Andre Agassi’s Coach, Brad Gilbert Slaps Me In Open

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Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open, is a raw and inspiring memoir that gripped me from beginning to end.

You can read the hundreds of 5  star customer and editorial reviews at Amazon for yourself.

I read ‘Open’ in 2 days, and brought back many wonderful memories of when I played competitive tennis as a junior.

It also conjured up feelings I’ve put away since I was a teen.

While Agassi’s father was a ‘dog on a bone’ about Andre being number 1 in the world, pushing him in every imaginable way to be better, hit harder, and being the best.

I remember wishing my parents attended more of my games and tournaments. Now, supporting my family and growing a business, I fully realize now how much my parents had to sacrifice in time, opportunity and finances to support our family and to provide as many opportunities for us 3 kids. I’m forever grateful to my parents and always encouraged with their courage, tirelessness and spirit to make it work for our family.

Remembering the feeling of hoping my parents were at more of my games, and having the freedom from a web-based business, I strive to be as present as I can at my kids’ events, cheering positively from the sidelines, filing precious moments in my memory bank.

Agassi Speaks About ‘Open’

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Andre Agassi speaks about his autobiography on video to Amazon customers.

I Sported An Agassi Mullet Too

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Andre was my tennis hero growing up. When I played tennis as a junior, I remember sporting the infamous Agassi mullet, wearing denim tennis shorts and emulating his tennis game. If I had a sexy bald head, I would sport one now like Agassi today, but alas, some things aren’t meant to be ;-)

You’ve Lost The Fire…What The Hell Happened To That Kid?

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In this issue, I want to ‘open’ up to page 186 & 187, where Brad Gilbert, Andre’s coach, critiqued Andre’s game at dinner. Brad wasn’t just speaking to Andre, he was speaking directly to me…

Perry, Andre’s good friend, was tasked with finding him a new coach to replace Nick Bollettierri. Perry urged Andre to consider Brad Gilbert, a fellow player nearing the end of his career, as their new coach.

It’s March 1994, and they’re dining at an Italian restaurant right on the water, on Fisher Island, close to Key Biscayne, where they’re playing in a tournament.

Perry wants Brad’s take on Andre’s game. Honestly. Brutally honest, in fact. No holding back.

Brad obliges.

And I quote, from page 186 and 187, with the bolded text below by Brad as statements that slap me silly…

You Always Try To Be Perfect… And You Always Fall Short

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“It’s not rocket science, he says. If I were you, with your skills, your talent, your return and footwork, I’d dominate. But you’ve lost the fire you had when you were sixteen. That kid, taking the ball early, being aggressive, what the hell happened to that kid?

Brad says my overall problem, the problem that threatens to end my career prematurely – the problem that feels like my father’s legacy – is perfectionism.

“You always try to be perfect”, he says, “and you always fall short, and it f**ks with your head. Your confidence is shot, and perfectionism is the reason. You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes, would be enough to win ninety percent of the time.”

He talks a mile a minute, a constant drone, not unlike a mosquito. He builds his argument with sports metaphors, from all sports, indiscriminately. He’s an avid sports fan, and an equally avid metaphor fan.

Quit Going For The Knockout

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“Quit going for the knockout”, he says.

Stop swinging for the fences. All you have to be is solid. Singles, doubles, move the chains forward.

Stop thinking about yourself, and your own game, and remember that the guy on the other side of the net has weaknesses. Attack his weaknesses. You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there. You just have to be better than one guy. Instead of you succeeding, make him fail. Better yet, let him fail.”

It’s All About Odds & Percentages. Get The Odds In Your Favor.

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It’s all about odds and percentages. you’re from Vegas, you should have an appreciation of odds and percentages. The house always wins, right? Why? Because the odds are stacked in the house’s favor. So? Be the house! Get the odds in your favor. Right now, by trying for a perfect shot with every ball, you’re stacking the odds against yourself.

You’re assuming too much risk. You don’t need to assume so much risk. F**k that. Just keep the ball moving. Back and forth. Nice and easy. Solid. Be like gravity, man, just like motherf**king gravity.”

You’re Making Yourself Miserable.

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When you chase perfection, when you make perfection the ultimate goal, do you know what you’re doing? You’re chasing some thing that doesn’t exist. You’re making everyone around you miserable. You’re making yourself miserable.

Perfection? There’s about five times a year you wake up perfect, when you can’t lose to anybody, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player. Or a human being, for that matter. It’s the other times.”

It’s All About Your Head

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“It’s all about your head, man.

With your talent, if you’re fifty percent game-wise, but ninety-give percent head-wise, you’re going to win.

But if you’re ninety-five percent game-wise and fifty-percent head-wise, you’re going to lose, lose, lose.”

Simplify, Simplify. No Need To Be Perfect.

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“Again since you’re from Vegas, put it this way. It takes twenty-one sets to win a slam. That’s all. You need to win just twenty-one sets. Seven matches, best of five. That’s twenty-one.

In tennis, like cards, twenty-one’s a winner. Blackjack! Focus on that number, and you won’t go wrong.

Simplify, simplify. Every time you win a set, say to yourself, That’s one down. That’s one in my pocket. At the start of a tournament, count backward from twenty-one. That’s positive thinking, see?

Of course, speaking for myself, when I’m playing blackjack, I’d rather win with sixteen, because that’s winning ugly. No need to win with twenty-one. No need to be perfect.”

Keep It Real. F**k Perfection.

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Brad Gilbert’s critique of Andre’s game that night in March 1994 felt like he was speaking just to me in my living room, 2 days ago, this December 2009.

All the statements I’ve bolded above matter to me. They express what’s been going on in my head, behind closed doors, in my work, in my life.

I know it’ll be a process to unwind this modus operandi. I know I’m a work in progress. It often feels like 2 steps forward, 1 step back.

But f**k perfection. I’ll keep it simple and keep the ball moving.

Andre Agassi, if by some miracle you’re reading this, your journey, courage, fight, game, Prep Academy’s mission and your life in ‘Open’ has inspired and re-energized me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Brad Gilbert, if by some miracle you’re reading this, thanks for having the CHUTZPAH that night in March 1994 to tell Andre like it is, so the world can benefit from your insights on winning via Andre’s ‘Open’. Thank you, thank you, thank you! [UPDATED: Dec 18, 2009 Brad Gilbert sent thanks on Twitter for the shout out. The web is such a small place, isn’t it?]

What about you? What’s your story? What’s been your experience with perfection? Appreciate your thoughts and opinions…

7 comments
Paul Weinberg
Paul Weinberg

Hey Sherman,

Met you briefly at Stomper F5 last year in Atlanta.

Liked the Agassi review and application.

All this web/blog stuff is new to me, unlike tennis which I've loved and played since I was 12. Always found that Agassi's comeback also teaches us a lesson: he just focused on conditioning. The day to day, off the TV, discipline.

Also liked how Agassi created high purpose for himself and tennis earnings (eg work with kids and foundation.) Was willing to change himself and change his mental game and attitude.

Not sure how to change mine when it comes to being stopped by technical stuff in front of getting content out. How did you overcome your blocks/perfectionism)?

In tennis, there's a great virtual coach who played pro and studied Agassi and others natural grace. Tip for you: check out Oscar Wegner!

BusinessBiker
BusinessBiker

I think it also has to do with trusting that you are indeed on your true path and that it should never perfect. If it were you'd not be able to truly enjoy the daily Moments of Zen that occur when just being and experiencing it.

The gratification that comes with accomplishment cannot exist without the trials of the lesson.

Greg
Greg

Hey Sherman, here's my story regarding my wife and how she used to state that things need to be done perfectly, and how she is unhappy if things are not done perfectly. You know, if she forgot somethingthing here, a missed something there. I said, and she gets it now... "The IDEA that things CAN be perfect all the time is itself imperfect thinking." Because humans are fundamentally prone to make the occasional mistake, at its core the pursuit of perfection is imperfect. It's a bad place to be starting from.

Terry Retter
Terry Retter

I would never have guessed that you were focused as a perfectionist. Your message to me has always been to "just do it" (something the Tiger should not have listened to) and to keep getting things done. So is it a do as I say and not as I do syndrome? Or do you need to follow your own advice to use newbies (after 2 years I guess I can no longer claim that status)?

Thanks for sharing this excerpt for Agassi's book. I probably would not have gotten it to read my self.

yogiwan
chef@chefwannabee.com

Sherman Hu
Sherman Hu

Hi Paul, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Yes, Agassi really focused on his conditioning and returned several times with vengeance. And in all areas of life, be it sports or business or any other platform, its the unsexy preparation that matters, the stuff people don't see.

I believe your situation calls for the same mental and attitude fortitude Agassi executed for his game. Keep the 'ball' moving, focus on your strengths, outsource the rest. Either learn the technical stuff, oftentimes not the most productive use of our time, or pass it on to the outsourced practitioners.

I overcame my perfection through 'pain'. Has always worked better for me than 'pleasure'. I envision how much 'pain' the 'perfectionism' in whatever I'm working on is preventing or road-blocking me to my destination/objectives/success/ROI/profits/pain I'm causing myself or family etc etc... then I knock it out with vengeance ;-)

It's a mental game. A journey. That's why what Brad Gilbert shared in 'Open' spoke to me so deeply. It's not about hitting winners every time, just keep the ball moving.

I have Oscar W's "Play Better Tennis In 2 Hours" book!! It's brilliant! Have to get my hands on his training videos :-)

Thanks Paul! ROCK ON!!

Sherman Hu
Sherman Hu

Greg, thanks for sharing your wisdom. You are right. Imperfect thinking = Perfect Inaction. Thanks man!

Sherman Hu
Sherman Hu

Great question. I've grown & evolved whereby certain areas or disciplines come easier to me, so there's very little procrastination or perfection hangups in those areas. It doesn't excuse my clients to hang on to their perfection hangups, regardless :)

But there are certain areas in my business, including mindset, that I find myself delaying action, or justifying or making things more complicated than necessary. This is what I'm changing.

Thanks for your feedback, T! Rock on!