If there is one excuse I have heard way too often, and (shamefully) even used myself on too many occasions it is “Things aren’t perfect. I don’t have the resources, the training, I don’t have the right opportunities.” It’s a valid excuse, if you want to justify not making it.
There are a few people in my life who have looked me straight in the eye and told me I had no excuses. The first were my parents. But more recently it was David Snider, Andrew Dabeka, and Toby Ng. All three are athletes who made it themselves. When I was 18, it was David Snider who first told me that whatever I did have was my strength. So, I didn’t live in the city getting on court all the time: shape my game, learn to run, learn to love pain, become something that no one else could – have a heart and soul grown on the prairies working hard. I took that to heart, and though many days I didn’t live up to my own expectations, the other days I spent barefoot in the grass doing footwork, and when winter hit I learned to run through the snow, dragging tires, running in snow drifts, anything that created that pain that I had learned to love.
Of course, I failed again later on, coming into nationals as the number one seed, I lost focus and beat myself soundly in the quarter finals. A loss that still haunts me.
Then came Toby Ng. His words were not so prairie-like, or harsh. He simply asked what I could have that no one else had. How much of my heart did I leave on court? How much effort did I put into doing things correctly, into learning from those who came before me? How badly did I want it? I was inspired, but lost out first round at the Canada and US Open. Frustrated because I felt I couldn’t keep birds in the court and I couldn’t leave it all on the court if I couldn’t even get into the rallies.
Toby didn’t give up on me, though. I had a chance to hang out and talk to him the rest of the tournament and instead of telling me that because I couldn’t get on court I just couldn’t be at that level, he asked what I could do to fix the problems I had. He asked me a question. “Would I give what it took to get what I needed? Could I take a leap of faith and see where it ended me?” (this should really be in italics, maybe?)
Into this convoluted mix of failure and effort and a desperate need to improve but feeling like I was spinning my wheels, came Andrew Dabeka. He didn’t question my ability, didn’t ask if I had enough heart in me, didn’t help me solve the riddle of the worthwhilness of pouring my soul into a sport when I was barely over average. He was pretty straight forward: if I wanted it bad enough I would put the work in, and the work would pay off, and if I loved it that much, then it pretty much had to be worthwhile. He told me to spend my time wisely, to train smart, and imparted so much wisdom, all of it crucial in my growth as an athlete. But one thing that stuck out to me was his statement about the worth of what I was doing. In a world full of critics it’s easy to doubt what you are doing. Everyone else my age has a degree, they are working jobs, have money, the full kit. Here I am, doing what I love, working my butt off for it, and people ask what I am doing that is worthwhile. Dabeka said it well. “Do you love it? Do you love it enough to get there? Then it’s worth all the effort you put in.”
That’s the inspiration, the people who kept me motivated when sometimes I felt like giving up. But what about the practical level? What do I do every day to make sure I am moving forward?
It’s not easy to come up with a plan to guarantee success. And when you don’t have the resources, it’s even harder to know what will make or break your career. There are a few things I always try to keep in mind. Smart training, greatest opportunity, and what is that one thing that is hindering all other growth?
Smart training- this is a rather broad idea, maybe too broad for a paragraph in a blog post. But the idea is, don’t get injured, and use the resources around you to make sure you use your time efficiently. In the words of Toby Ng “if you only have half hour on court, what would you do?” It’s a pretty simple question with huge ramifications. If you only have half an hour on court would you use it hitting net spins? Most likely not. What is the one thing you need to change right now for the biggest growth in your game? Do that.
Greatest opportunity. This is something that David Snider was really big on. What do you have? You live in the country surrounded by fields and hay bales? Well, then the biggest opportunity is fitness. Find that one thing that is the biggest opportunity where you live, grow and build off of that.
One thing hindering growth – For me at the US and Canadian Open this year there was a glaring flaw in my game – being passive. Why? Where did it come from? Well, the root cause was my moving slowly to the net. I ended up playing a scramble game because I wasn’t coming fast into the net. No matter how much I worked on jumping back to my around-the-head corner for smashing, I wasn’t playing any more aggressively because without taking the net I had no opportunity to attack. This one piece of my game was hindering all the rest of my play. I couldn’t use my height from the back, couldn’t counter attack against weak attack, couldn’t push my opponent out of position. All because of one weakness. Identifying and fixing this allows for other things to grow as well.