“Life Outside the Lines” is a new weekly column in collaboration with one of India’s promising Gen Next player, Mukund Sasikumar. With candid honesty, he shares his thoughts from a player’s perspective.
All of us are stuck in a lock down and we all have a lot of free time and so do I. So I thought I’ll take some inspiration from my dear friend Purav Raja and write something that comes to my mind. Of course, I am not yet as experienced as him in writing, so I’m not choosing a larger subject like the system or how tennis in India works. I just want to stick to something which I have experienced as a player. So PLAYERS vs EXPECTATIONS came to my mind.
What is the toughest opponent somebody can face as a tennis player or in any walk of life for that matter? What stops them from giving 100 percent? EXPECTATIONS. In simple words, it’s nothing but what you put on yourself on top of what the sport puts on you. What will my parents think if I lose this practice set? Will my coach lose believe in me if I lose to somebody ranked lower? What will my friends think if I lose a to guy younger than me and various other thoughts come when you are young and are playing juniors. Then when you come to men’s, the same expectations turn into outcome goals. Something even I would tell myself right now. Some thoughts I had this year was, I want to be top-100 because I feel I am there, I am 23 it’s time I played at the slams, I want to be self-independent financially and sometimes, I want to tell myself if Mukund was in front of me “MAN JUST CHILL AND PLAY TENNIS. IT’S NOT THAT TOUGH IS IT?” Well, the same goes to other thoughts as well. Who cares if your SOMEBODY thinks if you’re a bad player? What’s going to happen if you don’t win the nationals? Does it mean you can’t make it? Well, it’s easy to talk, so let’s come to the fact on how to manage it.
Expectations are going to be there all your life. They say, make the top 100 and your life is sorted. But what about staying there? Do you have any less pressure compared to when you were 250, other than the fact that you make more money? No!! Make top 50 you will be in the main draw in all masters 1000 tournaments, then make 30 you will be seeded in the slams, then top 8 for the ATP masters and so on. So it’s very important to understand that pressure and all the negative emotions are there for every player on the planet and throughout everyone’s playing career. But it’s just some guys manage it better than the others by accepting it’s there. In the end, we all sometimes tend to forget what made us start playing the sport- ranking, money or just the happiness from hitting the ball? So sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it’s just okay to be where you are and enjoy the sport, because whether you want it or not, good and bad thoughts will always come and go, whether u make it big or u don’t. Roger exactly faces the same thing as you, same thing from the sponsors as you, same pressure from parents and the same pressure to defend a title. Sometimes it’s 3000 points in a month. Again I want to clarify something here. Of course, it’s important to make your parents happy, your friends who stayed with you, kith and kin, fans in some cases – but it is all a by-product if you keep doing your job.
For example, your coach asks you to serve and volley the whole match and your dad happens to be there and he doesn’t watch you practice every day and is just there for the match. Of course, he is going to wonder what are you doing if you get murdered serve and volleying. Maybe he is even furious. But that shouldn’t hold you back from doing the game plan, because you are serving and volleying today so you can use it as a skill in the years to come, for one point which can change your life. And 5 years later your dad will be 1000 times happier if you serve and volley on match point and win it. The only pressure you have on a tennis court is doing things that are in your control regardless of the outcome. Anything on top of that is added by you and only YOU and no one is responsible for it. For an average player, expectations become pressure, for a champion it becomes a responsibility. THE WORLD DOESN’T CARE IF YOU ARE A GOOD TENNIS PLAYER OR NOT THEY HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO. PLAY TENNIS FOR YOURSELF.
So now, to end it let’s talk about if we have expectations, what are healthy and unhealthy pressures. Some unhealthy pressures are – I need to defend these points, I cannot lose to him, I need to prove my worth to my parents, I need to make slam qualifiers this year, I have to make this first serve, etc. Some healthy thoughts are – I am not going to beat myself in any match because of any external reasons such as bad calls, personal issues and keep fighting no matter what; I am going to stick to the game plan my coach has given me and believe in the process the whole year in every match; this match means a lot to me, but in the big points I am going to step up and play with a lot of heart and courage; I am going to have positive body language for every point.
So expectations can be turned in responsibilities if you do it the right way and can also be turned in pressure if not managed right. We all love it when we make our loved ones happy. But the first person you need to prove right is the tennis player in you to answer the question “Did I Try And Do All The Things In My Control Today?”. If the answer is yes then you don’t need to satisfy anybody else. But ironically when you don’t care about making anyone happy or even yourself happy and just focus on what you are supposed to focus on, you will end up amazing a lot of people including yourself.
I hope you guys like it and Jai hind.
Stay safe everyone,