Center for Executive Coaching

Coaching case study: A history-making coaching relationship

It takes a special kind of client and special kind of coach to make history. This past weekend, Andy Murray and his coach Ivan Lendl did it at Wimbledon, when Murray became the first British Men's player to win Wimbledon in 72 years.

To achieve this feat, he had to win many battles:

– Rising from number four in a golden age of men's tennis, with living legends like Federer, Nadal, and current world No. 1 Djokovic.

– Fighting his own internal ups and downs over a long career.

– Facing the hopes, dreams, and pressures from a nation hungry for one of its own to win a title.

– Constant near misses, like his loss in the Wimbledon finals in 2012 to Federer.

– An almost national set of limiting beliefs about the British winning, such as this quote from a fan: "It was very un-English — not only winning, but when he came under pressure, not buickling and going away."

– Relationships with previous coaches, including Jimmy Connors, that did not work out.

– Being open to coaching, despite being one of the best tennis players in the world.

This time, everything came together. His coach Ivan Lendl is himself a bit of a tennis outsider, and who also played during a time when he was overshadowed by the legends of the day. The two of them built a great relationship, with give and take and — despite the known stoicism of Lendl — plenty of humor between them.

Some people erroneously view coaching as a Tony Robbins informercial, where a single call from a distressed person, and a single magical piece of advice from a 6'5" coach with a booming baritone voice, leads to instant transformation.

Coaching is more like Andy Murray's journey, especially the kind of coaching that leads to Murray's level of success. It takes time, and can feel like forever. There are ups and downs, struggles, and both coach and client must be willing to go deeper than mere surface issues. In Murray's case, he had the talent all along. He needed a coach who could help him get past the mental issues holding him back, while optimizing his natural skills. In Lendl, he finally found that coach.

On winning Wimbledon, the first person he hugged was Lendl. Deservedly so.

Meanwhile, this same weekend, UFC champion Anderson Silva lost his title. In this fight, Silva lost for a stupid reason. Instead of being humble and focused, he taunted his opponent. In the second round, during a taunt, his opponent tagged him with a left hook and knocked him out.

Here we see a great contrast to Murray's story: Another athlete, phenomenally talented and considered to be the best in the world, gets cocky. He has been told by many to stop being cocky in the cage and to focus. He didn't listen. He wasn't coachable. This lack of humility cost him his title.

Interesting contrast, no?

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