In 2003, I was one of the ball kids at the Hopman Cup- a round-robin tennis tournament bringing in tennis players from around the world competing for their country. I’ll never forget the experience I had, meeting the players and getting up close and personal. When Serena Williams played, I had the opportunity to give her and her doubles partner James Blake drinks at each change of ends for one of their matches. One of my fondest memories was when Williams signed my over-sized tennis ball. It stayed with me for more than 16 years.
What’s incredible, is she played at the highest level for the entire time. We can all learn something from Serena Williams and use it to implement in our own lives. Here are four lessons we can learn that helped Serena get to the top and have such great longevity as an athlete.
Your Mindset Determines Your Age
Athletes historically have short-lived careers due to the demands their respected sport has on their bodies. The physical toll in playing consistently for a long period of time can only be sustained for so long. Serena Williams works harder each and every day to stay on top. Williams won the Australian Open in 2017 at age of 36, where just before the tournament found out she was pregnant. Serena was cleared by the doctors to play and didn’t drop a set all tournament. Quite often in life, we place limits on ourselves. If you ever think you’re too old, just think of Serena, and also the fact that the oldest marathon runner was 101 years old.
“I think in life you should work on yourself until the day you die” – Serena Williams
Don’t Lose Focus
At the age of 3, Serena and her family relocated to Compton, California. Surrounded by drugs, gangs, and poverty, Serena and Venus learned how to play tennis on courts with potholes and broken glass. Compton gangs surrounded the tennis courts drinking, dealing drugs, smoking weed and watching the sisters be coached by their father. This kind of distraction helped Serena have laser-like focus, especially during tough matches where she is unmatched in staying strong and being able to find a way to win. One of the life lessons that no matter our environment, we are able to overcome if we don’t lose focus.
“If you can keep playing tennis with someone shooting a gun down the street, that’s concentration” – Serena Williams
Don’t Put Too Much Pressure on Yourself
In 2014, Williams closed in on a record 18 grand slams to overtake a record set by Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Her mindset was to get to the 18 grand slams. The mindset led Williams into a ‘plateau’, repeatedly telling herself that she has to ‘get to 18 grand slams’. Serena’s coach stepped in and asked “Why are you going for 18 grand slams? You should be aiming for 30 or 40”. The stress she was putting on was noticeable on the court. Despite being World Number 1, Serena lost 3 grand slams in a row, later conceding that the pressure she had put on herself was too much. Once Serena relaxed and changed her approach, she went on to win 4 Grand Slams in a row.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take three steps forward” – Serena Williams
Have harmony between aspects of your life. A good work-life balance supports that. Many of us are learning to blend our work in with personal lives effectively. Williams successfully does this by focusing on not working, in addition to her work. Not compromising family time and committing to rest and recovery are a couple of reasons why she is so successful. In an interview with Linkedin, Alexis Ohanian- Williams’ wife and co-founder of Reddit brought to light the dangers of working too much. Ohanian brought to light the ‘hustle culture’ in Silicon Valley and how people ‘boast about workaholism’, calling it unhealthy and counter-productive. There Is such a thing as ‘doing too much’.
“Most of you moms deal with the same thing. Whether stay-at-home or working, finding that balance with kids is a true art. You are the true heroes. I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week – it’s ok–I am, too!!!” – Serena Williams
Williams will go down as one of the best, if not- the best female tennis player of all time. The longevity and hard work she endured throughout her career is something to aspire to. These four life lessons are proof of that.