Blog – Ash Barty’s Legacy Of Achievement Thinking

By Dominic Gourley

For many years I’ve admired Ash Barty, not least because she is an exemplary tennis player and sportsperson, but because of the way she presents herself to the wider world and the mindset she approaches the game, and life, are great examples to us all.

As a Culture and Leadership consultant to many corporate clients, I am often challenged by leaders that having a “competitive mindset” and being a “perfectionist” are patterns of thinking and behaviour to aspire to. They cite sports people as their evidence. Ash Barty is my return serve.

The terms “perfectionist” and “competitive” are commonly used when describing athletes pursuing the top of their game – but these thinking styles are self-defeating in that they promote anxiety rather than performance. If you listen to Barty in a post-match interview you can hear a subtle but crucial difference in the way she thinks and approaches life. This style of thinking hasn’t been popularised in the public’s vocabulary, but it really should be. The Psychologist David McClelland described it as ‘Achievement’ thinking.

Listen to Barty’s retirement interview on social media and you can hear it there too. “My happiness wasn’t dependent on the results… success for me is knowing that I’ve given everything I can”. Competitive people only care about winning and losing. Barty’s primary concern is her own standard of performance. There were times where she felt she had not played to the level she was capable of and, even though she won, she wasn’t satisfied. When she did play up to her standards then the results followed. Ultimately, you can’t control the outcome. If you want a successful life, focus on achieving your own standards of excellence not just the result.

In her interview she talked about “challenging herself” and “bringing the best out of herself”. Other players go out there to ‘beat Ash Barty’, Ash goes out there to play great tennis. Focusing on the other person means you’re not focusing on yourself. They say comparison is the thief of joy and after reading a lot of tennis star’s biographies, it’s surprising how many end up hating the game. Ash leaves the game saying “I will never ever stop loving tennis, it will always be a massive part of my life”. If you want a successful life, set and pursue your own goals – not the relative standards or expectations of others.

While tennis is an important part of Ash’s life, it’s only a part. In her interview she talked about “Ash Barty the person, not Ash Barty the Athlete”. When Ash lost in the Australian Open in 2020, people were upset that she wasn’t upset enough about it. In the post-match interview she was accompanied by, and talked about, her newest niece instead doing a mea culpa in front of the cameras. Perfectionist get caught in the belief that ‘they are what they do’ and if they aren’t perfect, they’re nothing. This drives anxiety and pressure, not performance. They work unceasingly to produce flawless results… then beat themselves up because no-one and no-thing can actually be flawless. If you want a successful life, see your profession as a thing you do, not who you are.

There will be some that will pessimistically look at Ash’s decision to retire at the height of her success as throwing in the towel or a fear of never being able to follow-up the achievements she has managed already. However, I believe her when she says she “has so many dreams she wants to chase after”, I’m confident, with the Achievement thinking Ash has, she will go on to be successful wherever she decides to focus her energy next. Winning Wimbledon was just a part of her journey.


About the Author:

Dominic Gourley has been a consultant for Human Synergistics for nearly 8 years, having come originally from a business background within various roles from sales to operations. It was within these roles that Dom discovered the power of constructive culture and leadership for himself. Now his passion is to support others like him, in roles that don’t necessarily have this front-of-mind in order to discover the power and path forward for themselves.

Dominic is also the host of the podcast “Culture Bites”, a down-to-earth, unscripted and off-the-cuff podcast recorded with fun and humour that just happens to underpin our mission of ‘Changing the World – One Organisation at a Time’  with a new and relevant 30-ish minute chapter each week.


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