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Sorry Pete, But That's No Sacrifice

Chris Lewis

Responding to criticism of being unemotional and boring, Pete Sampras was once quoted as saying: "People have this perception of when I win majors that I don't look very ecstatic."

"By the same token, if you just look at what I have to give up and sacrifice in my daily life to compete at this level, it would be very weird if in my own way I wasn't feeling ecstatic about winning."

While not doubting for a second that ecstatic is how Pete feels when he wins a major, I do question what he has given up in order to become the best, possibly of all time, has been a sacrifice.

As with any athlete's career, the amount of time and effort a professional devotes to his sport is a matter of choice. Those choices are determined by the value the athlete attaches to being successful, to reaching the standards he has set for himself.

For instance, in the case of Sampras, it's been well documented that even as a young boy he held the dream of becoming a top tennis player. This, of course, is not unusual -- most sports begin with such dreams.

As a youngster, between the time switching from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand, Sampras would study videotapes of former Australian great, Rod Laver, hoping one day he would be good enough to emulate him.

Sampras established very early on in life exactly what he wanted for himself, and then proceeded to make choices in his daily life -- choices like watching videos of Laver -- that would take him closer to achieving his long-term goals.

He did so because he knew that that is what would make him happy; that the time spent investing in his future happiness would, he hoped, lead to the ecstasy he now experiences when he wins a major tennis event.

This is why I disagree with Pete when he says that such time has, in some way, involved sacrifice.

For instance, imagine if as a teenager, Pete had said to himself when deciding what to do with his day: "Yeah, I really would love to go to the movies with my friends. I think I'll forget about practising today, and shelve, for the moment, my dream of becoming a top tennis player, along with the happiness that will come with it. "After all, it'll be a whole lot of fun at the movies, and not going would be a real sacrifice.

But would it? Or would going to the movies with friends be the sacrifice?

What, to a person whose ambition is to become the best in the world, is more important -- going to a movie with friends, or spending time perfecting a shot on the practice court?

Because it is the answer to this question, and others like it, that determines whether or not a sacrifice is to be made.

It is questions like this that every serious athlete, not just Pete Sampras, faces every day. The questions amount to: time devoted to being the best I can be in my chosen career versus time devoted to other areas of my life that I consider to be either less important or more important than my career.

Any time devoted to being the best, and not to other less important areas of life is NOT a sacrifice.

In the context of a serious athlete who is pursuing a dream in the face of competition from other equally ambitious, driven athletes, there is very little that compares, in the hierarchy of things, with the importance that such an athlete attaches to his or her career.

Which is why it is never a sacrifice for someone who is pursuing his career to choose to spend his time doing just that -- instead of other, far less important things.

Copyright 2006 Chris Lewis

Chris Lewis is a former Number 1 ranked junior tennis player in the world (1975), and Wimbledon finalist (1983). During his playing career, his coaches were Harry Hopman and Tony Roche. You can read more of Chris's articles and tennis tips at his website, Expert Tennis Tips.

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