Greg Artzt, friend of Body Helix, joins us on the blog today discussing his top eight lessons learned from spending his life playing competitive sports. Artzt is a former nationally ranked junior, collegiate and professional tennis player. He provides us with great insight into the mind of a champion. Read on to learn about the lessons he learned through his life of playing the sport he loves.
When I was twelve, my parents found me a new tennis coach; a former pro who had recently moved from Romania to New York. I can still recall his very first words, in horribly broken English, “You want fun or be champion?” I didn’t hesitate – I said “Champion.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved sports. I love to compete, and I love to win. But as a kid, I was very short and young for my grade, which was a challenge for a young boy. Fortunately, I did have a few things that I needed: passion, work-ethic, and hand-eye coordination! I loved all sports, especially baseball, but gravitated towards tennis because it gave me the greatest, clearest sense of standing alone and winning. And so I made that my singular goal. When other kids were partying or playing video games, I was outside axing wood in the snow (for my serve) or pushing my coach’s old car up a hill (which, in hindsight, was pretty dangerous). When I lost a tennis match, I would come home and go for a run until it was dark.
Eventually, I became a nationally ranked junior tennis player, captain and top player at Cornell University and played briefly as a traveling professional. Now, I have two kids and I am working with my wife to find our kids’ passions and expose them to sports as well. That’s not because I was a professional athlete, though. As a 37-year-old now, I can look back on my experience of playing tennis – playing at the collegiate level in particular – and realize it was the process, not the goal, that made all the difference in my life.
Here are the Top 8 lessons learned from a life in tennis:
- WORK ETHIC – Work ethic creates confidence which creates results. There are no shortcuts in sports, and there are no shortcuts in life. This one is pretty obvious, and simple: Put in your 10,000 hours.
- REPETITION & THE DETAILS – In our short-attention span culture, focusing on the details and practicing the minutia ad nauseam can be very boring and tiresome. But excellence can only be created with an intense focus on the smallest of things. I would hit forehands cross-court for hours at a time, begging my coach for anything different. In life, try to be great at one or two things, not good at everything.
- LOSING IS IMPORTANT – Learn how to lose. In sports, you are going to miss and you are going to lose. Accept this and appreciate this. How you react when you get knocked down is the most important part of sports and life. This is the first and most critical lesson that children can learn from sports and carry with them in the future.
- ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING –It’s not supposed to be fun 100% of the time. Even if you are playing your favorite sport and you love the game, that doesn’t mean you are always going to want to do it. Even the most fun sport feels like a job when you have to do it every day, for hours on end. I’ve learned it’s the same with work. Even if you are lucky enough to be “following your dream,” and love your job, that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be fun. Learn to accept and appreciate even the least interesting or most annoying parts of your day. Why? Because attitude is the most critical element to your results and your happiness. Complaining is like a weed. Cut it out before it spreads and you can’t get rid of it.
- IT’S NOT EASY – It’s not easy physically or mentally. In college, I remember pulling an all-nighter preparing for a math exam and then running stadium drills in the freezing cold at 6:00 a.m. before tennis practice and a full day of classes. Find pride in the fact that it’s hard. Nothing great in this world comes easy.
- IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT ME – Playing in college, and the team dynamic, taught me all the things I didn’t get from what was a very independent sport for most of my life. I knew how to stand alone and how to accept my wins and losses. But what happens when you have a team relying on you? Those losses struck me harder than anything else. It also gave me a new type of motivation that I had never felt in the past; a responsibility to others, more than just to myself, for a common goal. As an entrepreneur today, I look at my colleagues and investors the same way I looked upon my teammates then.
- IT’S NOT PERFECT – Learn to thrive in uncertain environments. You are going to feel sick, hurt, tired, angry, annoyed, and many other feelings that will make you want to quit, lash out, or worse. I recall hurling myself over two seats in the team bus to attack a teammate that got under my skin. Not my finest moment, but a good lesson in handling conflict, and controlling your emotions. Tennis players are notorious for losing their cool and breaking racquets, and I was no exception. But over time, I learned to control this anger and harness this energy more positively. Conflict is always there, in reality, and in your mind. How you handle this reality could be the greatest challenge you face in sports and in life.
- THINK LONG TERM – Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. From too young an age we focus on short-term results like winning the next match. Think about “pushers.” These are players in tennis that loop the ball over the net, don’t miss, but never go for a winner. Many kids are pushers because it creates short term results, but they are missing the bigger picture. Pushing doesn’t make you a better player because it doesn’t scale and you will never improve unless you take some risks. Be willing to lose or miss short-term with your eye on the bigger prize. Ask yourself, what can you do to really improve, at the possible expense of short-term loss? Make that your goal, and long-term results as your measure, and you will find success in sports and life.