Over the past couple of years, I have noticed that a lot of my fellow tennis players against whom I competed are still involved in tennis in some form or another. Either, they are coaching at a university, working for a tennis club or coaching part-time somewhere.
I found this common thread intriguing and wondered why so many tennis players apparently find it difficult to travel a different path in life. Why is it so hard for ex-tennis players to separate themselves from the sport?
Is it a question of identity?
Having immersed oneself in a sport daily for many, many hours over many, many years, it would seem challenging to find another such passion or is it a question of lack of preparation for life after tennis?
Apparently, the sport of tennis does not have a monopoly on this syndrome, as it appears to be the same story with other professionals who regularly call press conferences announcing their retirement only to re-announce shortly afterwards that they are staging a comeback. Sometimes they haven’t even had the time to get rusty.
What is it about sports that an athlete just cannot happily let go?
Michael Jordan is claiming he will be on the court at age 50. Justine Henin has announced her comeback on the heels of the admittedly hugely successful return of Kim Clijsters and let us not even mention the NFL quarterback Brett Favre. In tennis, this predicament does not only affect ex-professionals, but also the very competitive junior who, more often than not, after trying their hardest to make it often at the expense of other things, has come to the realization that they will never play at the U.S. Open. Although many may go on to college and receive a degree, you will more than likely find this college graduate coaching at the local club.
Is it because the love of the game is so great that they need to be involved in it in some way?
Have these tennis players been conditioned to hit a tennis ball every day of their life that they just cannot imagine doing anything else? Perhaps they never stopped to think of the possibility of there actually being life after tennis. Perhaps they did not go to that career fair at their university like the rest of their classmates. Maybe they did not join that Spanish club, student government or debating society. Did they miss that career fair due to athletic responsibilities, or was it that they did not feel there was a need to go? Were they too focused on Saturday’s match instead of thinking about graduation day? Whatever the reason, they did themselves a disservice by not learning which companies were hiring, how to interview effectively, how to write a proper resume or the importance of networking.
Just as you prepare yourself for practice or for that “big match” against your school’s rival, mapping out your life after tennis requires goal setting, planning and hard work. Use all the resources that are available to you. Reach out to academic advisors, inquire about available internships in the summer, and most importantly, find a mentor. Someone who has actually experienced what you are going through is the greatest ally you could have.
Also, get involved in extra curricular activities. You may think that I am crazy to ask you to use the little free time that you have available, but not so. I know that you have tennis practice to attend, classes to sleep through, study hall to show up for and we cannot forget about those all important social outings with your friends to the bar or club using your older brother or sister’s ID (parents disregard this activity please!).
All these things are a part of college life, and as a student-athlete, your plate is even fuller than the regular student. This having been said, it is vital to identify yourself as something more than just a “tennis player.” Most of these extracurricular organizations meet at night, facilitating your schedule, and it will definitely be an added positive on that resume when you are interviewing for jobs that may actually involve a business suit.
The wonderful sport of tennis can help you get into a school and afford you opportunities that you otherwise would not have experienced. It will allow you to stand out from the crowd, keep your body fit and to acquire discipline and determination. Commit to managing your time effectively and to becoming a well-rounded individual. It is okay to have a hobby or to network with non-athletes at your school.
Do not forget that you were someone before you became a tennis player and you will be someone after your career is over. And of course, tennis is a sport that can be recreationally enjoyed throughout one’s life. Becoming a tennis pro is also a fun and fulfilling occupation, but it is always nice to have options.
Find yourself during the journey so as never having to have to ask yourself, “What now?”