HR & Management

Wimbledon tennis stars grow stronger partly due to rivals – and so can you

7 min read

05 July 2017

Once you pay attention and take your rivals seriously, there are numerous things you'll learn in terms of bettering your own performance. Take these Wimbledon stories as a case in point.

There’s a reason why famous strategy book The Art of War suggests you keep your rivals close – and it’s not to maintain a weary eye on them. It actually turns out that you need some competition in order to grow – both the company and yourself.

At the end of the day, rivals will show you the gaps in the market and give you a better picture of how consumers are reacting to existing offers and products. They essentially offer key insight on a platter. But more importantly, a rival keeps you on your toes, bonds your team further in their efforts to work towards a common goal and triggers out-of-the-box thinking.

That competition drives creativity has been a subject of much research, with Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson, authors of Top Dog: the Science of Winning and Losing, exclaiming: “Competition fuels the imagination and even improves the quality of the work produced.

“More than that, the skills that make you a great competitor – such as a willingness to push boundaries, trust one’s instincts, problem-solve – are needed for innovation.”

Some of the best examples on the importance of rivals can arguably be found in the sports world.

For starters, always expect things to be hard. Athletes train an exhaustive amount because no competition is a definite win – there are just too many factors. The same principle applies to business. Expect the competition, not to mention external factors, to get in your way. That’s where the growth of both your business and yourself begins. Because, as Merryman and Bronson said, it’s when you push boundaries that the true magic and development begins.

Taking the example further, Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half UK, took a look at the success – and failure – stories to come out of Wimbledon.

“To come out on top of a competition, you’ll need to assess the skills and effort of yourself and your rival, then exceed them. This will help you attain your own career goals faster. And there’s no better example of this than the tennis players that competed in Wimbledon.”

He pointed to British tennis player Marcus Willis, who had, according to many, “a fairy tale run at Wimbledon” a year ago. He found himself playing against Roger Federer, and despite losing in straight sets, he climbed 354 places to rank 418th in the world. 

“From modest beginnings and a rank of 772, Willis surprised spectators and players alike when his six-match winning streak landed him opposite Federer on centre court,” Sheridan said. “His story is a lesson in self-belief, which only truly manifests in the face of rivals. It’s an emotion that will do wonders for any businessperson.

“Although Willis was far from being a seasoned Wimbledon competitor, he pushed through games with more experienced players, allowing his hunger for success and passion for the sport to get him to the final centre court game. This same technique can be used to drive negotiation success and in those first crucial months of launching a startup.”

Serena Williams has four Olympic gold medals

Serena Williams has four Olympic gold medals

Likewise, Serena Williams collected her seventh Wimbledon win despite critics’ claims of being past her prime. She has an incredibly powerful weapon at her disposal and, taking a note from Silicon Valley leadership, embraced her momentary stumble before making an epic comeback. In this case, it’s all about the mindset – something competition helps evolve.

Williams has her own playing style, deemed high risk combined with one of the greatest serves in women’s tennis history by ESPN. It’s a powerful serve, the product of enhancing her own natural strength, honed no doubt after analysis of her rivals.

But according to Sheridan: “Without an abundance of younger talent and pressure from critics influencing her performance, who can say how successful she might have been. It’s also an example of digging deeper to rediscover the passion to achieve future successes, as opposed to recognising when that satisfaction has dwindled. Another reason why competition comes in handy.”

Failure in the face of competition is just as key to growth as success is. Take Kei Nishikori for example, who was forced out of Wimbledon due to injury.

Kei Nishikori is the world number nine

Kei Nishikori is the world number nine

“We’ve all been in situations where we know we need to take a break but just can’t bring ourselves to take the time off,” Sheridan explained. “Nishikori dropped out of two Wimbledon opportunities for failing to take the time to recover from physical injuries.

“He is a reminder that although competition is a motivating force, it’s also wise to remember that if you aren’t on top form, for whatever reason, it can harm your performance rather than enhance it.”

So what we can take away from these examples is that reaching targets and growing revenue are signs that the competition is doing you good. Competition will boost your perseverance and passion, creativity and strategic thinking – all of which will help you grow your business.