it a metaphore? i just got it as it was :D

  • http://nepriv.ru Неприврун

    gwin, top 50?
    what are you talking about?

  • http://bakerscartsupply.com/ ez go parts

    What a very inspiring read. I do agree that even if you are losing as you are giving it your best, there is nothing to be ashamed of at all. Winning isn't always everything :)

  • http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2009/02/play-the-point-not-the-score.html Kiska

    I do not understand that for bosh you write

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