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The Artful Trader | Series 3 | Episode 3
Learning from your losses
Host Michael McCarthy sits down with Australian tennis legend Pat Rafter, the serve and volley champion. In this interview, Pat talks about his journey to success in overcoming losses, navigating overconfidence and the mental stamina required to maintain his edge over the competition.
Pat Rafter is one of Australia’s most successful tennis players and the nation’s only male to win back-to-back US Open titles. Rafter won fans around the world for his sense of humour and commitment to fair play. Since his retirement, Pat has swapped volleys for property and built an impressive portfolio around Australia.
Pat Rafter: Knowing who you are, brings you confidence and that comes a little bit with age and experience and right now I feel really content with who I am, which makes me a happier person.
Michael: From CMC markets, this is The Artful Trader.
Michael: Hello and welcome to The Artful Trader. I'm Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC markets, Asia Pacific. In our third season we talk to the experts in their own fields to uncover what gives them the confidence to succeed. We uncover confidence, unlocking the secrets behind resilience, preparation and growth and how it can make you a better trader. Today we're speaking to tennis legend Pat Rafter, the serve and volley champion. Rafter wrapped up a career in professional tennis as the only Australian male with back-to-back US open titles. Since his retirement Pat has swapped volleys for property and built an impressive portfolio around Australia.
Michael: First of all, I'd like to thank you very much for joining us for The Artful Trader podcast series.
Pat: Thank you.
Michael: If it's all right with you, I'd like to start at the beginning. You were born in Mount Isa?
Pat: Born in Mount Isa in 1972, and I was the seventh baby born to my mum and dad at that particular time and then she finished off with three more.
Michael: Did coming from a big family make you more competitive, do you think?
Pat: Well now I've got kids of my own, I try to work out what makes a kid or a child his own personality or her personality, and the one thing that I've found is that I just can't, I can't see anything. Sometimes you wonder if environment or parent pressure or whatever it might be could create that type of competitiveness. I certainly was competitive with my older brothers, not so much with my sisters, but I sometimes look at my son and who played a little bit of tennis and I stopped him playing it because I just felt that he was not playing it for the right reasons. And if I was one of those really, really pushy parents, it would've been interesting to see what would have happened to him. I know he would have hated me, not to say that he loves me anyway. He's 17 years old. I sometimes wonder about that dynamic.
Michael: So Pat it's a long way from the bitumen courts of Mount Isa to Flushing Meadows. When did you know, was there a time when you thought, I'm going to aim as high as I can?
Pat: Yeah, I mean there was no defining moment when I said to myself or anyone around me that I'm going to be a really successful tennis player. I was always going to be a tennis player. I just didn't know how successful I was going to be. And my friends laugh a lot because I grew up with a lot of, you know, Australian players, tennis players. Some carried on with tennis and a lot didn't. And we sit down and have a beer now and they'll just laugh. Just go I can't believe you were as good as you were because you were so crap as a junior.
Michael: That's what friends are for hey?
Pat: Exactly right.
Michael: So there are a number of phrases that are associated with you and your achievement. You've just mentioned one of them about being the best version of yourself. A couple of others I've heard attributed to you, and correct me if I'm wrong, work harder than anyone else.
Pat: Yeah. That was something that I came up with. I used to look across at other players at training and I would see what they're doing and go, nah, I'm going to train harder than them and I'm going to do an extra five minutes and then I'd get on the court and I'd do that. Or if I was in a gym, I would stop at, you know, maybe 40 minutes on the bike going hard and go no, no, do five more minutes because that other person's not doing that. And that was something I did for a long time, I would say for 10 years. And it really held me in good stead because mentally it also helped not just with my game, but when you get in those tough situations, you know, you'd done that extra little bit than the next person, and I needed that for me.
Michael: Right. So the hard work gave you the confidence when you needed it.
Pat: Yeah, exactly mate. And I drew on it, and some people don't need to draw on that, but for me, I needed something extra.
Michael: What were the mental obstacles that you had to overcome to reach the success that you did?
Pat: Probably belief would be the first thing that comes to mind. I never sat down and thought that I was going, I was the best, or I was going to be the best or I was going to be even a tennis player. So to actually think that I could be one was very difficult and that came through results. So I needed to have success for me to start believing. And that comes through hard work. I wasn't afraid to take chances. When I was coming through I guess my game by nature was pretty chancy in the way that it was a serve volley game. It was a high-risk game, coming in, putting pressure, but as I got better at it, I realised it wasn't actually a high-risk game because the numbers were on my side. The more I came in, the more points I was winning than losing. So it actually started becoming statistically good for me to come to the net.
Michael: Did you suffer from nerves before big matches?
Pat: Yeah, but as I got into the match, I was okay and towards the end of my career I suffered with nerves and making big decisions and actually backing myself. And I was still only 28 years old, but I knew mentally that I was finished because I had some bad injuries, but I got everything out of the game that I could, that I believed in, that I believed I could achieve. Yeah could I have gotten more, maybe, I don't know. I realized that once at a stage that tennis wasn't what life was about and I made a mental note to myself that it's time to move on. And so when I was 27, 28, I wanted to live life, live, have a family, just be a normal sort of Aussie I guess, just get back to what is life all about and tennis wasn't it. I was chasing a ball, getting upset, getting uptight. So I'd already sort of tapped out mentally and I'm glad I got out when I did.
Michael: I mean tennis is a game where there's a clear winner and a clear loser and you had some astounding victories, but you also had somewhat to an outsider appeared to be demoralizing losses. How did you bounce back from those?
Pat: Well, that's the game with tennis, its win and loss, and those demoralizing losses weren't demoralizing when I was 15 and 16. They were demoralizing when I was maybe at the top of my game. But I could always put that back into that compartment that I was just happy to be there, I guess, and I never thought I'd be here anyway. So let's put things in perspective all the time and go back to when I was that journeyman trying to learn the craft of the game. So what was a big setback for me was when I lost consistently for a month or two and couldn't get through and lost all my confidence. You know, getting through first, second rounds. That was really tricky. But I always knew that if I worked hard and trained really hard that those losses would eventually turn around and they always did. So when I did have those losses, it was not working hard enough.
Michael: Pat as a professional trader, I've been lucky enough to also manage in trading teams and there's many different paths to success in trading as I imagine there is in tennis. But the one factor we'd look for when we're hiring traders was determination, because we could teach people almost anything else. What does determination mean to you?
Pat: Probably it epitomizes someone like Lleyton Hewitt, you know, in terms of determination, he just never ever gave up. I mean that to me is determination, is never giving in when things are going tough, you're going to dig in a little bit harder. Everyone has a cracking point. I never saw that in Lleyton. It was so hard to get out. Someone like myself, I’d cracked a little bit earlier, but determination and wanting that will and that drive to be the best you can be, yeah, there's no substitute for it. However, in the game of tennis there's also a certain amount of talent and I'm sure it goes through to trading as well to seeing or doing those little things that maybe someone else doesn't do.
Michael: Pat, I want to drill into some key moments in your career. Can you tell me about your most memorable clutch moment? Did it teach you something about yourself?
Pat: It was in 1992 I was traveling through Asia. I was six weeks on the road with my mum who travelled with me. So I'm 300 in the world, I'm not very good and I broke down one time. We were in Tokyo, I think I lost first round of qualifying and we went down to McDonald's to have dinner and she said to me then, you know, she asked obviously how I was feeling, I just broke down and cried and just said, I don't think I'm good enough, I think I'm done. I was 19 years of age and just saying, I feel like I've let you down, I've let the family down and I feel like I'm at a crossroads in my career right now. And mum said to me, you don't owe us anything. You know, you've tried hard. If whatever you want to do with your life, go ahead and do it. So don't ever feel like we have any extra pressure on you. And I felt that pressure, I guess, but that was never put on by them. It was put on by me living up to the expectations of my family or making good all of the sacrifices that my family made for me. So that was a defining moment and I decided just to give it one more go.
Michael: I hesitate to ask you this one, but.
Michael: Can you tell me about your most memorable choke?
Pat: Oh yeah. Wimbledon 2000 against Sampras, that was a beauty.
Pat: So that was a moment when I didn't deal with the pressure very well. I'd come back from shoulder surgery I had at the end of 1999 not knowing how I was ever going to get back into the game because at the time we were a bit unsure if I was going to come back and how I was going to deal with the workload of serving and playing tennis on my shoulder. It just was, just wasn't holding up very well the way I played and the way I served. So I had in the back of my mind, I didn't know how many more chances I was going to have in tennis. So all of a sudden I'm in the semi-finals of Wimbledon and I beat Andre Agassi in a big five set match. I then go in against Sampras, not expecting anything, getting myself in a situation where I'm up a set and I'm up four one and the tiebreaker serving in the second set, knowing that Pete was emotionally a little bit tapped out as well. He was dealing with some type of niggly injury and I thought if I got the set, he's going to go away. And knowing that and feeling that I felt my heart rate go through the roof, I couldn't control it. I subsequently went on to play an okay point, a bit weak and then double faulted the next point to go back to four/three up and then feeling really, really deflated. Somehow I got a return back on Samprasa's serve at four/three at his toes and he proceeded to pop a ball up in the middle of the court. And again, I've got another great opportunity and I've hit the forehand in the bottom of the net. And knowing then I couldn't control my nerves. So, no problems talking about it, but just recounting it now, it certainly brings back one of the, one of those really devastating moments in my career. But at the same time being really fortunate that I was in a final of a Wimbledon as well. I was really appreciative of that. So although there was a big negative, I also felt like I was probably back into the game of tennis as well.
Michael: It sounds like the people around you, your coaches, your support team, are a very important part of the confidence and the achievements that you made?
Pat: Yeah. They've got to put up with a lot of crap because you are a solo athlete. You are doing it all yourself. You do let things affect you. You do get uptight, you do get tense. And if you have a really good support group around you that can understand that and then try and pull you back when it's needed to. And I had my family around, Tony Roach who was working with the Davis Cup at that time was also around at times to help pull me back into line. They were really important people to help shape my career. So, but at the same time, they also weren't people that allowed me to behave and misbehave or do anything like that. However, I'm 25 years old, 26, whatever by that stage. I'd sort of grown out of that sort of behaviour anyway.
Michael: Right, it was down to you by that time?
Pat: Yeah, it is. And when you're on the court as well, I like to work things out myself and a lot happens now in the game of tennis. The coaching set up is that the coach does a lot for the player. We were brought up where you have one coach amongst eight kids. So within that you're not being told what to do, you actually have to go out and work things, there's a lot of trial and error and you have to have a lot of downs. And that's a great thing about tennis is that you get, when you make a mistake, you get hit pretty hard with it and you have to learn very, very quickly and I'm sure that would apply to trading as well. You make calls and you've got to pull back really quickly. Obviously the consequences in trading are a bit different because you can lose a lot of money for you and someone else, but in tennis you just, you know, you've lost the match. And so in terms of financial there's no big deal, Oh well actually it can be, actually now that I think.
Michael: As a man who made more than $11 million in prize money.
Pat: You know what I mean? Okay. Yeah. Actually no, maybe yeah, if I thought about the money a bit more. But money was never a driving force I guess when I played tennis, it was about being the best I could be and you know, I mean I walked away from the game giving up a lot of money and also throughout my career I gave up a lot of money, not chasing certain tournaments. So yeah, money was never.
Michael: You also gave away, I believe you gave half of one of your US titles, the prize money you gave half of it to the Starlight Foundation?
Pat: Yeah, I was always brought up you know watching my father give money to the communion box at the church all the time and I saw that. You know it's just little things you see as a kid and it sort of helps shape me for who I became. So it was never about having millions and millions and having a boat, plane and all that sort of stuff, oh that'd be nice, but it was about also giving back. So you know the great thing about tennis, and I compare it to a lot of other sports is, you know, like golf's similar, boxing's similar, but when you get into a team environment it's tricky because you can actually be dictated by what happens around you by other people's mistakes. But in tennis you're making those calls and you're living through those calls and you make your own luck and you also make your own bad calls. So for that particular thing I actually quite like tennis because you don't, you're not governed by anyone else's mistakes, they can drag you down or your performance down.
Michael: I know as a trader myself and as a manager of traders, there's two times when traders are in real danger. The first one is obvious. It's after big losses that knocks confidence down and traders have to work hard to recover from that. But the other time they're in real danger is when they've had a run of successes and overconfidence can be financially fatal to traders. It sounds like you've told us already your family did a good job in helping you stay grounded, but were there times in your playing career where over-confidence affected you?
Pat: Yeah, I think so. It generally came up when those little sneaky players who you knew weren't bad, were pretty good, who competed really well, who could just sneak underneath you and grab you when you weren't, when you were least expecting it. Obviously the big players you know what you're going to get, you know it's going to be tough, you've got to make sure you're ready for it. Sometimes complacency yeah can, well most times sort of, yeah will bring you unstuck.
Michael: Your tennis career was brought to a sudden end at 29 because of the shoulder problems we've discussed. Was that a massive blow?
Pat: No, I already knew I was going to stop anyway. I was actually, I couldn't wait to finish. I wanted to move on. I didn't have anything else to prove to myself. There were other people around me that wanted me to keep going because they never wanted me to have unfinished business and they never wanted me to look back at when I'm 30 years old and go, oh, maybe I should have or could have. Not once in my life did I ever look back and say, I wish I kept playing tennis. And that does happen with a lot of athletes who do see it. They look back and they go, ah, or they come back. Come backs don't normally work out too well when you get a bit older. You can do it when you're younger. We saw with Andre Agassi, we even see with Ash Bardy, but they were young. But very difficult to happen when you're older. But for me emotionally, I had moved on. I had a child straight away when I finished. My new life had just began and I didn't really reflect back on my career. And that was a life ago, it felt like I'd had two lives, you know, my business life and now it's time for family.
Michael: Did you know you were going to go to real estate when you left tennis or was it something that you?
Pat: No, no, no, no. These are just investments in deals. My brother does all my investment. He also managed me, his background was accountancy and Steve and I think the same way, you know, he's very conservative and I'm conservative. I only put in what I can afford to lose into a lot of deals. I've worked too hard. I can never make that money again. I've been very fortunate to have a little bit of money put aside that I can live you know a really nice life. It won't be overindulgent but it's great. I think we have an amazing life. So property is just another part of my portfolio I guess that I put money into.
Michael: That's quite a contrast to your tennis playing style. You're a high-risk player.
Pat: Yeah and that's what we talked about a bit before. There's high risk in it, but it's also, it also turned out to be more points won you know, by coming to the net, if you look at statistics.
Michael: So is that about knowing yourself and trusting your strengths?
Pat: Exactly. Exactly right, and I take that through to now in terms of investment. My brother who thinks along the same lines as me, we definitely go into projects that offer, yeah sort of conservative yields, I guess.
Michael: I've mentioned a couple of the sayings associated with you Pat. Another one is don't let setbacks discourage you.
Pat: Yeah. It's just about getting back up again and tennis has a lot of setbacks, life has a lot of setbacks. But everything would be okay if you're willing to go deep and not be afraid of getting your hands dirty. Never been afraid of it and looking within myself and knowing that I've just got to work hard and things will turn around.
Michael: You learned from the pain.
Pat: Yeah. I mean they're things you hear all the time, you learn from your losses and yeah, you do, you don't learn a hell of a lot from your wins.
Michael: Pat that confidence that you brought into play on the court, is it different to the confidence you have now in life and in business?
Pat: Knowing who you are brings you confidence. And that comes a little bit with age and experience, and right now I feel really comfortable with who I am. I was just talking to someone about it the other day. I started feeling really comfortable in my own skin around about mid-thirties. I remember at the end of my tennis career I felt really happy with who I was and then when I started finishing my career, had a couple of kids, I just started feeling where my place was in the world and who I was and who I stood for I guess. You don't ever know that when you're coming up and you're learning, you know, who actually I am deep down, and within that you get a lot of confidence. Well, I do anyway. I feel really content with who I am. Not much really shakes me anymore. Yeah, I mean I get, I get pissed off if someone cuts me off at a set of lights driving or something like that. I do get upset at times, but it just reshaped me I guess of who I am and probably podcasts, and this is the reason why I'm doing this podcast as well. It's the first podcast I've done. I love them. I mean I listen to hours and hours of podcasts and I'm learning so much all the time and its helping shape me again of who I'm going to be and who I'm becoming.
Michael: And it sounds like although you know, you've always apparently aimed high, you expect that there'll be problems along the way.
Pat: Ah gee, if you don't expect there's going to be problems then you're in trouble. I mean right now I'm not aiming very high, but there are going to be issues. Things are going to come up all the time with life, with family, with health. It's a funny thing I have been diagnosed, not diagnosed, but when you do those Myers-Briggs charts and things, I have this thing that shows up, which I'm not overly happy with, but it shows up a lack of empathy. And it's an interesting one because I don't show it in many ways, but in other things I show a lot of empathy. It's an interesting thing, but when it comes to taking ownership, hard work, I have very little empathy for people that aren't willing to do it. If you've got a cold I don't show a lot of empathy. Hopefully a little bit sick you harden up a little bit. Like when things get deep and heavy, I think I start showing a bit more empathy. But I guess what I'm trying to say there is it just helps shape who I am. And again, I sometimes wish I could show a softer side but I don't know, death is going to come to us so I try to live life pretty simply and try to keep things on a pretty even keel. Gee, I got a little deep there I'm sorry. Don't know how that sort of came in to there.
Michael: That's podcast gold Pat. Pat you've been very generous with your time. Thank you very much. Is there any final words you'd like to give us?
Pat: No, I just hope I haven't confused anyone with how I finished the podcast. I'm experimenting now in terms of the way I'm trying to reshape my life and listening to, and being more open to new and wonderful experiences that life is out there. I can't be happier with how I live my life. I love it. I think we live in the most amazing place and I just try to stay grounded as much as I can.
Michael: I'm Michael McCarthy, and you've been listening to The Artful Trader, Confidence Uncovered. Listen to The Artful Trader on your favourite podcast app or theartfultraderpodcast.com. Join us next time.