Rising to challenges day in and day out is part of being a professional athlete. Whether it’s rising to meet the challenge of competition, training, finding sponsorship, managing an injury or any number of things that spring up while travelling on the circuit. If you can’t rise to the challenge, you can’t win. Having a strong mindset is everything in sport and without it, it is impossible to succeed.
Inspired by Adversity:
I have been most interested in my life in people who are able to overcome serious adversity in their lives and I love learning about how they did it. It’s something that I am passionate about outside tennis and I have always been inspired by people in all areas of life who can overcome the odds, break through their own personal barriers and achieve their dreams. There’s nothing better than that tingling sensation that runs down your spine when you witness something inspirational, something that ‘touches a chord’ as they say. I guess I have committed my life to tennis so that I can try to experience those type of moments for myself and to share them with those who help and support me. Most of the time we acknowledge famous sports stars for their achievements as they are seen regularly on television but there are people fighting everyday and winning their own personal battle that are not always seen by the masses. There are everyday heroes living all around us. For example, I have a friend who recently spoke publicly along with Christos Kyrgios about a medical condition he has called Alopecia. I was truly inspired by the courage he showed in doing this. He’s only 15 years old, had lost all of his hair and was probably feeling a little embarrassed about it. It’s something not to be embarrassed about and I am so happy and proud to see him speak up. That shows real strength and character. I really believe it is important to congratulate people who show this type of courage as it gives other people a reason to display courage in their lives too. I, for one, am inspired by it.
I’ve hit a small bump in the road on my own journey and recently had to have arthroscopic surgery to my knee in order to get back playing pain-free. My knee had gradually been getting worse over the past few months and it was hindering my performances so I decided to take a step back and sort it out. The timing hasn’t been ideal but the decision is the right one. It’s just another challenge to overcome and I see it as an opportunity to catch up on life away from the tour. I’m using the time off to seek sponsorship for the upcoming 12 months and I have written to a number of companies, businessmen and people I believe could be of help. Apart from that, I’m just doing my basic leg exercises, reading and trying to keep learning. It’s really tough not to be competing at this time of the year but I know I will come back hungrier and stronger than ever. Luckily, I am on the mend now and should be back on the tennis court in a few weeks. It’s hard to say exactly when I will be back playing tournaments as it depends on how quickly everything heals but I will keep you updated on my Facebook and Twitter pages.
Dealing with Injuries:
Up until this injury, I’ve done a good job over the last few years remaining injury free by being diligent with my warm ups, corrective exercises, recovery routines, stretching routines etc however I remember there was a time back in college in the U.S. where I would get injured almost every week -severe back spasms, twisted ankles, wrist inflammation, shoulder impingement, hip pain, adductor strains, patellar tendinitis. You name it, I had it.
When you are on a scholarship and playing for a team, there is pressure to perform but I felt that there was a macho mentality present in terms of ‘playing through the pain’ and we were meant to take pride in constantly playing through injury. I soon realised that it is more idiotic than anything to constantly push through pain and make things worse. Of course there is a time and a place to play through pain (muscle aches, cramps, competitive matches) but it makes no sense to force your body through an injury all the time, in practice and in matches. The pain will only reoccur and get worse and you will be left with something very serious. Believe me, I’ve done this a few times before and I specifically remember not being able to play tennis for almost 18 months in 2005/2006 when I suffered a stress fracture to my hand. It all developed from overuse, not training smartly and not listening to my body. If there is any advice I would give to juniors coming up, I would say ”Listen to your body” and trust your own feelings. I never really had a problem with putting in hard work back then and if anything, I needed to be pulled back from training rather than going for more. I fully believe in pushing the body and training very hard but there’s no point in doing that if you’ll be injured half the time. It’s about finding the right balance.
I Googled ”Resilience” recently and this is what came up;
Psychological resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity. Stress and adversity can come in the shape of family or relationship problems, health problems, or workplace and financial worries, among others.
I think there are many attributes that go into making someone great at something and I believe resilience is at the top of the list. For years, I’ve drawn inspiration from books, movies, poems, music, documentaries and conversations with people from all over the world who’ve faced seemingly impossible situations but have succeeded due to their resilience, determination and positive spirit. I recently watched a documentary on Arthur Ashe called “More Than A Champion” and was so inspired to learn about what he had come through and all the adversity that was put in his way. So much of his success came down to his resilience and his refusal to give up on his vision. It could have been so easy for him to see himself as a victim of discrimination and live a life fuelled by resentment or anger but he didn’t. He chose to live gracefully, fight for what he believed it and remain resilient no matter what. I highly recommend watching it.
I guess I’m a big fan of these type of stories on resilience as I know I can learn from them and apply some of the lessons to my own life. There are lessons to learn in everything and we can all learn important lessons from each other, whether the experience is positive or negative. If you are looking for some inspirational documentaries and stories, check out ESPN’s 30 for 30. It’s a collection of documentary films that highlights important events and important people in sports down through the years and has some really interesting and inspiring stories.
I enjoy hearing stories of this nature and I believe they should be shared in schools and in coaching programmes from a young age, along with the right tools and techniques that can help shape/move someone’s life in a positive direction. There is a lot emphasis put on getting the right grades in school or developing the right strokes in tennis but how much emphasis is being put on building character and living with the right values? How much emphasis is being put on developing a winner’s mindset for life and for tennis?
I regularly see junior tennis players with great ability and technique but lacking any real mental qualities in terms of positive attitude, focus, desire, resilience etc. I often think the player would get better quicker if he spent at least 50% of the tennis session sitting down and learning about ways to become mentally tougher and the other 50% of the session on practicing his tennis skills.
What books, movies, music, poems, documentaries have inspired you and why?
Excellent Post (as usual). You embody resilience yourself. Rest, recuperate and come back swinging.
James, get well fast. I hope to see you at the Knoxville challenger in early November. A little time off now will be beneficial in the long run.
Great to read your recent post. I often think of you and hope your knee heels fully and that you will be back on tour soon! I believe everything that happens in our lives is for a reason and that during this time off something new and unexpectedly good may come in to your life.
Last year I broke one of my fingers in five places ( third finger left hand) by getting it caught in our dogs collar. The tendons got stuck to the fracture and I had to have surgery. I could do very little for five months except read!
After being out of action for so long I felt very weak and asked Cian could he recommend a trainer to me. He put me in touch with John Gray, a great guy from the Irish Strength Institute and I started training last September. It has been life changing for me.
John took a very holistic approach and taught me about the importance of eating correctly, getting the proper amount of rest and how to train.
After a month, I set my goal to get selected for the Irish Seniors team playing the World team championships in La Baule in June this year. I made it to the team and it’s been one of the highlights of my life. After not playing at all competitively for over ten years I am fitter and enjoying tennis more than ever.
I lost 10% of body fat and have built up a lot of muscle. I have always been interested in sports phycology as it is key to success in sport. I saw an interesting poster recently. ‘The difference between the Impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination’
You have always shown great determination. Perhaps you will follow a path in sports phycology when you’re playing career is over.
I have been expanding Tennis4kids over the past few year, getting lots of new kids into the game each year. The bigger the base here, the more chance we have of developing and producing world class players.
Stay in touch and keep the flag flying! You are great.
Say ‘Hi’ to your mom and dad for me.
Hi James~ That is a very inspiring post you shared on resilience. You are a great inspiration to those around you and all your followers. We were hoping to see you at Seascape this year. Now I understand why you aren’t here. Wishing you an amazing recovery and some great sponsors to step forward for you. I know you will come back even stronger and mentally very tough. You are going through a very difficult time right now, but with you our attitude you are a perfect example of resilience. Wishing you many blessings as you recover. May God be with you, reJOYce
Check out the latest video on the challenger @ Seascape. JoyEscapes.com
JOYce Tarter Rideout JoyEscapes.com Joyride@love.com
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James, It’s a pleasure reading your posts. Thanks. The Mandela quote is quite amazing in it’s implications. The chinese word for happy is kai xin. it literally means “open heart.” I think in some way this is what Mandela is speaking to. I read a quote somewhere that said confidence isn’t the belief in a positive outcome but the elimination of doubt and fear. This is how we should live our life and play the game. It looks like you are on that path. If you want to read one of those good overcoming odds stories, there was one on ESPN, the website, yesterday about the former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett. Keep posting please. thanks.
Resilience – a very interesting question risen by someone who is obviously seeking the challenge. To me it is the ability to stay yourself no matter what obstacles are put onto your way by those who are begrudging what you are given. It’s about defending yourself with only a smile. Also it is about taking life’s circumstances as they come. This you can only accomplish if you love yourself and at first forgive yourself if something can’t be reached at once. If you really love what you are doing, knowing it is your destiny and you are thankful for your gifted talents, no loss will break you as long as you are patient and accept your current limitations. Sometimes you as well don’t know what will come your way and how it might changes your expectations. You should stay open for it. You never know how it would affect your mental health if you really had an accident never being able to pursue your destiny e.g.. Not knowing you, I am wishing you all the best for a quick recovery. Take good care and shine on.