If I were to ask, “What is the most important trait a tennis player could have,” what would you say? If “discipline” is your response, then you are an astute tennis player! More important than the answer itself is the understanding of why self-discipline is held with such esteem.
If you research player qualities that top college coaches in the country look for when recruiting, you will find a recurring pattern of answers along the lines of “hardworking” and “competitive.” Everyone always shrugs at the slouch who hardly makes an effort and no one wants a quitter on their team, so it makes sense why coaches are always looking for the opposing qualities. That being said, the underlying driving force behind being both hardworking and competitive is, you guessed it … discipline.
It’s a no-brainer that a hardworking player will always be favorable to an indifferent individual who needs to be coaxed and dragged on to court. But it is the discipline of the individual that tells a player to do the hard work even when they don’t want to. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he states the famous “10,000 Hour Rule.” It takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in that particular field. Most people look at that daunting number and give up, meanwhile, there are those disciplined individuals marking down the hours and putting in the work, day-in, day-out.
Some people love “the grind,” the repetitive drills, early morning runs and conditioning, but for everyone else, discipline gets you through the times when you’d rather lay in bed.
It’s a matter of telling yourself that this is what I must do if this is what I want. This is not what you want to do to have it, but what you need to do. Discipline is being able to make that choice.
As for being competitive, what comes to mind is mental toughness. The competitive player is one who never gives up, fights for every point and simply refuses to lose. Players have heard this at least once in their tennis career. In other words, mental toughness is perseverance and the ability to remain resilient, despite setback. This is the category that the on-court stoicism of Roger Federer or the legendary composure of The Ice Man, Bjorn Borg, both fall into. Both champions let nothing get in their way. Players with less discipline may get ruffled with bad line calls or distractions, but these champions are consistently able to control themselves and remain calm, cool and collected when facing match points.
Every tennis player is inevitably going to experience setbacks and failures, but the important lesson to learn is to never give up. That includes no throwing balls, rackets, tantrums or matches. Think of the player you want to be, as well as their behavior when they are not playing points. How do they practice? How do they treat their coaches? How do they act when no one is looking? Making a commitment to yourself that you will emulate a certain player’s good behavior patterns is the first step on your path to success. Making a decision and acting upon it are the first steps to creating habit cues, and habits are what governs how disciplined you become.
Jim Rohn said “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments,” and the idea is not new. Most success stories are ignited by the one action that started the process. They are fueled by the discipline that keeps it going. So, ask yourself who you want to be, and take the first step.