The 2018 US Open was marked by historic upsets, record-setting heat, controversy, injuries, comebacks and the crowning of a first-time champion. Amongst the hundred plus players battling over fourteen days of play, one stood out to me—Australia’s fiery Nick Kyrgios.
The round of 32 in the men’s draw over Labor Day Weekend saw a highly-anticipated matchup between hot-headed brilliance and seasoned reserve. The twenty-three-year-old Kyrgios lost the first set 6-4 to Roger Federer. 4-0 down in the second set on his way to a straight-set loss, the immensely complex, talented and contentious Kyrgios remarked to himself, “I need a coach.”
He went on to lose 6-1 and the third set 7-5. Federer advanced to the round of sixteen.
Kyrgios is one of the few top-seeded tennis players who doesn’t currently have a coach. Contrast Naomi Osaka, 20, who defeated Serena Williams in the women’s finals. Her coach Sascha Bajin has helped top players including Caroline Wozniaki, Victoria Azarenka and Williams, herself. At one point, Bajin was even called “Serena’s Secret Weapon.”
As a leadership coach, I consider myself a secret weapon, too. My role is to help executives understand themselves, react to ever-changing competition and manage the nuances of high-level performance within the framework of long-term success. Watching Kyrgios implode, I thought about the ways he might benefit from coaching.
Clarify the reason for playing.
Kyrgios unapologetically acknowledges that he would rather play basketball than tennis. This mindset—he’s not actually doing what he loves most—is undermining his performance. Why is he still playing, then?
I’ve found that at the root of successful individuals is a clear notion of exactly what they’re working for. The answer may evolve over time and might encompass personal success, an impact on the world, financial security or being part of a community, but it remains a constant framework within which they can fully express their talents.
Manage the emotional aspect of the game.
While Kyrgios’ mercurial behavior is entertaining, it undermines his talent. He appears to lack self-awareness about how his demeanor impacts himself and others. Or if he’s aware, he doesn’t care.
There’s nothing wrong with emotion if it’s well managed. But when we’re triggered or hijacked, rather than fueled by it, performance deteriorates. Coaches help players understand the difference.
Provide unmitigated support.
Despite his ranking, Kyrgios believes he “hasn’t done anything” in his tennis career. He’s defeated the Big Four—Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray—but admits, “I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied with my career.”
The role of a coach is to encourage, motivate and provoke a player to perform beyond their expectations. Osaka claims, “Since I was working with (Bajin)—and I tend to be a bit negative on myself—I feel like I've gotten a little bit more optimistic.” She’s right. Coaches provide perspective, encouragement and a safe place to land when things don’t go so well.
Swearing. Arguing with the umpire. Deliberately not trying. Racquet abuse. Storming off the court. Who keeps Kyrgios in check? What about a deeper accountability to someone other and something bigger than himself?
A good coach provides the accountability that is required when talented people make commitments.
“I need a coach.”
There’s a reason why winners have coaches. We take the best people and push them to be even better.
Do you want to be the best version of yourself? The first step for you and perhaps, Nick Kyrgios, might be to hire a coach.