Why We Play and Why We Succeed
by Paul Thomson, Drake Women's Tennis, 26 September 2011
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"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful."
- Albert Schweitzer
Why do we do what we do? Is it the thrill, perhaps the challenge, or maybe it's the reward? I remember the catch phrase "The thrill of victory or the agony of defeat." For many of us, these two elements drive our motivations. We train, condition, practice, eat healthy (at least try to) all in order to walk out onto the field of battle anticipating the thrill of victory. Many times, however, we fall short. If we are true competitors, the agony of defeat should drive us to do more, to go further and train harder for the next challenge.
Coach Thomson with his Drake
courtesy, Drake Athletics
But is this why we truly push ourselves through the pain? Is this the real reason we scrape and fight through the mental fatigue and emotional rollercoaster of sports or even life? For some, perhaps, it is. But I contend that to perform at our best and to experience that ecstasy, it must be simply for the fulfillment of what we do. If we are to be truly rewarded in victory or defeat, it must be solely for the love or passion it brings us.
There are events in life that we do only because we absolutely have to (working to pay bills and to put food on the table, etc.). What I am talking about are the things that we do not out of necessity but out of desire. These are the things that drive us personally.
The same is true for athletes themselves. To be completely successful, they have to first love what they do. Whether it's tennis, golf or football, it must be a passion. Otherwise it becomes a meaningless job. Loving the game means that the winning feels good and the losing hurts. Winning builds confidence, and losing builds true courage. Success in competition is not always measured in wins and losses, but in what those wins and losses do to us. The fulfillment from our love of what we do is a reward in itself.
I had several players who were never as successful as they could have been because they were consumed with the product of winning and not the process of the love of the game. One player in particular was among the hardest-working in training, practice, fitness and preparation that I have ever seen. She wasn't as naturally gifted as others, but she was a decent athlete. During practice, her effort, determination and will were beyond any I have seen. This is where she made up the difference.
When it came to playing matches however, tennis became burdensome and work-like. Her training sessions were intense, productive and passionate. They were exciting for her. But when match day rolled around she downshifted. The fun left and her suffering began.
I finally had to ask her why she was playing. Was it because she wanted to and loved it or because others told her that is what she was supposed to do? Did she think that she is going to let others down regardless of how stellar or poorly she actually performs? Where did these pseudo expectations come from?