How Tennis Has Helped Me to Overcome Life’s Hurdles
The determination to succeed, taking things one step at a time and visualizing your end goal are just three learnings you can take from the court and apply to some of life’s toughest challenges.
I was born with tennis in my genes. Barely a few months old, I was napping on the side of a tennis court listening to my parents playing, so it made sense for them to give me a racket and put me on a court at just three years old. I loved it right away…
Tennis gave me a very specific mindset and one that I apply to any given situation. Today I can even say that it saved my life. In May 2017, at 28 years old, I was diagnosed with a stage III Hodgkin Lymphoma and although the treatment appears to have been successful (with an overall survival rate of 80% over a five-year period), I had to go through six rounds of heavy chemotherapy. Here are just three things I took from the game and applied to my recovery.
1. The determination to win can only come from you
Like with any individual sport, in tennis the responsibility for the win is entirely on you. From training to playing, you are the one who controls what you want to accomplish and make it happen.
After my diagnosis followed a long conversation on what I needed to do in the next months to get better. From explaining the treatment plan to understanding other factors that could affect my recovery, I had a clear understanding of what I needed to do to be cancer-free.
The plan: six rounds of chemotherapy composed of three days treatment, four days of medication at home, one day back for more treatments, followed by two weeks of recovery. For each round, I had to make sure I took my medication, avoided getting sick (my immune system was down which made it harder) and rested enough to let my body recover on time for the next one.
Only I could decide to do everything the right way.
2. Play point-by-point
Growing up, I had multiple coaches who taught me the techniques of tennis, but when it came to mental strength and the more strategic part of the game, I only listened to one person: my dad.
The number one tip I got from him: “play point-by-point”. What he meant was that when you finish a point, you learn from it, move on and get ready for the next. If you spend too much time looking back to the last one, or anticipating the next, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you’re serious about winning, you need to be 100% focused on the now.
So, as always, I applied this to my life and managed the treatment day-by-day. Managing ups and downs but not focusing on the past or the future, rather dealing with ‘the now’: What can I do today to get better? How can I avoid keeping negative patterns? My mom and I set up a schedule around my treatments. This was the base and then we did different tasks every day to keep me busy, motivated and rested, whether that was by taking a walk in the countryside because I couldn’t be around people or simply venting my frustration openly, so it didn’t affect tomorrow.
Every day I figured out how to handle the situation a bit better and I was moving forward. During the ups, I tried to enjoy life and what I was doing as much as possible. During the down days, I took time to make myself feel better so that the next day I was back and ready for battle.
Like in tennis, losing a point doesn’t mean losing the game or the match and the result clearly proves that the methodology works. Results: Julie 6 – Cancer 0.
3. Visualize the big picture
Ask any athlete preparing for a competition and they will all tell you they visualize it before it even starts. This technique is being used more and more and I started doing this for tennis around the age of 12. One day, my brother and I sat down in my house, I closed my eyes and he started to talk to me about winning the match. The more he talked, the more I could see the movements, the shots and the win.
When it came down to battling cancer, I tried this technique too. The goal was clear: “kick cancer’s butt”. I couldn’t connect on an emotional level with this goal, rather I felt I had to tackle it in a more pragmatic way. I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself.
I decided to focus on what makes me happy to find a goal and in the summer of 2018 I focused on a tennis court in my club in Herzogenaurach, clay all over my shoes, my teammates there to support. I am hitting the ball, strong. I am all about attacking, fast movement. The match is a battle, but that last point is mine. I win.
Tennis shaped my life. It made me strong and gave me the right mindset to accomplish what I wanted in life. I’m now 30 and I still live by these three principles and, for as long as I live, I will continue to look at the next steps, taking life day by day.
Of course, I couldn’t have done this without my team: family and friends; and I want to thank them for all their support.
My older brother and I played and really excelled at Soccer, Tennis and Swimming all through our youths. Unfortunately injury broke both our hearts and dreams about pursuing professional sports careers. But we used to go to Nick Bolliteri's (Agassi's old coach) Tennis Academy called ITF here in Johannesburg, South Africa. We literally learnt all three points in the tennis psychology classes. We have both had very successful careers after our sports injuries by basically applying the same thinking in our own lives.
Happy to hear you kicked cancers ass off the court. Total respect :)
Thank you for commenting and sharing your story.
It is always disappointing when dreams are shattered because of injuries.
Since writing this article, a few people shared with me the analogies they found between sport and life. The three written here are only a small portion of how the mindsets coming from sport develop us to be successful.
Sport definitely instills in us powerful values that can be used to succeed in career and life.
This is a really good article and exemplifies your inner and outer beauty as well as strength and determination. There are so many people battling cancer. If they will take your advice, especially “point by point” they may find the same courage and strength that you have found. Blessings to you!
Kelly Bell (AU)
It is great hear from you and thank you for your comment.
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