Getting beat by a teenager in tennis, and what’s that got to do with Crisis Management?

I’m at that point in my life where one of the greatest joys I have is playing tennis with my teenage grandson. I’ve always looked at competition through sports as a great bonding opportunity for fathers and sons.  My grandson is taking lessons once a week at local club near us.  Over the past couple of years, he’s gotten pretty darn good.  To help him practice between lessons, I serve as his “sparring partner”.  We find time to play a couple of times a week together.

When I was younger (i.e. high school and college) I played some racquetball, but never tennis.  What I know about tennis has come from my being an easy mark for “the kid”.  But with my competitive nature, I’ve learned and practiced along the way to the point where I can actually give him a run for his money – oh that’s right, it’s my money.

Anyway, I just got in from playing tennis this evening with my grandson and while I was out on the court “getting schooled” again, I began thinking about how playing tennis can be similar to what we do in crisis management.

Preparation

Before you can effectively (operative word) play tennis … or manage a crisis … you have to develop knowledge and skills of the game.  The easiest way to do this of course is to be coached by professionals – those that have gone down the path before you.  Unfortunately, some think that because it’s not “rocket science” they can skip this step (anyone can do it) and just start playing.  Taking this approach generally means greater chances of losing vs. winning.  Trust me on this one.  Take the time to learn about crisis management.  Talk to others that have actually responded to and recovered from some type of crisis.

Practice

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned a saying a fellow instructor has used many times in classes we’ve taught.  The saying is “people will do what they’ve practiced, not what they’ve been told.”  How true that is in tennis (or any other sport) and in crisis management.  In order to be good at tennis, you have to practice.  In order to respond appropriately when a crisis incident occurs, we have to practice.  We practice by conducting table top exercises, drills, and full-scale exercises to name just a few.  Look for opportunities to exercise (practice) your plan.

Size-up and take action

In tennis, we are constantly sizing up our opponent and how he or she is playing.  We are always looking for an opportunity to score another point.  It’s called gamesmanship.  In crisis management we also perform size-up to understand what the current situation is and what are capabilities there are “to score another point”.  Our size-up will help us to determine our game plan.  At that point, we need to take action.  All the planning and preparation in the world doesn’t do any good if we don’t step on to the court.

Command and Control

In both tennis and crisis management, if you aren’t in control, you will be controlled.  I hate to admit that tonight the kid controlled the “old man” two out of three sets.  In tennis, as well as in crisis management, a positive mindset is one of the most important skills you can possess.  In tennis, you don’t want your opponent to see your frustration or fear.  In crisis management, we don’t want our teams to see our frustration or fear either.  The best crisis management leaders reflect a sense of calm and order even when everything else appears to be dysfunctional around them.

Lessons learned

The only way to win is to improve skills that may not be your strongest and enhance those that you may be pretty good at.  If I realize my serves are weak, I need to spend time practicing serves before our next “big” match.  In crisis management, we need to perform a lessons learned activity (i.e. debriefing or hot-wash) session.  Our goal is to learn from the experience what worked well and what needs improvement.  Then, take those lessons learned and use them to improve.

Well, it’s time to take a couple of ibuprofen.  Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  I’ll be posting again on August 1 and I hope you’ll come back.  In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought about this blog or any others I’ve written.  If there’s a particular topic you’d like to have me write about, please let me know.  I welcome your feedback.

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2 Responses to Getting beat by a teenager in tennis, and what’s that got to do with Crisis Management?

  1. Sue Lamb says:

    Good observations Tim and I concur….makes me think that our ‘all hazards’ approach to crisis’ might be even more encompassing…’all actions’?!
    I always enjoy your blog posts.

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