Toni Nadal trained his nephew, Rafael, from a young age and has been by his side through most of the tennis player’s victories at Wimbledon and other major tennis tournaments. Few can argue that Toni’s life and career have been marked by success, but has he faced any challenges that business leaders can learn from?
The Formula to Succeed
With 18 Grand Slam singles titles to his name, Rafael Nadal is indisputably one of the greatest tennis players to have ever picked up a racket. There’s no question that 'Uncle Toni' has done something right. When asked what he believes made him became a great coach, Toni remains very self effacing and replies there are three reasons:
- He had a good player
- He was Rafael’s uncle –which made him harder to replace
- He offered his services at a good price, making him more competitive than the rest.
And while most business people understand the value of starting off with “a good product,” he adds that his most important virtue is that he’s passionate about everything he does. At one point in his life, Toni was studying Law and History but he realised that tennis was what he loved best. Since he loves what he does, he doesn’t mind “taking work home,” even if that sometimes means training on Sundays or holidays.
Another one of his passions is taking on challenges. All his life he’s set a goal for himself and worked towards achieving it, and sticking to the objective has been key to both Rafael’s and his own success.
So, what has been Toni’s objective? Making sure Rafael became a very good player. To the coach, getting Rafael to win at Wimbledon or Roland Garros was never really the objective – he wouldn’t even know how to achieve that at a technical level, he points out – the main objective during all the years he coached Rafael was to instil in him the idea that he needed to improve each day.
Toni believes that the greatest talent someone can have is not the skill to do something particularly well, but the ability to learn and improve. This is what set Rafael apart.
He’s convinced that success is determined by the talent you start off with plus the work you’re willing to put into improving it. You need to be willing to put in the hours and do whatever it takes to achieve your goal.
“We better know what we have to face”
Once, before facing Federer at a match, Rafael asked Toni how he thought the match would go. The coach replied that it would be a tough one and listed all the areas where Federer was superior, starting from the serve. Rafaael asked him to stop and complained about his uncle killing his morale, but Toni replied that there was no point in sugar-coating anything because, a few hours later, Federer himself would be serving him a cold dose of reality.
Toni proceeded to tell him that, even though those were the circumstances, Rafael still had a chance at winning the match if he gave it all his might, if he played every point as if it were his last, and if he exploited his opponent’s weaknesses.
In the end, Rafael won the match.
Be honest and have faith
Toni firmly believes that it’s better to be prepared and to be fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead. He opposes the idea of coddling people into believing they’re the best at something in order to elevate their self-esteem; to him, the only thing you elevate that way is self-delusion.
From an early age, he taught Rafael that he wasn’t “good enough,” which, he admits, is hard to say out loud because it’s not what people want to hear. He believes the reason why he was always able to be so honest with Rafael was because he believed in him. He thinks it’s impossible to work well, no matter what industry you’re in, if you don’t have the confidence that everything will work out in the end. In other words, as a business person, you need to have faith in your product or project.
He prepared Rafael for hardship, for life to be difficult, and, in doing so, he feels he made his nephew’s life a bit easier when he faced major challenges to his health. He never removed Rafael’s obstacles for him, quite the contrary, he showed him that endurance is what helps us overcome adversity and that which lies out of our hands.
Thoughts on Failure
Two very important things that Toni taught Rafael were a sense of responsibility – owning his actions, even his defeats – and to refrain from looking for excuses, because they can definitely be found, but they won’t help anyone succeed.
Thanks to this, Toni believes that his nephew created a successful loop: Rafael strives to succeed, and he succeeds because he strives for success. If people fight for what they want every day, they eventually get to where they want to be.
However, it’s important to realise that some things are out of your hands. In competitions, there’s always a winner and there’s also a loser. It’s a fact that, in spite of putting in the hard work, sometimes you won’t win. When that happens, the key is to not overdramatise failure; to put things in perspective and realise that you’re probably better off than most people. Then remind yourself that there will be the chance to try again.
According to Toni, people get frustrated when they feel that life needs to treat them better than it does. If you prepare for things to sometimes go wrong and don’t expect them to be easy, you avoid frustration. You have to accept that the world is the way it is, like Rafael, who continues to win tournaments in spite of suffering from chronic pain. He’s accepted his challenges, realised that his circumstances aren’t going to change and has made the best of them.
When asked if he ever had doubts about whether he was right, Toni replied with an emphatic “Yes!” He believes it’s normal to have doubts and that his approach involved a lot of trial and error; if he noticed that things weren’t going the way they should, he tried something else. In life, and in business, you need to have self-awareness and be able to assess your own performance. And, when faced with challenges, you need to remind yourself that if other people can find their way out, so can you.
But it's not about winning at all costs, as Toni says:
“You have to win in the correct way and that is achieved with values."