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Tennis is not for the faint hearted. It’s one of the toughest sports in the world. As an individual you are fully exposed out there on the court, even when playing doubles. No other teammates are coming to back you up or give you a breather. It’s all on you and how you perform in the moment. But it is why tennis offers unique life lessons that other sports can’t. Here’s what it can teach you.
10 life lessons from tennis
Dealing with failure
“Victory or defeat is a part of our daily life and should be accepted as such. I am not too excited when I am doing well nor am I destroyed when it is not going well. I am always in the middle. I am sure that emotional stability is very important in our sport. When I lose, of course, I am negative and sad. But to be honest, I live every day with the feeling that I may lose. I have self-confidence, but defeat is always an option.” ― Rafa Nadal
Failure is tough but the more you face it the easier it becomes to stomach. Tennis is a game built on mistakes. In fact, the majority of points both won and lost in a match are through error. Most players are going to lose as many matches as they win, maybe more. Coping with and accepting failure on the court can help you handle the emotional pressure of failure off the court. You will emerge stronger.
Never giving up
Being a great tennis player is like being great at anything. It's not about being a genius or a once in a generation athlete, it's about not quitting. The best players in the world are not the strongest, fastest or most intelligent. They have a great combination of all those things but most of all they know they have to ride the storm and to be mentally tough. Some big waves may come but if they stay steady and never stop they will make it through to the other side. Sometimes you'll come out on top simply because you refused to give up.
Novak Djokovic is know for his mental toughness. He simply refuses to give up. Here are some of his best comebacks:
Giving your best
If you can accept that failure is possible and have the mentality to never give up, you can truly "give it your best". Even if you have a bad day or don’t feel great you can still try your best in that moment with the resources you have available. Losing is always disappointing but knowing you have given it your all you can sit more comfortably with defeat whether it's on a tennis court or on the campaign trail.
In sport and in life, the more you dedicate yourself, the more effort you put in, the more likely you are to improve, achieve your goals and feel fulfilled. Learning this life skill is crucial to surviving as a successful human in the modern world. Bringing a fierce resolve and committing fully day in and day out will provide a sense of purpose for your tennis and your career.
Building Self Awareness
To become a great tennis player you need to continually analyze your strengths and weaknesses. You have to adjust and evolve your game both during matches and in practice. You need an awareness of your emotions and thought patterns as well as your technique and tactics. You can learn so much about yourself on the tennis court. Understanding how you react to certain situations and capitalise on others can be transferred to every other area of your life.
Developing Mental Adaptability
We already know that mental toughness, fortitude and emotional maturity develop as a player. Another huge component is mental adaptability. Not only do you have to deal with the ever changing emotional highs and lows of a match you also have to adjust to changing tactical situations and the scoreline. The ability to adapt will help you exploit your enemies weaknesses, emphasize your strengths and give you control over your mental state. Essential skills for the game of life.
“I enjoyed the position I was in as a tennis player. I was to blame when I lost. I was to blame when I won. And I really like that because I played soccer a lot too, and I couldn’t stand it when I had to blame it on the goalkeeper.”
― Roger Federer
OK, Roger is joking about the goalie, but the truth is you are on your own out there on the court. There are no team members to blame, you shoulder the responsibility for the outcome. In life, there will be times when you feel very alone and times on the court when you want it to swallow you up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but being responsible for what happens through the choices they make is what leaders do. They are willing to stand up and say "I am accountable". Great businesses go to great lengths to find these sort of people.
The people who have the most success both on and off the court are people who derive genuine joy from their journey. You will lose many matches that will have been thoroughly enjoyable to play, and that’s ok. We often get caught up in winning and losing and forget why we started. Recognizing that we are in a lucky position to have tennis as a pastime is something we can spread across our entire life. Being grateful for what you have goes a long way to creating happiness throughout your life.
The demanding nature of tennis requires competitive excellence. Along with this comes an inevitable emotional rollercoaster. To truly excel in both tennis and life requires you to develop and grow your character to deal with adversity. You will meet so much of it both on and off the court - tennis, like life can be very unfair. Learning to control your emotions rather than having them control you will allow you to reserve your energy for other important tasks.
Below is an excellent post from Patrick Mouratoglou highlighting how much you can show someone about yourself on the court!
Dealing with pressure
Without pressure there is no opportunity. Dealing with the pressure of a tennis match is excellent training for dealing with the pressure of life. Feeling that pressure, accepting it as a privilege and a chance to overcome a difficult situation is a fantastic way for tennis to help you succeed in life. Soak up that pressure.
BONUS: Tennis players live longer
Not only does tennis help your personal growth it also has a number of physical and mental health benefits. A recent study from Denmark, published by Peter Schnohr and colleagues, showed that the exercise, decision-making and social interaction of playing tennis extended life by nearly 10 years. So next time you step on court you can feel good about keeping your body and mind younger.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
― Arnold Schwartzenegger
Many people see failure as the opposite of success, but in fact, failure can be success. How often have you evaluated in repetitive mind numbing detail the matches that you have won? For most people it's rarely or never. When we lose we often think about what we could have done differently and how the outcome would have changed if we had. We learn and grow, that is success. Like Arnold said, your struggles develop your strengths. It is when you go through hardships and setbacks, but decide to continue and move on, that you become stronger. So being successful has nothing much to do with the winning, but is about how you manage to bounce back and not give up when you fall. It's also about keeping a healthy body and mind and making the most of every situation that you have been handed. Using your "life lessons" to your benefit will ensure you keep getting stronger. Tennis not only offers you so many life lessons but it helps keep you mentally and physically strong for the journey. Who needs all of those self help books when all you have to do is step on the court!!