Like many of you, I’ve loved watching Ash Barty play tennis this year. She’s been around since 2011 – winning Junior Wimbledon that year. But now, as women’s tennis world number one, she’s been wowing me and fans around the globe with her unique down-to-earth brand that makes her just so relatable.
But what is it about her brand that makes us love her so much? What is that secret ingredient?
The Secret Ingredient in Tennis Star Ash Barty’s Brand
Tennis is by its very nature a solo sport. And in a solo sport, it’s easy to become self-centred. After all, every win could be seen as a direct result of your own skills and talents. This is something you can see when you look at other players on the tennis circuit.
But Ash does things differently. That is obvious that when you see her play, hear her speak and especially what she does after a big win.
So what is her secret ingredient? Humility. And it’s her humility that makes her and her brand so appealing in a sport that can sometimes be dominated by self-focus and ego.
Ash’s humility comes out in everything that she does.
After winning against Czech tennis champion, Karolina Muchova, Ash said to the crowd at the stadium, ‘I think it’s the grass and you guys. I was never stopping believing in myself, in my team.’
After winning her Wimbledon semi-final in straight sets, she said, ‘This is incredible. This is close to as good a tennis match as I’ll ever play. Angie brought the best out of me. Now we get a chance on Saturday to try and live out a childhood dream.’ ‘Angie’ in this case refers to German tennis star, Angelique Kerber, her competitor.
And she also told the Wimbledon interviewer, ‘I’ve said time and time again, I’m extremely fortunate to have my team around me. They’re the best in the business. They’ve given me this opportunity to come out here and to play.
I’m pretty excited that I could repay them the favor in a way of giving us an opportunity as a collective, as a whole, to do something pretty special this week.’
Ash herself credits a lot of her success to her work with a mindset coach, Ben Crowe. Interestingly, his approach focuses on humility as well. Rather than teaching his ultra-high performers that they’re the best and to believe in themselves, he wants them to become more vulnerable and seek out human connection.
Humility in Play
For a tennis star, Ash is unique. She starts by having a team mindset. Although she is undoubtedly the ‘star’ she never talks about herself that way. She attributes her team, her mentors and even her competitors to bring out the best in her. And she pays homage to the people that have paved the way for her own success. And that even includes wearing a scalloped-hemmed skirt inspired by fellow Indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her first Wimbledon title.
When she speaks, she most often uses ‘we’ and ‘our’ when talking about her success. When people want to focus too much on her wins or her abilities and talents, she moves the conversation to other things. And her biggest celebration ever caught on camera? At a Lions game, beer in hand. Not celebrating her own success at the French Open or Wimbledon, but celebrating the success of someone else.
The Value of Humility in Your Practice
Ash Barty’s brand shows us the value of humility. While we aren’t world number one tennis stars, we are all working on our own practices. And that solo experience is in many ways like the solo experience of playing tennis.
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins researched and compared 1,435 of the top-performing companies in various industries. As a result, he came up with a list of 11 good to great companies. Then he compared these with a similar company – one that could have made the leap from good to great but didn’t.
What Collins found is that those companies that went from ‘Good to Great‘ had a leader who consistently set aside ego to make decisions that would favour the company and the work – even at their own personal expense. In other words, those leaders had humility. This is known as what he calls ‘Level 5 leadership‘.
Level 5 Leadership
Level 5 leadership is where leaders ‘display a powerful mix of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves.’
This is the essence of Ash Barty. She is of course, highly capable and talented. But her humility and focus on her team sits above that – and that’s what makes her not just unbeatable, but absolutely relatable.
Elite athletes are at particular risk for mental health challenges, as are entrepreneurs. While of course, mental health is a complex subject with many, many variables, there is a great deal of research that shows that humility can help us fight the effects of those challenges.
In fact, humble people handle stress more effectively and report higher levels of physical and mental well-being. They also show greater generosity, helpfulness, and gratitude. And these are all things that are great for our brand.
As CS Lewis says, ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.’
Creating the Value of Humility to Your Practice
Where authenticity, empathy and value intersect we create humility. And like Ash Barty, we should all be working to rise above our own egos and become focused on the work, on our clients and on our community. By seeing what our clients and teams need, understanding their problems and ensuring that we focus on bringing value to them, we can become the humble ‘leaders’ that people and clients want to follow. And that will take your success to the next level.
As Ash herself says, ‘Just… keep chipping away, keep putting yourself out there, let yourself be vulnerable, just be yourself, knowing that everything that comes with that is an opportunity to learn.’
- Be mindful of pronouns in how you speak and write.
- Cultivate empathy and understanding of your audience’s challenges, hopes and dreams.
- Create solutions that bring value to your audience.
- Surround yourself with the right team and tribe.
I’d love to hear your thoughts…
Jane Anderson is a strategic communications expert, speaker and the author of seven books including the upcoming Catalyst Content. She has over 20 years of experience helping people to communicate confidently. And she is obsessed with authentic influence and human connection to drive business growth in a world of disruption and automation. Jane delivers Coaching and Keynotes. To inquire about her working with you or your organisation please contact us here.