When I was growing up, everything was always about competing; always about winning. It didn’t matter if I was the quarterback in a neighborhood pickup football game, pretending to be Tom Brady, or playing tennis in the driveway without a net or definitive lines, pretending I was Roger Federer. On that basis, I’ve won hundreds of Super Bowls and more than 50 Grand Slam.
March Madness (the NCAA Basketball tournament) is going on right now. It’s a sharp yearly reminder that anyone can beat anyone. A 15 seed, the equivalent of a 56-60 ranked team, can beat the equivalent of a 4th ranked team in the country. It gives you added energy in practice knowing that you’re training to beat anyone you put your mind to. Tennis, more so than any other sport, is a game when anything can happen on any given day. I’ve lost matches before that I would win ninetimes out of 10, but I’ve also won matches that nobody expected me to win.
The “March Madness Mentality” as some call it, allows an athlete to flush everything out of his/her brain, and compete freely, as if there’s nothing to lose. There’s a select percentage of athletes who are seeded high enough to have the weight on their shoulders of having to win every game or match. That leaves a large pool of athletes hungry for their opportunity to shine and make themselves known. Basketball, soccer, track, tennis, football, you name it, I’ve played them all. I’ve played in basketball games as an underdog and won by 40. That’s the same as everyone thinking you’ll lose a tennis match 6-2, 6-2, and you going out and winning 6-0, 6-0. Funny how that works. Amnesia can be a useful tool.
I’ve been a sports fan my whole life, and I use the lessons I learn watching sports to help my own tennis game. I love using analogies to compare what I watch to how I play; just like Michael Jordan had a jump-shot, elite ball-handling skills, and dozens of signature dunks, I want to have a groundstrokes, slices, a big serve, and great volleys.
At Weil, win or lose, a culture of endless competition has been long established. From a practice match to FIFA soccer on the Playstation, winning isn’t the only thing that matters: the other person also has to lose. In simpler terms, mercy doesn’t exist. It’s that type of competitiveness that emerges when the match score is 3-3 in a college rivalry match with everything on the line, and you’re in the third set of your match. You’re going to be forced to believe in yourself and battle to the end, no matter how things have gone up to that point.
All of this starts in practice. How hard do you train? The March Madness Mentality comes from training so meticulously that there isn’t an ounce of self-doubt. Those hours of training convert to hours of big wins, hours of success off the court, but they produce something far more important: a lifetime of belief.
Believing in yourself is the ultimate victory.