One of the many benefits of lecturing is that one always learns a great deal in the process. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be invited by New York Tennis Magazine to participate in a panel discussion at the New York Tennis. The topic was “Taking Your Game to the Next Level,” and I prepared a talk about the need to have a solid team around you in order to improve. You need a swing coach, fitness trainer and an equipment expert. I added that, as the young athlete moves up the ranks, they inevitably face better competition, which can lead to a breakdown in confidence, often leading them to seek out the services of a competent sport psychologist.
My speech went well enough, but then it was my turn to learn. A tall woman in the audience stood up and asked panelist Lisa Dodson a question. She said, “Hi. I’m a recently retired pro basketball player and I’ve just taken up tennis this year. I have been told I am pretty good already, so I wanted to know what I should do to become a professional tennis player.” Now that’s what I call an audacious question. Lisa responded in a supportive and appropriate manner, but the wonderful confident hopefulness of the questioner was so unusual that the question stayed with me.
The panel was then joined by Dudi Sela, the Israeli tennis star who has played in the Olympics, Davis Cup and has reached 29th in world in the ATP Men’s Singles Rankings. Dudi is not physically imposing, being only 5’9” and 144 lbs. He told the audience about his upbringing, and what stood out to me was that his brother was 13 years older and the family’s first tennis star, having risen to the top 200 in the world.
So, here we had two pro athletes, first the retired basketball player and then the tennis star and they had one thing in common. They both had a legacy behind them which allowed for a true belief in themselves. The ex-basketball player established her own legacy by being an accomplished ball player and so she was able to dream another big dream. Dudi’s legacy was found in the knowledge that his brother was a tennis pro, so why not him too.
I think these two stories touch upon that mysterious question of how a dream to become a professional is born. When that dream of fame and success is ignited, it tends to stay lit. As an example, when Madonna was an unknown twenty-something, she managed to get a spot on the Dick Clark Show. When Dick asked her about her future plans, she proclaimed, “To rule the world.” When Tiger Woods was five-years-old, he put a poster of Jack Nicklaus on his wall and decided right there that he would become more famous than Jack. These two stars had a fire that was ignited by something or someone in their past.
Dudi Sela, the ex-basketball player, Tiger Woods and Madonna all have one other thing in common that is frequently overlooked. They are all extremely hard workers. Before fitness was all the rage, Madonna was working out in the gym six hours a day. Tiger revolutionized golf thanks in large part to his work ethic. Dudi Sela described to the audience how difficult it was to survive on all the small tours in Europe before he hit it big.
David Feldman’s research at Yale is on the development of prodigious talent, and he has pointed out how a family’s legacy is a part of this process of raising the gifted. In the cases under discussion here, we see Dudi’s older brother as the one who established the legacy, which allowed Dudi to believe. Tiger Woods’ dad was a standout baseball star in college. Madonna’s mother was also a dancer. The family history is a key element which allows a young person to begin to dream big dreams. I became the number one player on my college golf team largely because my dad was a fanatical golfer who let me tag along as a kid.
The Academy Award-winning film “La La Land” demonstrates the theme of legacy very well. The girl in the film is played by Emma Stone dreams the impossible dream of becoming a movie star by observing how her aunt had followed her dream to live in Paris.
So determine your own family legacy. If you have a son or daughter who has fallen in love with tennis, you may want to leave your trophies out on the mantle so that they can muse over them. Hang up photos of your successes in your sport or career so your kids notice them. A child’s dream is found in the achievements of their family. Maybe it was a brother’s success on tour, or a mother who gets a doctorate, or a grandfather who won a Bronze Medal in the Olympics back in 1936. Or maybe it’s in your own past triumphs. We pass on legacy from one generation to the next, and this legacy acts like a talisman for the younger members of the clan. It serves to inspire them and push them onward. So make sure you display yours proudly. I promise … your kids are watching.