Throughout my hours spent reading, I have found myself gravitating towards certain kind of books that I really enjoy and feel are more relevant to my life. Some of these books are autobiographies; autobiographies of entrepreneurs, successful people, great and influential human beings, but especially those of peak performers and athletes. Every autobiography I read of a top athlete puts me into their shoes, takes me through their story, and allows me to come back into my own reality with lessons learned and principles planted firmly in my mind.
“The glory is being happy. The glory is not winning here or winning there. The glory is enjoying practicing, enjoy every day, enjoying to work hard, trying to be a better player than before.”
Recently I’ve been really dwelling on tennis superstars, surprisingly to myself. I never thought I could compare the two sports, but tennis and MMA are similar in many more ways than meets the eye. Maybe not the rules or equipment used, but internally (the most important part of the game at top levels) they are near identical. Both are very lonely sports, where the player is by himself in the arena, separated from training partners, coaches, friends, and family. Both require heavy mental preparation. Both are sports where the greatest battle is fought not within eyesight, but inside either athlete, each competing to dominate the other’s will. I have just finished my 4th tennis autobiography on Pete Sampras (Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal, and Brad Gilbert were by first 3) and I wanted to touch upon a few of the connections I have made between all these men. They couldn’t be more different in terms of personality, styles, looks, and even mentalities, but they share common traits that propelled them to the top.
1. “Just decide what it’s gonna be, who you’re gonna be, how you are going to do it.. And from that point, the universe will get out of your way.”
All 4 of the men I have written about above may be worlds different, but they all made a similar decision. Pete Sampras decided he had a gift for tennis and he was going to be successful with it. Andre Agassi had been training tennis against his will since the age of 4 and decided that if this was the only thing he could do, he might as well do it well. Rafael Nadal and Brad Gilbert decided that winning at their game of choice was the most important thing in their lives. These choices may have come from different angles and for different motivations, but the end result was that all 4 decisions meant the same thing – Tennis was a very important part of their lives.
“You know my dad pushed me to believe that I was going to be the best. I just never thought of life without tennis, even looking forward.”
When something is an important part of your life, you dedicate time to it, make sacrifices for it, and focus on improving your results above all else. If you don’t decide, at first, that something is important to you, there will always be an excuse or a way out that will prevent you from achievement. I have written about the importance of commitment before and I believe that commitment starts with a decision. This decision is what gets me up at 7am every morning and keeps me going when fatigue breaks me down. This decision cleans up my diet, dissolves my ego, and lets all other things become distractions and fall to the wayside if MMA is concerned.
2. “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
Some people are born with talent. Others are not. It is as simple as that, but what then? Whether or not you have natural talent is irrelevant in the overall picture for peak performers. The only thing these men and women can allow into their minds is what they can control, and what they can control is the work they do and the skills they build. Even among the greatest athletes in a variety of sports, there are those who are not especially talented right alongside, and sometimes beating, those who were born with innate talent for their chosen art. When success is the goal, talent is an option, hard work is a necessity.
“There’s always a learning curve, where you’ve got to learn what your subject is all about.”
Talent is a double edged sword and can hurt just as much as it can help somebody. Some of the best tennis superstars in the world that I read about were not born with natural talent (namely Brad Gilbert and, to a lesser degree, Andre Agassi), but developed skills that those with talent would not be able to. Others, such as Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal, were a force to be reckoned with right off the bat on the tennis court, but would not have been successful without the same work ethic and dedication to skill that those less talented possessed. Skill is the great equalizer and all 4 of the tennis masters I read about concerned themselves, for the most part, with improving their skills.
3. “Vincit Qui Se Vincit” (He conquers who conquers himself)
All successful people know this truth, but none better than athletes. There is an enemy out there who will stop at nothing to make sure you stress yourself out constantly, choke during the most important moments of your life, and ultimately fail to achieve your dreams. This enemy is yourself. Or more accurately, a part of yourself. Steven Pressfield calls it resistance and it shows up in the form of doubts, fears, insecurities, excuses, and can even be projected externally, but make no mistake, this enemy is 100% internal. All 4 athletes I read about were completely aware of this enemy and did their best to conquer him. This is the reason they succeeded, while others broke apart.
“The difference of great players is at a certain point in a match they raise their level of play and maintain it. Lesser players play great for a set, but then less.”
Andre Agassi was extremely vulnerable to this enemy and would fail countless times due to distractions, insecurities, and external pressure on his shoulders, most notably during the most important games of his early career. It wasn’t until he made a concerted effort to overcome that voice in his head and rise above it that he became a legend. Brad Gilbert realized the importance of getting out of your own way and urged others in his book to let your opponent beat themselves (which happens more often than not). Rafael Nadal had an elaborate ritual beginning the day before his matches to block out and eliminate this hidden enemy. Pete Sampras was probably the most successful of the four at beating out this enemy due to many reasons (most likely his extreme awareness of it) and it shows in his 14 grand slam titles. These 4 men demonstrated a certain truth – before we can conquer our opponents, we must first conquer ourselves and each of these men did this successfully (to different degrees).
“I shall take the heart. For brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”