Beyond the Court: 5 Lessons That Tennis Can Teach Us About Life
The game of tennis offers a surprising amount of lessons that can be applied both on and off the court. It requires us to face our opponent and learn how to respond to unpredictable shots and rapid-fire challenges with precision and grace.
Similar to solo endeavors in life, success in a one-on-one tennis match hinges on a player’s focus, resilience, and confidence; whereas doubles tennis (two-on-two) employs and develops the skills necessary to any healthy partnership, like mutual trust, selflessness and communication.
Even if you don’t play tennis or you’ve never watched the US Open, you can make use of the lessons that both amateur and professional tennis players learn on the court. Read on to learn how you can adopt strategies that define a winning player in tennis to improve your performance at work and in life.
“Sports teaches you character. It teaches you to play by the rules. It teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose. It teaches you about life.”
~ Billie Jean King
These are five of the most important lessons from tennis that can help us find success in all parts of life.
1. Practice matters.
Tennis requires an enormous amount of training. The more time you put in on the court, the stronger your technique becomes. Eventually, muscle memory kicks in, and players slowly build a foundation for their game.
Because it’s both a physical and mental game, it is just as important to work on your fitness as it is to focus on strategy. This is why tennis training involves lessons as well as competitive match play. It’s one thing to hit a forehand from a ball machine. It’s a completely different story to hit a forehand from a challenging opponent when you’re down three games and the pressure is on! Putting yourself out there and playing matches is crucial for building your mental strength.
“In the sports arena, I would say there is nothing like training and preparation. You have to train your mind as much as your body.”
~ Venus Williams, 7 Grand Slam singles wins
The same applies to your daily life. If you have a goal you’re working towards, you have to train for it somehow. You have to get out there and try new things. Challenge yourself. Otherwise, you’ll never get the experience you need to succeed.
Nobody’s first match of the tennis season is at the Australian Open. Those players train for years, moving up the rankings to qualify for that tournament. Similarly, in life, you can’t just sit back and hope a big opportunity falls into your lap. You have to work hard and prepare yourself every single day in order to reach your goals. Then, just as you think “muscle memory” is kicking in, push yourself harder. Never become complacent if you want to make big strides. To succeed in life, you need to train like a professional athlete – with focus, energy, and drive.
2. Endurance is what sets you apart.
Stamina is crucial in tennis. Matches can go on for hours, so physical fatigue and mental exhaustion can encroach. Endurance is imperative to success. Your opponent may have a stronger serve than you, but if you can focus on the match longer than they can, the chance of you winning skyrockets. The “best” player on the court is not necessarily the fastest or the one with perfect ball placement. It’s the one who can stick with it and see the competition to the end.
“Tennis is a mental game. Everyone is fit — everyone hits great forehands and backhands.”
~ Novak Djokovic, No. 1 in the world for Men’s Singles
Endurance is a character trait seen in many successful people across a variety of industries. The people who power through challenges without giving up are often the ones who find a solution. You might have the sharpest business mind on the planet, but if you are starting a company and can’t get through the critiques, investor rejections, late work nights, and all the other tribulations that come with the territory, you may never reach your full potential. Build up endurance, both physically and mentally, so that you can come closer to achieving your dreams.
3. Be confident.
Tennis is a physical sport, but it is also a psychological game. In singles especially, it is easy to psych yourself out. When it’s just you and your opponent on the court, doubt and fear can creep in. For tennis, confidence in your own ability is key. The second a tennis player starts doubting whether or not they can win, they’ve already lost. Many tennis players agree that you have to play the game one point at a time. Let go of the losses and continue moving forward.
“Once you find that peace, that place of peace and quiet, harmony and confidence, that’s when you start playing your best.”
~ Roger Federer, No. 3 in the world for Men’s Singles
In any aspect of life, the same lessons about confidence apply. Don’t dwell on past failures. Learn from them, let them go, and get up and continue on with your life. Don’t sell yourself short. Try not to enter a meeting or an interview thinking you’ve already lost. Walk into every room with the confidence and knowledge that you belong there because you’ve worked hard to get there. If you are confident in yourself, you are more likely to succeed. Confidence, accompanied with hard work and preparation, will allow you to produce your best work.
4. Stay determined.
In tennis, you cannot control the power, the speed, or the endurance of your opponent. You cannot rewind time for a second chance at a previous shot. All you can do is put up your best fight into every point. It comes from an inner determination.
“I don’t have big muscles. I’m not tall. I have power inside. I fight.”
~ Simona Halep, No 1. player in the WTA
Serena Williams, with 23 grand slam titles, exemplifies this perseverance as she makes her return to the top after childbirth, subsequent medical complications, and surgery.
Throughout life, you are going to run into roadblocks. Some come from circumstances beyond your control. Others are outcomes from previous decisions you’ve made. But none of that matters because the only thing you have control over is yourself and how you react to your environment. Determination allows you to focus on goals rather than on potentials for failure. If you are determined to succeed, you stack the odds in your favor.
5. Teamwork is vital.
Many people think of tennis as an individual sport. But even in singles, tennis players have a team of coaches and trainers supporting them with expertise and advice. In doubles tennis, the concept of teamwork is at the very core of the game.
“Whether we’re up or down in a match, we’re always positive. We always bring the good energy, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re doing well.”
~ Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Women’s Doubles champion with Lucie Safarova
Anybody who has played doubles will tell you that it is a completely different game than singles. The strategy is different, the ball placement is unique, and the points are more dynamic. It’s no longer you, the ball, the net, and your opponent. There are four players on the court – two on each side – so expect the unexpected.
As a doubles team, there is a deep level of trust. Chances are, your doubles partner’s strengths will be your weaknesses and vice versa. Partners are meant to balance each other out. A doubles team is built on a strong foundation of communication. That is how partners stay in sync. Trust and communication between teammates is the key to winning.
Whether we’re talking about tennis partners, friends, or business partners, teamwork is vital. It is important to recognize your own strengths/weaknesses and get support from your “team,” however you define that. With clear communication, collaboration can open doors to amazing opportunities. A well-functioning team brings new ideas, solutions, and possibilities. It is often much easier to reach for your dreams when you have a support system every step of the way.
Tennis & Life
Every tennis match is a mini life lesson. It teaches you about hard work and perseverance. It teaches you how to believe in yourself and how to trust your instincts. Through preparation, endurance, confidence, determination, and teamwork, tennis teaches you how to succeed. Frankly, we could all use a few tennis lessons in our life – even if we’ve never set foot on the court.