When I picked up the tennis game in 2010, I had no idea that it would become a tool to teach my boys business skills. Initially, I became attracted to tennis for the exercise and, of course, the cute clothes. Eventually, I got good enough to be recruited on several United States Tennis Association(USTA) teams. Competing in leagues led to the development of mental aspects of my game. I became intrigued with the sport so much so that I signed up all three of my boys. Since then, my children have played tennis as a positive outlet and hobby. Secretly, I use it to teach them how hard work pays off, how to problem solve, and be a leader. They don’t realize it, but they are learning life skills while struggling to achieve their tennis goals.
Some of the mental toughness traits that transcend the court to life are perseverance, adaptability, leadership, and integrity.
Perseverance/Grit. There’s no getting around this one, no matter what industry you are in- perseverance is an essential component to necessary business skills. When my husband and I opened our first restaurant, Kang’s, we worked 14-hour days, six days a week for two years until we had the restaurant running smoothly. Everyone puts in the grind at different stages of their career.
And tennis players are no different. My middle son, Kobe practices in 40 degree weather to get in his 2–3 hours a day, five days a week. When he works hard in practice and then sees his hard work culminate by winning a hard mental and physical match, it shows him that resiliency pays off. This reinforces that there are no short-cuts in life to achieving your goals.
Adaptability. Every business needs people that can problem-solve sometimes in an instant as in the food industry where problems arise constantly. Also, people that can hear a customer’s issue and patiently resolve it are invaluable. At every level of any business, there are unsung heroes that take ownership of whatever the situation is (instead of saying ‘it’s not my job‘). There are many instances in a day that things just don’t go as expected. One has to learn how to adapt to the ever changing tide.
You could compare a tennis match with the gladiatorial coliseum. Boxers have their corner men with them, but not in tennis. In tennis, you are on your own with several problems — your opponent, the elements, and yourself to solve. Your coach, family, and friends are behind the fence unable to help you. You are all by yourself and must figure things out in a calm, cool manner. Tennis is about accepting what we can control and dealing with it. In tennis, you realize not to focus on those aspects which you have no control over- weather, screaming fans, a bad call, or an upset opponent.
Leadership — Businesses need great leadership. Someone that can see the broader, bigger picture and long-term vision is a gem. They see a shopping mall where others see barren land. They see opportunity where others see despair. Leaders are able to plan and work towards a long-term goal. A great leader isn’t concerned about what others are thinking when they are focused on getting things done. They remain steadfast to their goal and allow adjustments to be made to suit the environment. A good leader sees changes before they happen in the market and responds instantly to keep up with the ever-fluctuating market demand.
Tennis players make numerous tactical and strategical adjustments with long-term goals in mind. They realize that learning proper technique initially will pay dividends in the long run even though it may take longer to master. They understand that building a proper foundation is essential for long-term growth. It doesn’t matter if they need extra practice. Hard work is not an issue. Within a tennis match, competitive tennis players are constantly changing their tactical and strategical game adjusting when the need arises. They remain flexible and adaptable to get to their goal. Tennis players aren’t afraid to change tactics and step out of their comfort zone to win.
Integrity — Most people and businesses prioritize trust. Business relationships with customers, vendors, and partners operate on this essential trait. Anyone would rather do business with a person that is 50 percent skill and 100 percent integrity over 100 percent skill and 50 percent integrity. Yet, integrity is something that is missing in modern-day society.
Tennis is the only major sport where the non-professional competitive player is the referee. You make line calls and score matches with your opponent on integrity alone. Your ethics and moral character are never more on display than when you are playing tennis.
If you want to know if your child will grow up to have grit, be a good problem-solver, or become a leader watch them play a difficult tennis match.
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