Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Satisfactory Results

To achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most people realize; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks. – Benjamin Graham

Benjamin Graham, the father of security analysis and the author of The Intelligent Investor, may as well have been talking about tennis. I think it's surely true that to achieve satisfactory results, that is, to win more than you lose, to become pretty darn good at the game, is easier than most people think. Why do I say this? Because tennis matches at all but the highest levels are lost, not won. That means all you have to do to win at most levels is get the damn ball over the net and into the court. That's easier than most people realize, if they make that the goal.

But they don't make that the goal. They try to hit the ball harder than they can control. They try to hit the ball lower over the net than necessary. They try to hit the ball a little closer to the lines than they are capable of over-and-over again. I know almost nobody who hits a rally ball at a speed that they know they can make 50 or 100 times in a row. Why not? Because to do that you run the risk of being called a pusher. Who want's to be called a pusher?

So if you just put balls in play over and over and over again, if you try for every ball and play within yourself, you'll find that over time you will have very satisfactory tennis results.

If, however, you want to be exceptional, to be among those who are capable of winning matches, then you are in for a long, tough struggle. I'm not saying you shouldn't embark on that journey. Mastering anything is very rewarding. The downsides to failure in the pursuit of tennis mastery are low. Unless you spend your whole life pursuing that dream, to the expense of your family, a job, any life savings, you probably won't regret trying to become exceptional at tennis.

But you will fail a lot along the way. Hitting winning shots is hard enough against a quality opponent during practice. It gets harder during matches and harder still during tournaments. As the stakes go up, the pressure goes up, and the low margin of safety inherent in the winning shots begins to take its toll. Even at the very highest levels of tennis, very often the defensive player will win against the offensive player (see Nadal vs Federer, for example).

So embark on the journey toward greatness if you'd like. But if you want to have satisfactory results, it's easier than you probably realize. Get the damn ball in play. Do that over and over again and see what happens.

Good luck.

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