Rather Than Trying To Win, Focus On Avoiding Losses

"Amateurs win the game when their opponent loses points, experts win the game by gaining points. " (Shane Parrish)

Simon Ramo, a scientist and statistician, wrote a fascinating little book in the 1970s: Extraordinary Tennis Ordinary Players. In this book Ramo identifies the crucial difference between the winner’s game and a loser’s game.

In his essay, The Loser’s Game, and referencing Ramo's work, Charles Ellis calls professional tennis a “Winner’s Game.” While there is some degree of skill and luck involved, the game is generally determined by the actions of the winner.

Amateur tennis is an entirely different game. Not in how it is played or the rules but, rather, in how it’s won. Long and powerful rallies are generally a thing of the past. Mistakes are frequent. Balls are constantly hit into nets or out of bounds. Double faults are nearly as common as faults.

Over many years' of observation and analysis Ramo had concluded that there were 2 games of tennis. One game is played by the professionals and the other is played by the rest of us.

Ramo found that 80 percent of points in high-level matches between professional players were the result of winning shots and only 20 percent the result of unforced errors by one’s opponent.

In contrast, the dynamics of matches between amateurs were reversed. Eighty percent of points came from unforced errors. An amateur player seldom “beats” an opponent; rather, the player who makes the fewest mistakes, who simply continues to keep the ball in play, usually ends up winning.

From Ramo’s perspective, if you want to win at tennis, you have to adjust your strategy to your abilities.

For the “ordinary” tennis player, this means understanding that amateur tennis is a “loser’s game” where success comes from avoiding losses.

The point is that most of us are amateurs but we refuse to believe it. This is a problem because we’re often playing the game of the professionals. What we should do in this case, when we’re the amateur, is to invert the problem.

Rather than trying to win, we should focus on avoiding losses.





For further reading, see an extended version of this article:
How To Win Without Succeeding - Tennis Lessons For Ordinary People


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