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Brad Gilbert and the Problem with Perfection

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Like all of us, athletes fail often. Renowned tennis coach Brad Gilbert knows that well, and has spent decades analyzing weaknesses as a way to develop strengths. As a player, he rose to the rank of #4 in the world, then began coaching stars like Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, and, most recently, Coco Gauff. He even trained Zendaya for the movie Challengers. I loved hearing how the man Andre Agassi called “the greatest coach of all time” gets even more out of the best players in the game.

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David Duchovny, Brad Gilbert

David Duchovny  00:00

I had a great coach, coach Burns. He did have a first name, Larry. I only knew that later. His first name was coach. And I mentioned it later in the podcast that he taught me how to care, and the story that I’m thinking of was, you know, we were, we wanted to win. And we were playing our arch rivals. And I guess we were ahead and we just, we just kind of blew it. And we lost, we were in the locker and waiting for coach to come in, because we always had the wrap up afterwards. And it’s gonna sound totally cliche, and I guess it is, but he came in and just the look on his face. You could tell he’d gone through it, you know, like he, he cared. He that he didn’t care that this was a stupid high school game. This was a gladiatorial contest of the day, you know? And he came in and he just put his hand over his heart. And he said, a pint of blood right from here, right from here. Like we’d lost some blood in that game. And you know, you also start crying. The kids and we’re you know, we’re high school, boys were not easy criers. And all it was was that weird little cliche a pint of blood right from here, right from your heart. And because it was true. And it was true, because we were, we were believing in him. We were believing in the stakes, the stakes felt high. And it was good to suffer like that. And it was good to care like that. It was it was good to bleed like that. And it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t really something worth caring that much about. Because it was really the care that meant something.


David Duchovny  01:54

I’m David Duchovny, this is Fail Better. A show where failure not success, shapes who we are.


David Duchovny  02:06

Brad Gilbert is best known as a tennis coach. He’s also known as tennis commentator comes up with fun nicknames for tennis players out there. He’s coached Andre Agassi, a legend. And Andre called him the greatest coach of all time. I don’t know, for me, it’s Larry Burns, for some people might be Brad Gilbert. Now he’s coaching rising superstar Coco Gauff. He even trained Zendaya for the movie Challengers. He was a great tennis player himself, he got to number four in the world. He played pro for a dozen years. And I talked to him over Zoom. And behind him I could see all these tennis rackets. I thought they were just rackets but they turned out to be like game played rackets from great players, so here’s that conversation with Brad Gilbert. Where I wanted to start was, you know, I wanted to, I mean, I’ve learned so much about you preparing for this. I mean, you know, number four in the world, right? And then an amazing coaching career. How did you get if you can take me back to your childhood and being introduced to tennis and talking to your father about tennis? How did you get to this relentlessly positive coach that I see in front of me right now.


Brad Gilbert  03:18

I had an older brother, older sister. And my dad, when he was my dad had been 30 had an apartment building, never played tennis in his life. There was some old rackets left there. So he went out and played with my older brother, who was seventh played one time, and he comes back and he kind of made this announcement. That’s it, we’re playing tennis. And so literally, seriously, these old rackets and presses that was it. And we started playing then instantly got my brother and sister lessons. And then he was like, you can play or you can sit there and watch. So I think it just grew out of, you know, first of all, I was probably very competitive, hyper competitive. And then you you want to show your older brother and older sister and your dad that you belong. So that’s kinda how literally my tennis began. And I played my first tournament, I think when I was like six years old.


David Duchovny  04:19



Brad Gilbert  04:20

Yeah, so literally, I’m 62 about to be 63 this year, I’ve been playing like basically my whole life. And there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve been bitter towards it.


David Duchovny  04:32

Right, I also grew up wanting to be an athlete, and I was I was a terrible, terrible loser. In fact, I, you know, stick balls again, we play in New York, and I was a pretty good baseball player, I could play with my father’s friends. I was good enough when I was like 10 to play with them, but they wouldn’t play with me because I was such an asshole when I lost so I had I had the competitive spirit in me as well. But I think I read where your father said, you know, you’re gonna be, you’re gonna be a pro and you’re going to, you’re going to play Davis Cup, you know.


Brad Gilbert  05:05

I was 10 years old, I really didn’t know what that meant, but David, you know what I spent my time when I was competing. And when I wasn’t competing, let’s say I was watching a basketball game, or football, I was always thinking about tactics, what somebody was trying to do to win. And when I was playing, and playing with people, I was all that’s all I was ever thinking about was an angle on how to win. I never was, like, fixated and defeated by losing. And I was more kind of always thinking about the strategy on how to find a way to get under somebody’s skin or find a way that what I was doing to be more successful. And I think that that’s kind of, you know, how I always thought, and I wasn’t as successful at it. You know, till I got a little bit older, I finally grew, but I think it probably helped me being smaller, but always thinking about a way that I could beat somebody and I love tactics so I didn’t get like, like, you got really upset. You know, nobody likes losing. But I was always questioning myself about my own tactics.


David Duchovny  06:22

Where do you think that came from? Is it just your nature to because it sounds like, you know, some people say they fall in love with the game or whatever. It sounds like you fell in love with the game within the game, you know.


Brad Gilbert  06:36

As probably well said, I think I fell in love with just this one word, competing. I love competing. I like trying to take something that someone’s trying to take from me whether or not that was playing one on one basketball. I played a million times as a kid, strikeout you ever played against one guy draw chalk on the wall and you only strike it.


David Duchovny  06:56

That’s, that’s the stickball, that’s yeah, that’s what we call stickball yeah.


Brad Gilbert  07:00

So all of these things that whatever I was doing, that’s what I was always trying to figure out how to wait to win.


David Duchovny  07:07

And yet, I’m remembering something you wrote where you said, you’ve made this jump by hitting the ball off the wall for a while, if you could just explain that to me for a moment, because I’ve got this guy who lives for tactics, who lives for, you know, for the win. And yet you make this leap at some point by hitting the ball off the wall.


Brad Gilbert  07:30

So if it wasn’t missing today, I hadn’t gone and hit on the wall. It’s my kid say I have no Zen is problem in my only Zen now. Playing some imaginary tournament, playing some imaginary player on the wall is a great way to expand, you know how you think and how you deal with pressure. So something I just did. And I probably didn’t realize how it kind of made me a better player made me more relaxed, and and probably took away my fears.


David Duchovny  08:05

Can you tell me why or how?


Brad Gilbert  08:07

Because, you know, like, in your dreams, they’re always usually positive. But like when I’m playing somebody, that imaginary player on the wall, I never imagined I was fucking lose it. You know, it’s, it’s a good result. And probably the thing that probably made my game made the biggest leap when I was 18, I was at a junior college called Foothill Junior College. And I couldn’t believe all of my teammates, were thinking about all the negativity in the result on Tuesday, when the matches about Friday, if I lose this match, or if I win this match, or, you know, what coach is going to say about me, and it was all of these things that basically bring yourself down, and you worry yourself, and what the coach is going to think about you if you lose, and it was like, I didn’t have those feelings. I would literally think about, okay, when I play this guy, and a couple of days, I’m going to think about tactics right away, right before I go out there and figure out certainly my best way to navigate through his match. I certainly wouldn’t be shitting myself on Tuesday for a match Friday, and wouldn’t worry about the result. I’m going to think about what I can do, what my strengths to my opponent’s weakness could manifest are what my opponents trying to do to me. And I’m gonna make that work for my advantage.


David Duchovny  09:36

Right? Well, you know, the wall has no weakness. So it was good that you were playing the wall, the wall, the wall never misses.


Brad Gilbert  09:44

No, no, I promise you. The wall has great discipline. You know, it’s like that acting coach that probably you know is not going to lighten up on you. And so it’s the same it’s like you just no matter what it comes back, but in your mind if you’re playing an opponent, you can just do it like my friend Chris Mullen, who I’ve known for a long time, said, when I told him the story about the wall, he would tell me about the story of himself, shooting free throws by himself playing that game against another team. And I think it takes a lot of discipline to do one on one like that, that you can actually play this game in your mind against an opponent, when there really isn’t an opponent there.


David Duchovny  10:34

When you’re when you’re playing, and you get to number four, but you’re you’re feeling like, I’m not as good as macro or I never will be or what is what is that feeling like?


Brad Gilbert  10:47

Honestly, it’s like shit, the dudes in front of me were Becker and Berglund, and only Lendl was older than me, Becker were much younger. My serve needed to be better, I probably needed to be a little more aggressive and fearless. Where I think under pressure, I was a little too conservative. I was way too conservative, you know, I hated missing I hated taking risk. And that probably took me as far as I was going to go. And I didn’t think by any means that I was a failure. I mean, literally, when I turned pro, I just hoped I could make a little bit of dough and have a good time. You know, it’s like, not everybody can have lead role. I have been plenty happy. Being Ned Beatty, you know, I’ve been happy. You know, being a great character actor, you know? And we all dream of being that, but maybe my skill set wasn’t quite that level.


David Duchovny  11:51

Yeah, that’s probably, I’m gonna guess a lifetime of, of work that you’ve been doing in that area. Some people are gifted, just naturally, they’re, I think they’re born resilient. And you have kids, I have kids, you can see the kind of one child has that gene, that resilient gene more than another or not, but if you don’t have it, and if it’s something that you have to, you know, deal with loss a lot like an athlete does, then you have to grow that part of yourself.


Brad Gilbert  12:22

Well, first of all, my coach told me when I turned pro, that in a 32 draw, every week, there’s 31 losers. Losing doesn’t define you. It’s how you deal with each situation and how you learn to move forward. And a lot of times, a few losses can break players especially can break young players, and you got to be resilient and you got to be willing to understand that tomorrow the sun will will rise and you have to rise with it.


David Duchovny  13:21

You coached some of the greats Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Andre Agassi, now Coco Gauff. And you said that you take losses as a coach harder than as a player, which I find interesting. Can you can you give me an example of that of taking a loss harder as a coach than as a player?


Brad Gilbert  13:37

Yeah, as a coach got I got a bunch. I mean, but I can give you a few of them that just jumped out right away. Andre when I was coaching Andre to brutal ones, the 95 US Open. He had won 126 consecutive matches, had the most amazing summer and then goes out and just he was a little bit flat in that morning, you know, playing Pete Sampras in the finals of the 95 open I could tell and lost that Matt seven, five and a fourth. I felt like someone had taken a knife and stabbed me. Then one other one, hust a brutal brutal beat two was the 2001 US Open quarterfinals for tiebreakers. I felt like Andre at that moment was the better player. I felt like if Eddie won that match he was for sure gonna win the US Open. And once again, Pete played an unbelievable match. No breaks the entire match. And it came down to the smallest margins and I felt like maybe after that one that was as good as I ever was about any match because I just I felt heartbroken for Andre, and it came down to a few points and the I still think about that match. It’s like you know, it still gets me.


David Duchovny  15:03

It’s on a loop. There’s something I found incredible that you said about Andre, and I’m paraphrasing here. So if I get it wrong, please correct me. It seemed to you that he was trying to be the best player in the world every time he walked out there instead of just beating whoever he needed to beat on the other side of the net. And that’s a that’s a profound kind of a realization on your part and a profound gift. I think that you gave him ultimately, and I an amazing bit of not just coaching, but of philosophy in general, and I’m wondering how you came to that. It’s such a brilliant kind of observation. Had you seen it before and other players that you’ve seen it yourself?


Brad Gilbert  15:44

Well, first of all, I couldn’t fucking believe Andre, lost me four times, because he was way better than me. Andre battles perfection. And that’s partly because of no matter what he did. His dad was tough on him, it can always be better. And he was never satisfied with beating somebody 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 it could always be way better. And I told him, the pursuit of perfection doesn’t exist and only makes you miserable, chasing something that you’re not going to find. And you only need to be with your skill set at about 50% of what you can be, if you’re 95% of mentally, where you should be, you win a ton more matches. And you just have to be better than the guy on the other side of the net. But you lose so many matches, trying to be better than you need to be. So if you pull back, don’t let her up the statute, less winners less unforced errors, you are going to lose so much less. And he was blown away that like I could. He’s more like a complicated Ferrari. I’m a Chevy truck, I see things I say. And that was in the summer of 94. We were going through a little bit of a bad stretch. And I told him, all we need to do is when one close match, and everything will kick in for you. And he said, you like to win a close match. I want to win just you know, to win, too. And then sure enough, he was playing Andre was playing this guy, David Wheaton. And he had a one three record against it. But I was really confident on that day that he was going to be fine. So we went over our tactics, as it turned out, David Wheaton I’m watching was playing great. But Andre ended up toughing out Wheaton, like seven, six and a third saved a couple of match points. And it was like 10, a breaker in the third set. Andre was disgusted with himself afterwards, I was so pumped up that I said, you gave yourself an opportunity to compete tomorrow. The most important thing about winning today is now you can get better tomorrow. You you live to see another shot. You know, this is the kind of match you always lose, but you didn’t today. So he was literally ready to like eat, he’s thinking this tournament was over. And in my mind, and it just started, good things will happen. And literally, he did, he got up. And he played better the next day that a second round match won the tournament. And three weeks later, he won the open. And I can tell you now fast forward 30 years, Coco Gauff, shares the exact same issues that Andre did about this whole pursuit of perfection. And she was never satisfied with being good, which led to a lot of losses that she probably didn’t need to have. And it’s more about learning about yourself that you’re good is better than a ton of others. But you just have to accept that and understand that the role can’t be perfect every time. Every take can’t be just spot on. But your interpretation of that is damn good.


David Duchovny  19:34

Yeah, reminds me of a story my dad used to tell me when we would have a catch when I was like three or four and I dropped one. And I explode in anger and frustration and he’d say pick it up. You know, throw it back to me, I’ll throw you another way, you get the next one and I crying I’d say I don’t want the next one, I want that one. The one that I dropped, you know so so there’s all these kind of like, psychological barriers that were born with a man who has because my father said to me, I don’t you as an adult, he said to me, when I was an adult, I don’t know where that came from, you know, that was not something I ever tried to impart to you that you needed to be perfect and catch up, catch every ball. So the fact that you could break through to Andre at that point is career too shows a lot of trust and an opinion you. And I think what when I when I read your stuff, and when I watch your work, you really take joy and other people’s genius, you really take joy in other people’s victories. And I think that’s why somebody like Andre and Marie and Radek, and now Coco are able to trust you.


Brad Gilbert  20:43

Well, you know, there’s no greater joy, David, than trying to help somebody fulfill their dreams. And, David, honestly, when I started coaching I was playing, and all’s I was thinking about was, Andre had so much talent. And I can just help a little bit. And it’s the same when I started with Coco. How am I going to just make her a little bit better because their talent is exceptional, and, and so that’s when you free your own self, and look through their lenses, and how am I going to help Coco manage what she’s doing in the moment, to just get a little bit better, because they’re good, is significantly better than my good. So that’s why I could free myself from that and I love that challenge. And once I started coaching Coco, in Washington last year on the fly, I never got so many Texas, to fix her for him, do this, fix this, and I’m like, in my mind, people don’t realize that like, you can just change somebody’s grip, and change the swing. And my brain was what happens if you did that, and it didn’t work, you’d be 10 times worse off. So you manage with what you got, and help them get better. And that’s how I look at it. I love the challenge of that simplicity. You know, some coaches are guilty, and a lot of sports have always wanting to coach the same way. They might not have the personnel to coach that, you know, team or person that way, but yet they’re fixated. That’s the way they are. Andre had a photographic memory, which shocked me. He has absolute recall. Radek and Coco are very similar and that Radek is a lot like this message is for Mission Impossible, and I’m talking about the one from the 60s that will implode in 10 seconds. So you have to be able to get in and get out quickly. Same with Coco, you know, doesn’t like a long dissertation about it. And that’s the nuance of coaching that just because Andre is like that, and I’m like that doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful for Coco or Andy Roddick, well, it’s also the same for parenting.


David Duchovny  23:18

Well, as far as I’m gonna say, you know, there’s no prototype kid, either. So you’ve got to, you’ve got to define, you’ve got to be malleable with your coaching technique for every for each and every individual kid.


Brad Gilbert  23:29

My youngest, who’s 26, Zoey will tell me sometimes when I’m trying to do that, that bullshit that you do on the coach not working, you got to find another. And she’s right, you know, so each person, whether or not it’s your kid, the person you coach, you have to tap into their strengths, and figure out what makes them tick. And most importantly, the biggest thing that you learn from a player to a coach is I’m not looking through my own lens anymore. I’m looking through their lens and understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and removing my brain from what I would do to what they need to do. That’s the quickest way to understanding how to be a coach and help them sometimes it doesn’t work. Some days doesn’t work. I want so Andre this story. He looked at me like I was fucking nuts. When I was up five, two, and I would always tell myself, I was five to death. So I would just keep pushing and keep driving.


David Duchovny  24:30

And you’re able to believe that.


Brad Gilbert  24:32

Yeah, and Andres, like, are you kidding? Like, there’s a scoreboard everybody knows you can’t tell me that bullshit and you think it’s gonna work? But like, I could actually make myself believe that because maybe I was a little shallow, you know.


David Duchovny  24:48

Shallower but it’s it’s definitely a mental process that you either had access to naturally or you grew it.


Brad Gilbert  24:58

And I think I don’t I don’t know if I had access to it it just just the craziness of myself to believe it. And I think that that’s probably fear more than anything.


David Duchovny  25:11

Well, let’s talk about fear a little bit because that’s what it’s that’s what failure is really all about, it’s, that’s that’s the highlight of failures is fear, right? That’s, that’s where you’re going, and so many all the key is like, how do I, how do I stay loose? How do I not choke? I’ve been told that the unconscious doesn’t know any negatives. So if you say don’t panic, all the unconscious hears his panic. So it’s like, how do you talk to that part of your brain that is starting to seize up. And I’ve seen everybody choke, I’ve seen the greatest choke everybody chokes, there’s no doubt, everybody chokes.


Brad Gilbert  25:51

You’re not human, you’re not human if you don’t.


Brad Gilbert  25:54

But what sets apart greatness is clarity under pressure, that you don’t have an indecision, it might not go well. But things actually slow down for the Michael Jordan’s the Wayne Gretzky’s, the feds and the rafters in a serene as you know, Usain Bolt’s these people that are at this level, but things actually become clearer and they slow down for a lot of people that are really good. Things speed up, and you question your decision making. But when something’s working, that’s what you want to keep doing under pressure.


David Duchovny  25:54



David Duchovny  26:33

That grounds you in the present anyway, it takes your mind off of a possible failure looming, and it’s just what am I going to do on this next point.


Brad Gilbert  26:41



David Duchovny  26:42

Yeah, I mean, well, that, you know, I’ve I’ve seen that you talked about the most important thing is short term memory loss, and that’s a wonderful, wonderful way to look at it but how do we develop that?


Brad Gilbert  26:53

The craziest part is, I used to remember all my results, I think I’ve forgotten them or now because of the internet. You can look things up before you had to remember everything. And so I I’ve forgotten so many of my wins, but for some ridiculous reason, you remember losses.


David Duchovny  27:13

Of course.


Brad Gilbert  27:13

Clearer like they happen yesterday, it’s like, I don’t want to remember the losses. I want to remember like good wins.


David Duchovny  27:20

Right, of course.


Brad Gilbert  27:21

But a gutting loss for Radek, 2000 for Wimbledon. And I was so surprised. He actually wasn’t gutted after the match, he still wanted to go out and celebrate. And I probably was an asshole and said, no, we shouldn’t celebrate tonight, because of you know, we didn’t get to win.


David Duchovny  27:44



Brad Gilbert  27:45

But, and I’m still to this day, probably bitter that I didn’t show up that night, because of, you know what he was, you know, being the bigger person in that moment. That, like it was a hell of a match didn’t get the result. But I’m not going to hide in my room, I’m not going to you know, and I should have been a little bit smarter about that situation, and not been bitter. And I do say short term memory loss as a player, as a coach.


David Duchovny  28:20

As a person.


Brad Gilbert  28:22

Totally, because you can become bitter over them, and it will affect you the next match two weeks later, sometimes one match. Six weeks later, can still be costing you. So I feel like actually I probably ultimately learn from that match. You know, but in that moment, I was a little bit down. Uh, you know, it was I was the Debbie Downer that night. And I remember my son, who is now so 35, he was 15 he was like that we should you know, we should be going to this. And then I think he went and I didn’t go, and it was stupid of me.


David Duchovny  29:30

You talk about acting a couple of times. You mentioned acting and I really appreciate that because I as I said, I wanted to be a pro basketball player that wasn’t gonna have an ice to ice this to watch my hands because my dad would say your hands aren’t big enough, and I’d watch my hands and I’d swear that they were growing because if you watched something long enough to start to vibrate, so I’d say they’re growing, they’re growing. And so that was my dream. But it was clear I wasn’t going anywhere with it. And I kept searching for the intensity of competition. And it was only when I started acting that I found, you know, not so much in the win. But I also love team sports, so I liked the collaboration of acting as well. But it was there that I found, you know, the kind of high wire intensity that I that I always miss, it really acting became a substitution for me for any kind of sporting competition, you know.


Brad Gilbert  30:26

There’s a lot of parallels between an actor and a tennis player and the, the focus, the determination, and the drive. I spent, you know, 2022 working on this movie called Challengers where I was a tennis consultant, and I spent a lot of time with Zendaya. And she has like, drive, you know, similar to like a Coco, you know, which may be, you know, Zendaya prepared me to get ready for Coco. But it’s just a singular focus and been doing it from a young age, and that that’s what your focus is, and everything that you do, you’re trying to do it to improve, to get better. And the willingness to put in the hours is a thing of beauty to see.


David Duchovny  31:13

Right, now, when you’re when you’re coaching Zendaya for that movie, it must be a tough choice, because there’s one way to go about it, which is to try and make her the best tennis player you can make her or you can try to make her look like the best tennis player that you can make her look. How do you go about doing that?


Brad Gilbert  31:34

Well, it was my first foray into doing this. And in a short period of time, it wasn’t like Zendaya had to go from she’d never played. So wasn’t okay, so we had a short period of time, and it wasn’t and she’s supposed to be pro level. So it’s not like we were getting prepared to have like a little hidden giggle that you see in a movie, so my brain just instantly, how are we going to help?


David Duchovny  32:01

How much time do you have?


Brad Gilbert  32:03

We had like three months in Malibu, and LA. And then we had about six weeks in Boston. And then I learned, you know, after Malibu, we were really trying to work on a lot of things. But once we got to Boston, and we knew shooting was, and we got her body double, it was more about preparing. And this is where her acting kicked in, is learning the body movements and the swings of my body double so I can be in sync with her. And she put in the work. And I think that helped her probably a ton an understanding that now I got to choreograph my movements, and my swings towards this particular person opposed to maybe having an idea of a bunch of different, you know, players, and that’s where the acting kind of probably helped her a lot.


David Duchovny  32:57

Yeah, one of the kinds of acting methods that I that I started studying when I when I started acting was the Meisner technique. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that, have you heard of Meisner?


Brad Gilbert  33:07

I have not. But you know, enlighten me.


David Duchovny  33:10

I will enlighten you so I think you’ll like this so that the core of that acting. School is what they call a repetition exercise, which is at its most basic, and they barely explained it to you, they just kind of have you do it, but at its most basic, it’s I say, you’re looking at me, I just noticed something in you, you’re looking at me and you say you’re looking at me back, you just repeat exactly what I say. And so as you’re looking to me, you’re looking at me earlier and immediately can turn into a fight again, turn into love that can turn into tears and laughter, and you see, what you learn immediately is there is no, it doesn’t matter what the words are, because the story is the human emotion underneath it. But what you what we really learn as an actor, and that exercise is it’s all on the the guys on the other side of the net, he’s throwing it back, you throw the ball to him, he throws it back, you hit the ball to him, he hits it back. That’s the entire basis of that acting technique is very much like tennis.


Brad Gilbert  34:12

Well, that’s not dissimilar to the wall.


David Duchovny  34:14

That’s well, you can do the repetition in the mirror. That’s the version of the wall so I can I can get up in the morning. And if I want to, like do an exercise I can, I can go look in the mirror or brush my teeth, so you look like shit. And that’s how it goes immediately.


Brad Gilbert  34:29

All right, I guess I got that, that’s an interesting technique.


David Duchovny  34:34

Yeah, you’ve said that people tennis players, they overestimate their weaknesses or they underestimate their weaknesses. And do you think that that people are generally like that, and that’s one of the one of the ways we can get out of our own way is by being completely honest with ourselves, however, if you’re too honest with yourself, you can talk yourself out of a win as well, right?


Brad Gilbert  34:56

Well, I think that the first what you said is that I do think a ton of tennis players, they think their weakness isn’t a weakness. And I’m a numbers guy, and I’ll say, okay, your justification of how you’re playing this shot is costing you. And one guy that I work with Sam Queer, had to serve in a forehand. And I felt like if he just managed his backhand better, just like left, Jeff didn’t go for the backend, just kept it in play, would maximize his service as for him, but he really believed that the back end was his best shot, which had me flummoxed. So fast forward, like 14 years later doing an event last year in Napa, Sam has retired. He’s playing in this little exhibition with Steve Johnson, and Steve Johnson asked me about why I didn’t do better with Sam. And I told him the story about the backend. And then instantly, Sam picked up like it was 13 years before knows my backhand is my best shot, I don’t know why you said that. And I’m like, Sam, I really, really, really want to tell you your backhand is your best shot, and it’s 13 years later.


David Duchovny  36:29

Right, I mean, as somebody who’s had a lousy backhand his whole life, I just, I go out there, and I want to hit backhands all the time, and I get miserable, because I think it’s suddenly going to get better, but it won’t clearly.


Brad Gilbert  36:42

If you just manage it, David, what do you didn’t play?


David Duchovny  36:45



Brad Gilbert  36:47

Yeah, no, so we can manage your game. And then maybe now your forehand can do more damage.


David Duchovny  36:53



Brad Gilbert  36:53

So that’s what I think about like the, you know, the math of tennis, the numbers, that like, if you manage a weakness, and you magnify the strength, then because a lot of times in a tennis match, you win 6-4, 6-4 for it’s only a five points difference.


David Duchovny  37:10



Brad Gilbert  37:11

So that the margins are small. So if you play the margins, right, you can change things.


David Duchovny  37:17

I keep on thinking that all these lessons are really important, you know, obviously, not just for tennis, but for all of life. And I’m trying to translate them on the fly, and I’m not doing a very good job. But I think I think they’ll settle in. And I think, you know, I think you know this because I think in your book, you say lessons from the court to the to the boardroom or whatever. So I think you know, that you have wisdom to impart that goes beyond the tennis court. My coach, Coach Burns, he was my basketball coach in high school. And he, he taught me it was alright to care. That’s what he taught me, you know, he taught me was all right, to hate losing and to care about the game and to care about, you know, to respect myself out there, and a play, play as hard as I really felt like winning, you know, and to care about losing.


Brad Gilbert  38:10

That’s beautiful.


David Duchovny  38:11

Not to hate losing, but to care to cry after a loss. Like we cried after loss, not all the time, but a specific one. And how beautiful is that? Like, here I am, like, you know, super cool, long haired, blase high school student crying about a stupid basketball game. But that’s a beautiful thing, because if we can attach to moments like that in life, I think we, that’s the wind, the wind is carrying.


Brad Gilbert  38:38

Ya know, and to what you just said, probably still to this day, 20 years on that I was fucking stupid and didn’t go out that night with Andy, and because I cared so much. I care that it killed me for him that he didn’t get that and he never won, you know, any last any last in 2005. He lost again in 2009. But I can’t so much for but in that moment, that’s the way he needed to process it. And I should have shared that moment with him to let him process it that way.


David Duchovny  39:16

That’s amazing, I’m, I want to thank you for for having this conversation with me. It’s been really enlightening. And I keep on I keep on butting up against my own, you know, memories and, you know, as an athlete and, and, you know, listening to you remember the losses, I remember the losses too man, and they weren’t as significant as yours. They weren’t on a big stage, but they were losses.


Brad Gilbert  39:44

Yeah, totally.


David Duchovny  39:46

Yeah, all right, man, well, I’ll see you in NLA.


Brad Gilbert  39:49

Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.


David Duchovny  40:06

Okay, this can be dangerous because I’m waking up the morning after talking to Brad Gilbert, and just getting down my thoughts before coffee. That’s the dangerous part. So what I got from him in a way, it’s kind of what I was hoping to get, and more, because he takes a very practical approach to dealing with fear, fear of failure, what we call choking, when we move in sports, when we talk about that thing, we can choke in life. You know, it just isn’t as this intensified moment, this clarified moment where we confront ourselves and our inability to rise to the moment or our fear of rising to the moment, so Brad got this muscular approach to choking. And you know, he keeps coming back to tactics, tactics, tactics, tactics, which is kind of its that’s the zen of his approach. Because it grounds you in the moment all right, so you’re like, oh my God, if I lose this game, if I lose this match, then you know, then I don’t make the money that I lose the house and my my wife and kids leave me and then I die in the gutter, you know? Yeah, and that’s, that’s how my mind goes. And that’s how I think many minds go and Brad would be there too, focus you on the now to keep your feet moving. I mean, literally rattle say think of your feet, you know, stay on your toes. See ball hit ball, you know, bring it back down to just simple right action, correct action. And there’s a lot to be said for that.


CREDITS  42:14

There’s more Fail Better with Lemonada premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like more of my behind the scenes thoughts on this episode. Subscribe now and Apple podcasts. Fail Better as a production of Lemonada Media in coordination with King Baby. It is produced by Keegan Zima, Aria Bracci and Donnie Mathias. Our engineers Brian Castillo. Our SVP of weekly is Steve Nelson. Our VP of new content is Rachel Neil. Special thanks to Carl Ackerman, Tom Karpinski and Kate De Lewis, the show’s executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer and me, David Duchovny. The music is also by me and my band, The Lovely Colin Lee, Pat McCusker, Mitch Stewart, Davis, Rowan and Sebastian Modec. Special thanks to Brad Davidson. You can find us online at Lemonada media and you can find me @David Duchovny. You know what it means when I say @David Duchovny. Follow Fail Better wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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