I am taking the unusual step of writing this blog as if it to a tennis player. The reality is not many tennis players will read this. It will be mainly coaches and parents.. However, if you read this and like it I would appreciate you sharing it with a tennis player who could benefit.
Dear tennis player,
I had never heard of the term destination addiction until I listened to another excellent Tim Lovejoy Podcast last week with Dr Robert Holden on The Secret to Happiness (link below)
The second I heard it I had a strong feeling it applied to you. Destination addiction is essentially the feeling that success is something the future holds. The issue with this is that you are always chasing it and don’t appreciate the joy of what you are doing in the moment. I believe this to be an epidemic in tennis. I spend a lot of time watching tennis players chase their dreams and they look thoroughly miserable for a large chunk of time. I will let you read Robert’s article on it as he says it better.
What I want to write to you about is how this addiction is causing so much sadness in tennis. Ultimate success for many in the tennis world is not just winning, it is reaching some mythical promise land of being at the very top of the game. It may be you are one of those players. It could be you are in the early stages of this and it would be interesting to hear if you are within touching distance of it. In fact it would be interesting to know what you think touching distance is….
It is important I make it very clear to you my opinion on ambition. I am very ambitious, I want to be a high achiever and I want success. I have been in tennis for 33 years and coaching for 26 years and the reality is I feel like I am very much at the start of the journey. I have the benefit of not relying on my athleticism to excel at what I do. However, I am spending more of my time reflecting on how much I wish I was more content with what I have. I look at truly content people and am genuinely jealous of how happy they appear to be just being. Be ambitious, shoot for the stars and do all you can to make your dreams come true but please know that dream is not what will bring you joy. Appreciating the smart and hard work you put in every day, the friends you make, the moments you share with the people who are helping you, the learnings and lifetime of memories created from living a life of purpose is what will ultimately bring you joy and happiness. Is it your purpose to be a tennis player?
In my opinion, when I watch and read about people achieving monumental things in tennis the emotion that seems to radiate from them most is sheer relief. Of course there is a moment of elation but when that moment lapses they look like they are glad it is all over. Perhaps you have experienced this already? Have you ever won a match or an event and simply felt relief?
It is no shock to me see the percentage of current and ex athletes experiencing anxiety and depression rising on a yearly basis. Let’s take the best case scenario. You have a dream of being the best in the world at your sport, you achieve this dream between the age of 25-30, you may retire from your sport, if you are lucky, in your mid-30’s. Let’s say you live until you are 90. You still have 66% of your life left but you achieved your dream in the first third of your life. Is it any wonder many legends of sport can spiral out of control and end up in a very dark place. Reflect on this, are you really happy that you will spend the last 2/3 of your life without a purpose?
I speak a lot about the danger of children (and adults) attaching self worth to their ability to hit a little yellow fuzzy sphere over a net and inside a court. In my opinion self worth should be attached to how you treat others. Just think for a second how different the world would be if I could wave a magic wand and make everyone attach their self worth to how they treated everyone around them. I know, it sounds like one of these crazy comedy films you’d see with Ricky Gervais starring. Think of your training environment, does everyone in your tennis environment truly want the best for everyone? Is everyone helping each other on a daily basis to be the best tennis player they can be? If the answer to this is yes then stick with this environment as it is extremely rare. If the answer is no then all you can do is ensure you want the best for everyone else. Lead by example, be a shepherd not a sheep. There are already too many sheep in the tennis world.
One way I changed my mindset was to have a much larger initial focus on what I truly needed versus what I wanted.
When I focused on what I wanted before appreciating what I needed I lost perspective. I was finding myself becoming bitter about what I didn’t have instead of grateful for what I had. I have an amazing wife, 2 brilliant children, we are all healthy, I have a house bigger than anything I grew up with, we have 2 cars and no debts. I have a great circle of friends from school and from the world of tennis. I have so much to be grateful for and literally nothing to feel bitter about. This gives me the ideal foundation to then think about what I want from life knowing I have everything that I could ever need. If you are to believe and follow Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid it can very easy to remind yourself of what you should be grateful for in your life.
If you are blessed enough to be a competitive tennis player you can be grateful for so much. You most likely have a great roof over your head and more than enough food and drink to not only keep you going but to fuel you for your sport. That is the bottom two tiers of the pyramid covered. You have parents who most likely are going above and beyond to create amazing opportunities for you to learn and experience everything tennis has to offer. Nobody will ever do more for you than your parents so these relationships are to be truly cherished. The next three steps are also very interesting for you to reflect on.
Relationships – fact – it is impossible for you to be a high achiever without the help of other people. You are going to need others to help you reach somewhere near your potential. How you treat others will have a massive impact on your daily life. The reality will be a large percentage of the people you form strong relationships with in tennis are fellow players. Think about that for a second, you are going to forge strong relationships with people who are also trying to be the best tennis player they can be. Yep, you got it, you will help them, they will help you and together you will raise the bar on a daily basis. I know, I know this is a mind blowing concept but it is the truth.
Self-esteem – I’ve mentioned self-worth already. I watched the comedian Mickey Flanagan last night on TV and he said a question he had heard his wife say to her friends ‘are you alright in yourself?’ This is funny to hear as I’ve heard people ask this too and if you think of it literally it is a great question to ask someone. Are you alright in yourself? Are you truly happy with who you are and not what you are. Attaching your self-worth to some superficial label such as ranking or status within tennis will only bring you long-term misery. Embrace who you are and what you can do to help others. They will do the same in return and everyone wins.
Purpose – This is an interesting one because I hear many articulate their purpose is to be a tennis player. Unfortunately I hear this a lot from very young people and my thought when I hear this is ‘I’m sorry but you don’t even know yourself let alone your purpose’. I am not convinced you can know your purpose until you are at least in your late 20’s but I have to state I have no scientific evidence for this. I believe by the time you have lived approximately 10 years as an adult you have a good grasp of who you are and what you may like to do. This is why I believe it to be ludicrous for 17/18 year olds to feel any kind of pressure to choose what they should do with the rest of their lives. So when I hear young children state they want to be a professional tennis player when they grow up I have a little chuckle to myself. Remember, I am ambitious, I want you to realise your dreams and there is plenty of time for that later in your life.
So back to needs versus wants….
If you have a healthy perspective on what you need in your life you will truly appreciate everything you have. From here you have a healthy foundation to then truly choose what you want from life. I 100% subscribe to Dr Robert Holden’s advice in that you should fill your life with what truly brings you joy.
So my plea to you is to carry out a needs analysis first and then think about what you truly want from your life. At the end of the day you only get one shot at your life and I can’t wish anything more for you than to look back at your life and realise you lived a life of happiness.
This is the last blog I will write in 2017. Thank you so much for reading it and following my new journey creating Kris Soutar’s Tennis Journal (I’m still not happy my name is in the title). Creating blogs, vlogs and a podcast show have given me a new lease of creativity and are really helping me reflect on what I want for me and my family.
I wish you a truly happy Christmas and the best year of your life in 2018.