Elite Agent - - CONTENTS - Michelle Jag­gard-Lai

FOR­MER WTA TEN­NIS PRO­FES­SIONAL Michelle Jag­gard-Lai knows what it is to have a com­pet­ing mind­set. While some of us are born com­peti­tors and some be­lieve they can learn, oth­ers feel they just don’t have it in them – yet, says Michelle, all of us are ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing more.

SUC­CESS IS NOT al­ways about win­ning. As an ex-pro­fes­sional ten­nis player, sports coach, men­tor to as­pir­ing ten­nis play­ers, par­ent of as­pir­ing cham­pi­ons and cur­rently a vol­un­tary prin­ci­pal of a sports venue, I try to en­cour­age the con­cept of learn­ing to com­pete with one­self first, to truly en­joy com­pet­ing. Many might dis­agree; they mo­ti­vate them­selves by money, wins, beat­ing fel­low play­ers, be­ing ranked above oth­ers or looked up to by their peers.

In busi­ness you also see some look­ing for the edge over oth­ers, en­joy­ing com­peti­tors’ fail­ures or even talk­ing them­selves up to be big­ger than life. Is this a healthy mind­set to en­joy com­pet­ing?

One thing I know is that we can en­joy the game, com­pete and have fun without the need to in­volve oth­ers in this jour­ney of self-im­prove­ment, and in turn have more fun com­pet­ing.

When I played on the WTA tour I loved the idea of find­ing an­swers, out­play­ing the op­po­nent, be­ing de­ter­mined to find ways to play at my best more of­ten. I en­joyed a win-win mind­set of learn­ing from ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence, know­ing I can’t win ev­ery­thing but I can ex­pe­ri­ence win­ning in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.

I learnt I can have con­trol over how I per­form; I found ways to re­spond or re­act and re­joiced in the suc­cesses, big or small, along­side the progress I made on a daily ba­sis. This mo­ti­vated me ev­ery day to want to get bet­ter. It was no easy feat, as our pay on the WTA women’s pro­fes­sional tour was de­ter­mined by wins and losses, but I was com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing. I fig­ured if the num­ber one in the world claimed they could im­prove then cer­tainly so could I. This in­spired me each day to be bet­ter than yes­ter­day.

To­day, af­ter teach­ing thou­sands of chil­dren in sport schools pro­grams, I be­lieve when in­tro­duc­ing com­pet­ing it is vi­tal that the first ex­pe­ri­ence is pos­i­tive, fun and just a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion that they feel ready to en­joy. I do this by ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents to learn to play the ac­tual game, to un­der­stand that com­pet­ing is just an­other way to en­joy the sport even more. It ex­plores self-aware­ness, al­lows us to make quick, in­formed de­ci­sions and shows us where we are at, and how to grow even more. My be­lief is prepa­ra­tion is the key to com­pet­ing con­fi­dently and as you prac­tise this skill of com­pet­ing more of­ten it be­comes in­stinc­tive.

One of my big­gest chal­lenges was when I taught a large elite school­girls’ team to learn how to com­pete at their per­sonal best. They seemed to have a ‘brain freeze’ in what they thought were big events, so we wanted to im­prove their self-aware­ness. Many had the im­por­tance of beat­ing each other for a po­si­tion in the team as their pri­or­ity, didn’t un­der­stand their own strengths and weak­nesses or couldn’t an­a­lyse their op­po­nents to de­vise a game plan.

We changed the fo­cus to learn how to be­come a great com­peti­tor, un­der­stand­ing

the im­por­tance of com­pet­ing and the value it brings to their over­all life skills, and know­ing it is just a game we play, with no re­la­tion­ship to life or death cir­cum­stances. I no­ticed af­ter ex­plain­ing this the change in their ap­proach to train­ing; many mem­bers of the team started to en­joy learn­ing from each other and play­ing against each other for train­ing pur­poses. They be­gan to be­lieve they de­served to win af­ter recog­nis­ing their own self-worth and con­tri­bu­tion to the team.

It soon be­came clear they started work­ing harder on their over­all skills be­cause they be­gan to re­ally en­joy the game. When we im­ple­mented a plan de­signed around per­form­ing at their best, they be­gan play­ing to their strengths against their op­po­nents’ weak­ness more of­ten, started set­ting re­al­is­tic goals each match and were in­ter­ested in help­ing the over­all team re­sults, and in turn pro­duced bet­ter per­sonal per­for­mance. They were later re­warded by reach­ing their goal of com­ing at the top of the school­girls’ team com­pe­ti­tion.

It was a very proud mo­ment for our team. They even for­got who per­formed best as each con­trib­uted their per­sonal best and reached their po­ten­tial as a com­peti­tor. My proud­est mo­ment as a coach was to see them fall in love with the game and hear that they all in­creased their prac­tice time without be­ing forced to turn up. They have con­tin­ued play­ing ten­nis in many forms to­day and re­call some of these mo­ments as piv­otal ex­pe­ri­ences that made a pos­i­tive im­pact on them.

Along­side this I of­ten found that their per­for­mance in sport helped them with other ar­eas, like their aca­demic per­for­mance and so­cial re­la­tion­ships with fel­low stu­dents, and gave them the be­lief to achieve new goals in life af­ter school.

I be­lieve ev­ery per­son can com­pete to their best if they have a strong de­sire not to ac­cept any­thing less. We all have it in us as we were born com­peti­tors; we just need to learn how to ac­cess it, learn what is re­ally im­por­tant about what we want to achieve and go for it like there is noth­ing to lose – or just like you had all the money in the world and can make clear, un­emo­tional busi­ness de­ci­sions.

I re­cently spoke to a prin­ci­pal owner of a real es­tate busi­ness who is cur­rently sell­ing our own fam­ily home and I asked what it is he loves about his job. He said, “I love the thrill of the chase”. What I took from this is that he en­joyed com­pet­ing by fight­ing to get the sale over the line, un­der­stood the im­por­tance of those last few mo­ments of ne­go­ti­a­tions and the need for clear de­ci­sion-mak­ing at piv­otal mo­ments – but he also got a thrill and thirst for the bat­tle of com­pet­ing and the crunch time of seal­ing the deal. It was al­most like a sport, and this made me re­alise how closely busi­ness and sport can be.

As a player on the WTA I re­mem­ber one of the great­est com­pli­ments that an­other player gave me. We were go­ing for break­fast in the ho­tel to­gether be­fore start­ing our matches for the day at a tour­na­ment in the USA and she said, “Michelle, do you know why you are so tough to beat? It’s be­cause you never give up – any­one who plays you must go out and ac­tu­ally beat you.”

I must say I was a lit­tle shocked that a fel­low com­peti­tor would of­fer such im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion to me over break­fast, but I thanked her for her in­sight on what it felt to be on the other side of the net.

This is some­thing I can be very proud of when I look back on my ca­reer, as in ev­ery match I al­ways gave my best and fought till the last point. It still stands to­day and I have been told the same thing in dif­fer­ent roles or jobs I have been in or op­por­tu­ni­ties I have been blessed to be given.

One thing I have come to recog­nise is that I love com­ple­tion and get­ting to the fin­ish line, but also have a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the jour­ney it takes to get there. I must ad­mit that of­ten I have been guilty of say­ing to my clos­est sup­port lines, “I re­ally want to give up” but for some rea­son I just can’t agree to it in my soul, be­cause it is who I am: a born com­peti­tor who loves fight­ing till the end. How­ever, I stay true to what I stand for and how I want to be known by oth­ers – and most im­por­tantly my­self.

In short, there are five con­tribut­ing fac­tors to be­ing a cham­pion at what­ever you do: 1. Build a thirst for self-im­prove­ment 2. Ac­cept pur­pose­ful prac­tice is needed 3. Learn to play to your strengths 4. En­joy a per­for­mance-based ap­proach 5. Have fun com­pet­ing and be­ing at your

best. You were born a com­peti­tor. Good luck! •

Michelle Jag­gard-Lai is a for­mer pro­fes­sional ten­nis player on the WTA tour and a suc­cess­ful Aus­tralian Fed­er­a­tion Cup player. She now coaches and men­tors as­pir­ing cham­pi­ons, and de­vel­ops cross-pol­li­nated sports and busi­ness pro­grams. Her pas­sions in­clude teach­ing, writ­ing and pub­lic speak­ing.

I en­joyed a win-win mind­set of learn­ing from ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence, know­ing I can’t win ev­ery­thing but I can ex­pe­ri­ence win­ning in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.

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