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Creating Your Own Luck

It's not a rabbit's foot in their pocket. Nor the rituals they go through before a task. It's not a penny on heads or salt over the shoulder. It's simply that their hard work and effort has paid off. Have you ever heard a player scream "this guy is so lucky," or "how lucky can a girl get?" Well in most cases, a person is as lucky as how hard he or she works. These players on the courts and people in life are creating their own luck.

Coach Thomson with his Drake Team
courtesy, Drake Athletics
Luck has a multitude of meanings; two of the most common are fate and fortune. Fate gives a notion of something predestined to happen. It is something that is completely out of our hands. Fortune is something we can create for ourselves through outworking the other guy and making the best decisions in a given circumstance. The Fortune 500 is a prime example of this. Do you really think those companies made it just because of simple dumb luck? Try telling that to Bill Gates or any of Sam Walton's or Henry Ford's heirs.

Sure, there is the lottery ticket winner or the guy that hits 21 at the blackjack table and the kid who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. But the mainstream here and now, the fortunes we gain by putting ourselves in the right position at the right time, comes from making the right choices and doing the right things. It comes from giving ourselves the opportunity for that dumb luck to step in and lend a hand - from out-working the other guy and "earning" our service breaks.

No one is ever entitled to anything without first earning it. This is one of the sad things about society today. So many think they shouldn't have to work for anything anymore. "Oh the government should give that to me." "They aren't paying me enough." "Why does he catch all of the breaks?" "My child should have been seeded higher," "Life's not fair." Guess what, life was not meant to be fair. Life was meant to be a challenge. Life is meant to build character - not give it. The misfortunes we face every day are not punishments. Those misfortunes are opportunities to make us stronger - better people or, on the courts, better players.

I watch matches all of the time where one player seems to catch all of the breaks. But it's usually the player who earns all of the breaks. It is the one that runs every ball down, always recovers, makes the right shot selection and doesn't check-out. This player, this "fortunate son" is the one who creates his own luck. He does this perhaps by nothing more than pushing the other guy to make some bonehead shot or decision on the court. But regardless, it is usually earned.

He hits all of the lines. The ball always clears the net when it ticks the tape and even when you hit the perfect ball it comes back. Is there some magic formula, some hidden trick that you are not seeing? Actually, yes. He is out-working you and knows he has to earn it. More importantly he is willing to earn it. We often don't realize that the harder he works, more times than not the more reckless or sloppier we become trying to overcome it. That player puts himself into the position to catch the breaks where the other guy takes himself out of position.

Recently in a tournament one of my players experienced this. She came inside the baseline and hit a low, dipping ball up the middle of the court. Her opponent - only because she was in great position and had followed her short ball in - was able to get just enough on the ball to hit a high lob back over the net. Both players ended up very close to the net. My player took aim at the overhead, but then she glanced across the net, lost concentration, and pulled back as not to hit her opponent. She dinked the ball over the net right at the hands of the other girl. The ball literally hit the butt end of her racquet and dropped back over the net. That was game point for the other girl. Dumb luck right? Maybe, but only because the other player did all of the right things and was in the right place at the right time.

A player can hit those lines because she is in the position to take and make the shot. She gets to the ball the ticks the net and gets it back over because her recovery was ideal. The points always seem to go her way because he is making the better decisions and working smarter and maybe more efficiently than you are. That's right - smarter. These players are the same people in life that we envy because they seem to catch all of "The Breaks" - they are working hard and smart.

The father of modern business management, Peter Drucker, once said, "There is nothing so useless than doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." In similar terms there is a difference between doing things right and doing the right things. These "lucky dogs" that we envy so much are doing the right things and doing them well.

I very much believe in the Existentialist approach of psychology. It says our lives are shaped by our emotions, actions, responsibilities and thoughts. The hard work and decisions we make are what creates that luck or fortunes for us. We cannot control everything, but we can certainly influence how our tennis games and our lives shape up by the decisions we make and actions we take - and even by how we "respond not react" to those actions and thoughts. Responding to something implies an element of thought or responsibility that is learned and trained. Simply reacting is nothing more than a reflex or impulse action. The irony of it all is that more times than not people around us and sometimes even ourselves only see the luck. We only identify the fortunes and totally blind ourselves towards the effort, exertion and hard work that were put in. Give credit where credit is needed - and take credit only when credit is due.

Are we always going to see or experience that dumb luck or fortunes by busting our tails? No, probably not. But we will never see it if we never bust our tails at all. Being good and being lucky (fortunate) go hand in hand. They are both the results of dedicated effort, hard work and doing the right things.

As for the guy who buys his first lottery ticket ever and wins the Powerball or the guy that hits a length of the floor jump shot to win a million dollars at half time of the NBA game - hey, tip your hat and feel good for them. Then get back to work. Because no one is ever going to make it in life waiting for dumb luck to come around and save the day. I tell my players all of the time, "Good things don't come to those who wait. Good things come to those who work!"

It doesn't matter who you are, you are no more special than the guy on your right who has nothing or the guy on you left who has everything! You, me, and everyone is only entitled to what we have truly worked for and earned. Even then, many times you will not even be able to claim what you feel is yours. Why? It's called life! It's not a magical world where I deserve everything I want - whether I have worked my tail off or not. If you worked hard for you goal and get there, great! Rejoice in it and show grace. Then reset your goals and move on because victory is fleeting. When you don't reach your goals or attain your prize, regroup and come back out swinging. Make it your motivation. Make it your drive to create your own luck. In the end, the lucky ones are the ones who working for it.

Paul Thomson is head coach of women's tennis at Drake University.


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About Paul Thomson

Paul Thomson has spent over 20 years in tennis, with ten years experience in college tennis coaching - the past eight of which have been spent as head coach. He was the 2008-09 SAC Women's College Coach of the year. Thomson, certified through the PTR, has experience as a tour and high school coach and club/academy instructor. He has also worked in grass roots tennis community tennis development. Thomson is currently doing freelance writing and working on his first book.

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