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Navratilova had to learn how to win

by on
in Hiring,Human Resources

The way basketball player Nancy Lieberman tells it, her first visit to a tennis “workout” for Martina Navratilova went something like this: Hit a few balls, talk to a few people, hit a few lobs, go home.

Lieberman was stunned to learn that Navratilova thought she could be a world-class athlete without training. “She wasn’t training to be a champion,” Lieberman says.

“She was just training to play tennis.”

What’s more, Lieberman could see that the tennis star lacked mental toughness and self-discipline. For instance, she’d reward herself with a shopping spree even if she didn’t win.

But with the right approach, Lieberman thought, Navratilova could become the greatest player ever.

With two years elapsed since Navratilova’s last Grand Slam singles title, the tennis star admitted that she needed someone “to kick me in the butt” and took on Lieberman as her coach.

Lieberman’s regimen was brutal, but the goal was this: Navratilova would train so hard that even on her worst day, she could beat anybody. Whatever else was happening, she’d know she was going to win.

But that was just the beginning. In the age before top-ranked players surrounded themselves with coaches, trainers, gurus and handlers, the Czech-born athlete began hiring experts and supporters who would become “Team Navratilova.”

Together, the team not only increased Navratilova’s strength but reduced her errors, gave her a topspin backhand, improved her ground stroke and forehand volley, and honed her footwork and hand-eye coordination. Her team literally talked her into dominating tennis.

Suddenly, her goal was no longer to be No. 1. She wanted to make history.

Sportswriters started tracking her path as if she were a tornado. Along the way, she revolutionized training for female athletes.

—Adapted from The Rivals, Johnette Howard, Broadway Books.

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