Serena Williams had a chance to tie the all-time record for majors in women’s tennis on Saturday but she got beat in the finals. She didn’t just get beat, she got beaten pretty handily, losing in straight sets in less than an hour.
In reading about the match online it was amazing to me to see some takes that said Serena “didn’t show up” for the final. Some argued that her age was a factor, but the other side was that she cruised through the rest of the tournament only to get crushed in the finals. So the explanation was she “didn’t show up.”
The idea that Serena Williams failed to show up for a Wimbledon final in which she had the chance to tie an all-time record is beyond laughable. She’s probably the greatest tennis player of all time and one of the best athletes in history in any sport. So do you really think she had trouble focusing or getting mentally ready to compete on Saturday at Wimbledon? Do you think she felt happy that she made it all the way to the finals and then failed to prepare properly? Man, what a lazy, naive take.
A take like this is a product of the digital age that we live in, where information is available 24/7 in all different forms and there are analysts on top of analysts for every event. There are just a lot more people getting paid to have an opinion about major sporting events than there ever were, and those people getting paid have to have an opinion. So when Serena Williams gets beat easily in one of the biggest matches of her life, something has to be said. And this approach can affect the way we coach our teams.
With the amount of information and analysis available today there is always a quest for a reason, and as a coach a quest for an answer. Everything is dissected so closely – not just from the outside, but as coaches, internally with the advances made with video and analytics – that it feels like there should always be a reason why something happened. We need an explanation, and we have plenty of information available to support that explanation when we come up with it. And beyond that, if we can’t find an explanation that makes sense through data or film, we label the situation with soft factors. Serena is clearly better than Simona Haslep (9-1 all-time) and had everything to play for, so how did she get beat so handily? Well, she just didn’t show up. Without an explanation, that is our explanation.
Something I’ve learned over my career as a coach is that sometimes you just get beat. The other team is better, they click really well that day, they are focused and together, and they play a lot better than you. So they win. Every loss isn’t a sign that something is drastically off and changes need to be made. Every loss doesn’t mean something happened that needs to be explained and fixed. Sometimes the other team is just better, and they beat you.
I watched a bunch of great AAU games this weekend in Atlanta, South Carolina and Alabama. Games between high level teams that were very intense and competitive. And I always enjoy watching the coaches and seeing how they interact with their kids and what approach they take. It’s interesting to watch from the outside perspective where you aren’t caught up in the intensity of the game. Sometimes you see the coaches going crazy over their teams poor play because they are getting beat, and from my seat it just looks like the other team is better. Sure, there are some things you can do better than you are doing, but the bottom line is the other team is playing really well and has really good players. That’s hard to overcome.
It’s easy to react to everything that happens today, to try and figure it out and implement changes. We can analyze every possession on film, calculate the value of every pass, block out and contest, and come up with answers to make ourselves feel better. But that can be an overreaction that your team doesn’t need, and certainly won’t help.
It’s impossible for me to believe that Serena Williams “didn’t show up” for the Wimbledon final this weekend. Every bad performance your team has doesn’t demand an explanation and a cure. Sometimes you just get beat. Don’t get too complicated and get back to work.