For the Win: 10 Striking Similarities Between Ping Pong and Business

Why few things are as powerful as simply staying in the game.

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Wally Green; ping pong pro and co-founder of SPiN.

In sport as in business, success means staying completely focused on your goal and doing everything possible to attain it. Confronted with growing competition in a swiftly changing global environment, we all need continual reminders and metaphors on how to stay in the game.

My training sessions with professional ping pong player Wally Green have revealed winning characteristics of how to stay in the game — and they extend beyond the sport itself. Business and ping pong, as different as these two fields may seem, share parallels which can further our growth as both leaders and champions.

Below are 10 similarities I believe are key to developing a winning mindset to overcome adversity — on and off the table.

1. STAY ON YOUR TOES. Anticipate. Be ready to move in any direction. If you dig in your heels and aren’t willing to be flexible, you’ll miss the opportunity to be at the right place at the right time and can’t take advantage of what’s next. You cannot merely “reach” … to improve, you must move!

2. GET LOW AND ALWAYS BE IN THE READY POSITION. By getting and staying low, you are able to SEE and REACT. If you remain low and operate from your “ready position” — you will always be prepared to spring into action. Having a ready position provides a starting point that will enable you to see the whole playing field, move into position quickly and execute powerfully.

3. POINT YOUR SHOULDERS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. It’s impossible to head in a direction you’re not looking in, so be mindful where you stare. Literally turn your body in the direction you want to go. Correcting your alignment can make a big difference — an incorrect stance is the root of many problems.

4. SEE THE BALL EARLY. Seeing earlier means learning to watch. Constantly analyzing the present situation enables you to anticipate and make the predictions necessary to put yourself in the best position to achieve success. Otherwise you’ll become mediocre really quickly! This is a lesson of alertness: the need to be observant to the world around you in order to craft a winning hypothesis in any mission you pursue.

5. FOCUS. Clarity is knowing exactly what you want to achieve. Focus is knowing which actions to take every single day to get there. It is important that you develop the ability to focus on the task at hand and that you don’t allow yourself to be disturbed by any irrelevant factors, either from inside (doubts) or from outside. If your concentration breaks, you must refocus almost instantaneously. The person who chases two rabbits (or ping pong balls) catches neither!

6. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE BALL. What do I need to keep my eyes on? Whatever it is, keep your eye on it. Most people are not actually looking where they believe they are looking or for as long as they think. One thing all coaches agree on is that the need to watch the ball is the first thing we are taught … and also the first thing we forget. Imagine a ball and this ball is your goal. It represents something you wish for. It can be the tiniest of things and it can be as huge as your life’s mission. Whatever it is: keep your eye on it. At all times. In the words of Robin Sharma:

“Remember that until your vision becomes your obsession, your mission will never grow into a movement.”

7. POWER FROM THE GROUND. We draw power from the ground. To achieve effortless power and balance, feel the ground under your feet and stay connected to it when making shifts. Imagine a tree, and notice that it has three parts: roots, a trunk and foliage. While many are impressed with the outer beauty of the tree, they fail to realize that without roots and a strong trunk, the tree fails to stand. This same concept can be applied to leadership. Cultivate the roots (mind, body and character) of a grounded leader and you’ll make the right moves and outperform the competition.

8. PLAY THE POINT, NOT THE SITUATION. It’s human nature to dwell on the past. But don’t focus on the past (good or bad); realize that you need to concentrate on the here and now. Immerse yourself in the task and commit to doing your very best. If we do our best to thoroughly do the things in front of us with excellence, there’s no need to worry about the future. Because our future (for the most part) is dictated by what we do in the here and now. Want to meet your best possible future self? Do your best right now.

9. FOLLOW THROUGH. The follow through is the indicator of a strong beginning. Following through means you didn’t quit or slow down before the work was done. A lack of follow through indicates a failure at some point in your process. Start off strong. Create the state of flow. Accelerate to and through! Ideally, you’ll end up in the direction you aimed.

10. LISTEN TO LEARN. You must listen to learn. The first step is to learn to be quiet. Make a friend of silence. During the silence, don’t think about what you are going to say, think about what the other person has just said. Your mind can do one thing at a time: listen when it’s time to listen, and respond when it’s time to respond. The reality is your progression isn’t down to only you — you need a vocal partner in the improvement process.

FINAL POINT FOR THE WIN! To win, you must stay in the game as long as necessary. Few things are as powerful for you to win (in your own unique way) as staying in the game, staying with your purpose, and staying with your goal longer than the world thinks its sane for you to keep on pursuing your dream. Consider it an opportunity and responsibility to yourself and the world. 

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

So stay in the game, because that’s how winners are made.

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