In Rafa: My Story, Rafael Nadal discusses his final pregame ritual before squaring off against Roger Federer:
As important as all the preparations that went before, was to look up, scan the perimeter of the stadium, and search for my family members among the blur of the crowd, locking their exact coordinates inside my head. I don’t let them intrude on my thoughts during a match… but knowing they are there… gives me the peace of mind on which my success as a player rests. I build a wall around myself when I play, but my family is the cement that holds the wall together.
How about the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, Serena Williams? How does she warm up before a match? Any ritual that is a part of her success? You will find her listening to music and dancing a bit before doing some handstand push-ups. But Williams’s warm-up also includes one key routine, “I always wash my hands to make sure that they’re nice and dry so I can grip the racquet tight enough.”
Jill Kintner, the Olympic BMX medalist and three-time, mountain-bike four-cross world champion, also adheres to a set routine before each of her runs. “I ride up the chairlift with coach, have a few laughs, drink half an energy shot 20 minutes before my start, get to the top of the mountain, warm up for 10 to 15 minutes, check my goggles, shoes, elbow pads, do a few rock flicks with my front wheel, then get in the gate and race.”
Stephen Curry, a professional basketball player for the Golden State Warriors, will take approximately 170 shots over the course of about 25 minutes an hour before the game starts. The fans who show up early are treated to his circuit of three-pointers from an array of vantage points including those that he takes from outside the arena’s tunnel leading into the locker room. In his article, “The Pre-game Routine that Makes Steph Curry the Best in the NBA,” Max Whittle of the Guardian quotes him stating, “It’s just a way for me to get ready for the game; the shots that I need to take, getting into a rhythm, building my confidence.”
This is a sampling of some of the most elite athletes of our time, but how would their performance be compromised if they attempted to go about their business without their warm-up ritual? Given its ostensible importance in sports, is the idea of a “warm-up” transferable to other professions, such as court management? Is there a “manager warm-up” that can give her a mental edge in the art and practice of managing a court in the same way it does for the athlete in a match, race, or game?
Unsurprisingly, Toni was ahead of schedule and was already on the tour bus by the time I arrived. I still had time to spare, but the sore back I was nursing put me behind schedule. I eased myself out of my car after parking and waddled across the small lot where the bus was waiting for the last passengers to board. I gave my name to the tour operator, and as I walked up the two steps and made my way on, I saw her seated in the second row behind the driver.
“Good morning—I see they let you save me a seat,” I said.
“I wanted to save you the trouble given your back injury, so I tried to get the closest seats I could to the door.”
“Thanks Toni,” I replied.
“I got here early so I picked up some of their homemade cranberry tea. It’s not my first choice, but I figured if there’s a time to drink this variety, it would be today.”
It was the last Saturday in October, and Toni and I were playing the part of agritourists. After reading that one of the largest producers of cranberries was essentially in our backyard, Toni booked a tour of the bogs with White Oaks—a 300-acre cranberry farm that brings visitors in during harvest to observe what is a rigorous process to get the juice, sauce, and dried and fresh cranberries to your nearest grocer.
As I sipped on the tea, I tried to position myself in a way that I thought would result in the least amount of pain as the bus was set in motion. I maneuvered and let out a sigh when I thought I was in the least painful position. Toni took notice and asked, “You okay?”
“I’m fine—just need to make sure I don’t move from this exact position,” I joked.
“They didn’t tell me the recipe, but I’m detecting cinnamon and maybe orange juice as a sweetener,” she said in an attempt to redirect my attention to my taste buds.
“Cinnamon for sure, but I don’t know about the O.J. It’s something fruity though that’s counterbalancing the tartness.”
Toni took another sip, let it settle onto her palate and said, “It’s definitely orange juice.”
“I’ll rely on your senses—my back is likely throwing everything off in my brain.”
“So you never finished telling me how you wound up injuring it.”
“It’s pretty embarrassing actually.”
“Now I really want to know.”
“Try not to laugh but I was pouring motor oil into my car. As I’m leaning over the engine for the minute or two it took, I feel a slight twinge in my lower back as I straightened up.”
“That’s it?” she asked.
“That’s it—and it’s been bothering me for over a week. I’m getting old,” I lamented.
“If you’re old, I don’t know what that makes me being 30 years older than you.”
“The worst part is that I’m all out of sorts because my morning routine is off.”
“Ah—the morning regimen I recommended a while back. Have you been following it?”
“Not religiously. I’ve tried, but with my schedule the last few months it’s been too difficult.”
“That’s the problem,” Toni stated.
“My schedule?” I asked.
“Not the schedule itself, but your scheduling of the schedule,” she said.
“Because you’re failing to schedule the most important part of the day.”
“The morning routine?”
“Yes. If you were an athlete, the morning regimen I prescribed would be akin to developing and maintaining your core.”
“Right—the centerpiece to any good strength-conditioning program is core development. You see, athletes understand that they can only reach their true potential when they have a solid, strong core. This is what enables their muscles to perform at the highest levels for longer periods of time. When the core is weak or not in peak condition for the demands required by the game, they will never perform optimally. At best, they’re less likely to win, and at worst, they’re more likely to sustain an injury in the process.”
“So the court manager should train like an athlete?”
“Like the athlete, you should maintain your core so that you perform at your best. And that means starting each day with the four-step warm-up.”
“Remind me again of this secret formula.”
“It’s not really a secret if it’s available to everyone. First, wake up and make your first thought about being grateful for the things in life that are often taken for granted. Think about the new day ahead and how you will contribute to it in a meaningful, positive way. The second centers on the mind—exercise. A brisk walk, a short run, some calisthenics, whatever you need to do to get the blood flowing through your veins, which will help your energy level and enhance your mental focus; and by the way, I’m not saying that you wouldn’t have injured your back doing the same innocuous task, but some daily, physical activity will certainly make you less prone to this kind of injury.”
“As long as you don’t injure yourself exercising,” I replied.
“Well, of course, but baby steps. You can’t start off running a marathon. You should mix up the exercise routine so you don’t get bored, and always do what works for you. The point is to get the body moving. After you exercise, sit and reflect. That’s the third part—the spirit. Take the next few minutes to visualize, take big breaths, and focus on what’s most important.”
“I recall reading about the benefits of meditation.”
“You can call it that if you care to, but the point here is quiet reflection. Quiet the mind so that the spirit can thrive.”
“Okay—and the last part of this ‘management warm-up’?”
“After the third step, most folks will have worked up an appetite, so before you head out to work, you ought to have a reasonable, but healthy, breakfast.”
“No cannoli?” I asked.
“No cannoli—oatmeal and some fruit will do.”
“Of course, all of this needs to be calendared in before the real work of the day begins,” I remarked.
“Yes, but all together, this shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes—an hour tops. Consider Richard Whately, who said, ‘Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.’”
“He’s talking about the importance of that first hour when you wake up,” I guessed.
“Exactly. And when you think about the overall gain originating from that first hour, waking up a bit earlier no longer seems like a sacrifice. Or as my mother would say ‘he who sleeps catches no fish.’ This ‘management warm-up,’ as you referred to it, is simply a good habit that will strengthen all aspects of your core—not just the physical. Managers who are responsible for a court organization—its people and all the demands of this service profession—must be mentally, emotionally, and physically fit so that they can operate at their managerial best.”
“So everything flows from the core?”
“Yes—nurture the core and you’ll see that your extremities will have greater strength and stamina to handle the rest of the day’s challenges.”
The literature demonstrates that “warming up” is evidently an important part of the day for many different types of professionals (or at least the successful ones). The New York Times bestselling author Austin Kleon stated, “The biggest task in the morning is to try to keep my headspace from being invaded by the outside world.” Toni showed that the manner in which a manager begins her morning can profoundly affect her whole day. Given the purposes and responsibilities of the court, the warm-up therefore seems especially important for the court manager (apart from the personal implications it poses) because of the impact it can have on her ability to manage the organization’s staff, resources, and processes. Aside from preparing the manager for the day ahead, the literature regarding meditation, in particular, shows the positive and long-term effects it can have, including boosting immunity, relaxing the nervous system, and lowering blood pressure. There are few of us who would consider the “rise and shine” part of the day our favorite, particularly if the prior night was spent working late into the evening or on those occasions when we did not get enough sleep. Learning how to start the morning right and establishing a good routine can reduce a manager’s stress and anxiety and significantly increase her chances of having a satisfying, productive day by ensuring that she is functioning at her personal best.
In her article “10 Morning Habits to Start Your Day Off Right”, Melissa Eisler of the Chopra Center notes the importance of developing the following habits for getting the day off to the best possible start:
- The morning warm-up begins before you wake. Work to develop a bedtime routine to increase the likelihood of getting at least six to eight hours of restful sleep because of the impact that it has on your mental, physical, and emotional well-being (both in the short- and long-term).
- Smile before getting out of bed, which releases endorphins and is linked to decreasing stress and enhancing mood.
- Complete the simple task of making your bed because as effortless as it may be, the act sets the tone for beginning the day with something being accomplished.
- Drink a glass of water when you wake to hydrate your body. Eisler also suggests adding lemon to the water because it can help remove toxins from the body while also boosting metabolism and digestion.
- Avoid technology during the first hour of the day so that you can create a positive focus on the present.
- Incorporate a brief period of time before commencing your workday for thoughtful reflection (meditation) on your intentions for the day ahead so that you are better prepared to manage your emotions as challenges arise.
- Schedule some morning time to exercise so that energy can be immediately channeled to your mind and body while at the same time alleviating mental distractions.
- Take the time to apply good hygiene and dress appropriately so that you look and feel confident for the day ahead.
- Ensure that you eat a healthy breakfast because it provides you with greater and more sustained energy and concentration needed to accomplish the day’s tasks.
- Foster a sense of daily accomplishment and maintain priorities by creating a “to-do” list. Preparing a manageable list of tasks and transferring it to paper also helps to prevent them from circulating in your mind.
Eisler’s list seems simple, yet for many managers it eludes them notwithstanding the life-changing and positive difference that it can have on their overall welfare. It may elude us, however, not because of the complexity (because it’s so simple), but rather because of the purposeful intention it requires to make any warm-up a daily habit. As Toni suggested, it’s not a matter of the “management warm-up” fitting into her schedule, but rather it’s a matter of her schedule being centered around the warm-up. Most athletes incorporate some kind of warm-up routine (and certainly the best of athletes understand that they cannot do without it). If a manager seeks to match her performance with her potential, then not unlike the athlete she too must develop a warm-up ritual that strengthens her core. Without it, she is compromising her potential to be at her managerial best, but moreover she is vulnerable to pulling a muscle.
And those are just some of my musings on management.
About the Author
Giuseppe M. Fazari has been musing about management concepts and practices throughout his career as an administrator, consultant, and academic. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.