People need friends to thrive. Healthy friendships provide unique rewards to help you grow and to develop as an individual and an athlete. Healthy friendships provide:
• A sense of connectedness to others
• Enhancement of your confidence and self-esteem
• Celebration of your triumphs and good luck
• Fun, laughter and perspective on life
• An honest, refection of yourself (help you see your good and not so good sides)
• Support and reinforcement in the tough times
Me, Myself, I
Professional tennis is an individual, competitive, high intensity sport. Match to match, tournament to tournament; there will be only one winner. In this environment it can seem difficult to develop friendships when your job requires you to fight for the same prize and be positioned on opposite sides of the net.
A player with healthy self-esteem and identity knows that it is possible to work hard and play friendly; to battle it out on the court with intensity and to relax, laugh and share friendship with other players off the court. The skill is to understand that the “competitive tennis you” is a part of you, but not all of you. Remember: You are NOT your job.
Explore and discover all the things you share with other players- there are many potential friends amongst your colleagues. This is a unique time in your life when you have an opportunity to befriend other gifted young women your own age.
“I’m always astounded at the way we automatically look at what divides and separates us.
We never look at what people have in common.” Doris Lessing (novelist)
Don’t Stand too Close to Me
There is a common misconception that you shouldn’t get too close to other players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour; that closeness leads to playing ineffective tennis against someone you know well because:
• They would intimately know your weaknesses and unfairly exploit them OR
• They would learn your training secrets and have an advantage over you.
Any player who has competed in an important match against her sister, doubles partner or best friend will testify that it is possible to win AND to survive AND to remain friends, doubles partners or sisters after the match is over.
The tennis, not the relationship, will ultimately decide the match results.
These (untrue) beliefs may be held by you, or members of your support group. They may be used as reasons not to get to close to your peers (other players). Ultimately this will hurt you; closing off potentially rewarding friendships and social opportunities.
• A favorable support team should encourage you to connect with other people.
• For healthy personal, tennis and business development it is important to have relationships:
• With people your age
• With other tennis players
• With other people outside of your immediate group
• It is neither balanced nor beneficial to spend all your working (tennis and training) and free time with your coach, fitness trainer, partner or parents.
The On-Court Benefits
Being connected with others socially has many benefits, including many that will help your health and on-court performance! In addition to the positive personal benefits that friends provide as outlined earlier, research indicates that:
• People with strong social ties and friendships report fewer illnessess
• Social support enhances recovery from illness
• Social support networks help to reduce stress and faciliate coping skills
• Athletes with good social support systems get fewer injuries and if injured, recover faster
These benefits can have a positive impact on your on-court performance. An athlete with a good network of healthy supportive friends and peers is more likely to:
• Be healthy and able to play her full schedule
• Be calm and will cope better in stressful situations (like at 15-40 down on her serve)
• Recover faster if she does get sick or injured
• Be mentally more resilient and able to bounce back faster after a loss or set-back
• Keep winning and losing in perspective – there are more important things in life than tennis results.
“Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.”
Jesse Owens (legendary African American Olympic Gold medalist Athletics)
There are a number or situations where players may find they feel a little lonely and out of place. Every player experiences some periods of loneliness at some points in their life. Maybe you:
• Are just beginning your career on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour
• Are only one of a very few players form your country or who speak your language
• Have close friends who play on the ITF women’s or the juniors circuit
• Have just decided to travel on your own
• Don’t feel very sociable because you are in a performance slump or are unhappy
• Are so busy with study or other commitments that you have not made time to make new friends
• Spend all your time with your immediate support group
To develop new friendships you need to reach out to connect with others. Friendship will not come to you unless you seek it out. Sometimes this means stepping outside your comfort zone. The rewards of friendship will outweigh your initial awkwardness and fears thousands of times over.
Practice these simple activities; allow friendship to enter and enrich your life and nurture established friendships.
• Smile and say “hello” to others.
• Introduce yourself to a new player, introduce to someone you know.
• Help someone.
• Play doubles.
• Book your own practice court and talk to the players with whom you practice.
• Get involved with PRO-AMs, charity events, sponsor parties and activities.
• Be a part of your Sony Ericsson WTA Tour – learn leadership and life skills; gain friends.
• Be a spokesperson for your favorite charity or cause.
• Ask questions; find out the interests of others.
• Be tolerant, patient and respectful.
• Be passionate about what you do and your enthusiasm will attract other to you.
• Leave the courts if you are done for the day and use your leisure time to do something non-tennis related.
• Find a place to spend time without your usual companions. This allows opportunities for new friendships to grow.
• Ask other players to join you for dinner or a movie or to go downtown.
• Expand your interests; find and participate in activities you like outside of tennis. Other players ma like the same things you do: shopping, reading, movies, study, music, sight seeing, history, pets!
• Be interested in your surroundings: Make time to see or do something new in each city you visit – you will have fun, learn something, gain life experience and collect interesting stories to share!
• Keep in touch with old friends- e-mail, text and phone those friends who are not with you. Send photos.
• Show a friend you care – surprise her/him with a gift, a card, share an important occasion.
Questions? Need more information? Contact a member of the WTA Tour Sport Sciences and Medicine/Professional Development Departments and check Athlete Assistance website http://www.achievesolutions.net/wta
Copyright 2005 by WTA Tour, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Content supplied by Dr. Anne Smith, Psychologist, Winner or Ten Grand Slam Doubles Titles