For years you have been trying to achieve that one major career ambition but each time you get knocked back at the final hurdle. And then, just 4 weeks after the last crushing disappointment, you get another golden opportunity. So how will you turn things around and make it different this time?
This was the performance challenge facing Britain's Andy Murray following his last loss to great Roger Federer in the Wimbledon. Exactly 28 days later he would find himself back on the hallowed turf of Centre Court in the Olympic Games Final against the Swiss legend. After losing in all his previous 4 Grand Slam finals (3 of which were against Federer), Murray finally won tennis's 'Fifth Slam' with a loss of only 7 games. So how did he do it and what can we learn from his remarkable bounce back?
Comparing match statistics reveals the first layer of the story. At the elite level, the total points won by each player is often similar so it is the 'big' points that make the difference. Due to the dominance of the serve in the men's game, the 'break points' (when a player has a game point on the opponent's serve) are some of the biggest. In July, Murray won 29% to Federer's 33% showing just how close the match was. However, at the Olympics Murray's statistic shifted to a whopping 50% break point win rate versus Federer's 0% showing he did a great job of both converting chances on Federer's serve and snuffing out potential breaks on his own. So we know he won more big points but beyond the bare numbers though, the question still remains - how did he do it?
Well he didn't do it by panicking and ditching a good strategy, which we often see in both sport and business. Rather than wholesale change, Murray showed maturity commenting before the match that, "I won't do anything different to when I played Roger at Wimbledon. I played well then and this time I'm determined to get the win and the gold". After all, he had been leading by a set and a break before a rain delay and roof-closure broke momentum and played into Federer's hands as the superior indoor player. Up to that point Murray was succeeding in his new strategy to take the game to the Swiss rather than employing his traditional patient, 'slicing and dicing' approach. Thus, sticking to his strategy, and ignoring the uncontrollable events that were responsible for his demise previously, were part of the answer.
But if his strategy did not change what was it that enabled him to shift those statistics to successfully execute his strategy so well in just 4 weeks? My contention is that the difference was his belief.
At Lane4, our psychologists know a lot about how to build belief. Albert Bandura's classic 'self-efficacy' research showed it could be built by being able to remember previous accomplishments, by drawing strength vicariously from the successes of others around you, and by psyching yourself up verbally and emotionally. During the Olympic Final, Murray was able to tap into all of these.
So, what are the lessons? Firstly, they are that you can bounce back in a short amount of time. But, secondly, to do this you don't just need to work out a winning strategy, you also need to build belief in order to execute it. So next time you find yourself analysing the market numbers and competitor trends to plan a comeback, ask yourself how much time am I also spending building belief? Because that, like for Andy Murray, is what can make all the difference.
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