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Steady does it

Andre Agassi was the 1996 Olympic gold medalist and for many years the No. 1 tennis player in the world.

In 1994, before all his success and fame, he arrived at a crossroads. Considered a rising star in the tennis world, he was also thought by some observers to be an underachiever. So, his manager approached Brad Gilbert, a veteran tennis player, to assess and possibly coach underachieving Andre.

In his autobiography, Agassi says that Gilbert diagnosed his problem as perfectionism. “You always try to be perfect and you always fall short. You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes would be enough to win 90% of the time.”

Then, Gilbert mixed several sports metaphors: “Quit going for the knockout. Stop swinging for the fences. All you have to be is solid. Singles, doubles, move the chains forward. Stop thinking about yourself and your own game, and remember that the guy on the other side of the net has weaknesses. Attack his weaknesses. You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there. You just have to be better than one guy. Instead of you succeeding, let him fail.”

One of my best friends was a star college basketball player and an avid tennis player. We played tennis many times. I never once beat him. I always noticed how hard he was on himself. He didn’t believe in cursing but berated himself — gave himself a good chewing out — for every mistake: “You fool! You idiot! What were you thinking?” and then he beat the net with his racket.

He achieved great success and long life, but he never knew the joy and contentment he could have had with it but for his malignant perfectionism.