Saturday, July 13, 2019

Roger Federer: Athlete, Artist and Generalist

Sports fans and tennis fans are familiar with the fact that Roger Federer holds the record for the most Wimbledon titles with eight of them. He will be competing for his ninth against Novak Djokovic on Center Court in the 2019 men's final. But do people know that Roger's mom, a coach—never coached him? Or that when his instructor decided to move him up to play with older, more talented players, he asked to move back so he could stay with his friends? He said "I was just dreaming of just once meeting Boris Becker or being able to play at Wimbledon some time." His mother admitted "we had no plan A, no plan B." I suppose Plan AB, or C or Z that we are seeing today. For nearly twenty years, tennis and sports fans alike have been privy to watch an athlete who is an artist. He is certainly a master and his masterpiece is Wimbledon. Enjoy.
For the past few years, I have wondered how long Federer can and will continue to paint, I mean play tennis on the tour. At 37 years of age (almost 38), to remain so dominant in a sport as physically and mentally demanding as tennis is remarkable. He is one of the game's all time greats, a consummate professional and sportsman. NB: he has not earned Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year title to the chagrin of many fans and postings. And to me, the beauty of sport is all we can learn from the legends. 

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by World by David Epstein offers a unique perspective on what we can learn from The Maestro/Darth Fed/Fed Express (take your pick!). According to Epstein's website: 
Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.
David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.
Two of the athletes Epstein profiles include Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. Epstein writes "the Roger path to sports stardom is far more prevalent than the Tiger path, but those athletes' stories are much more quietly told, if they are told at all."
Woods' story was familiar to me. I knew he was a child prodigy, holding a golf club at the age of two. I knew that his father, Earl believed "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity," Even Buddha, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. I have also read about the "10,000 hour rule" which we now equate with expertise, in conjunction with Tiger's as he "was not merely playing golf. He was engaging in deliberate practice." But, the contrarian in me longed to hear another story. Enter in Fed''s worth exploring. I find it encouraging. I love to opt out...but this might be a case to opt something different.

So many athletes, especially tennis players, tend to put their tennis balls into one basket at an early age. Fed however, credits a wide range of sports, such as played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis, soccer for developing his athleticism and hand eye coordination. Furthermore, his parents were far from pushy. A Sports Illustrated writer noted that "if anything, they were "pully." Epstein adds,  Nearing his teens, the boy began to gravitate more toward tennis and if they nudged him at all, it was to stop taking tennis so seriously. When he played matches, his mother often wandered away to chat with friends. His father had but one rule: Don't cheat. He didn't and he started to get good." Really good. They never wrote or followed a manual to make him the number one player in the world. Today he is ranked third. 
I encourage you to read "Range" for yourself and develop your own conclusions. Do we need more Fed? Less Tiger? Please share your thought. Regardless, Epstein's work is thorough and it's thoughtful and it offers evidence and story to support that there is always another way. I hope you will watch Fed with a deeper appreciation knowing more about his personal story and his artwork.

Photo Credits
Fed's 8

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