Here’s a scenario and I’d like you to guess if it is fact or fiction –
There is a professional athlete ranked as one of the top 15 in the world at his sport. He has already earned millions of dollars from prize money and endorsements and is still just in his early 20s. He gets to fly around the world in first class, stays in 5 star hotels and has all the other trappings that come with being a successful professional athlete (fame, influence, etc). There’s one catch – despite all the fame and fortune he doesn’t love the sport he plays. He plays the sport because he doesn’t know what else to do…
Fact or fiction?
Well for those who guessed fiction unfortunately you’d be wrong. This is the story of one of Australia’s very own tennis sensation Nick Kyrgios (which the picture in the newsletter might have given away!)*.
We are in the midst of the Australian Open, one of the 4 grand slams on the tennis calendar. Last week Nick Kyrgios dropped out of the Open in rather bizarre circumstances.
He had a comfortable 2 set lead against Andreas Seppi – a player who is ranked 139 levels below Kyrgios – so on that basis most expected him to win reasonably comfortably. When he won the 2nd set I was so sure the match would be over very soon so I ended up turning off the TV.
The next day when I woke up you can imagine my surprise when I read that Kyrgios had surrendered a 2 set lead. Furthermore the article stated that he looked disinterested and disengaged at times as Seppi mounted his comeback. At a critical stage in the match when he was fighting to stay with Seppi, Kyrgios nonchalantly hit the ball between his legs which was an unnecessary play call at the time showing a lapse in focus.
After this loss the media blew up talking about how he needs to sort himself out and a coach might help (he currently doesn’t have one). I’m no tennis expert so will leave others far more experienced than I am to delve into these aspects of the game.
But reading the way in which Kyrgios lost to Seppi made me draw a connection to what happened last year after he lost to Andy Murray at Wimbledon. In the post match press conference Nick was asked if he loved tennis and he said that he didn’t and he chose to do it because he did not know what else to do.
Now when you draw a 3-way link with the way he capitulated against Seppi this past week, his comments in the press conference after losing to Murray at Wimbledon and his behavior at the Shanghai Masters last October where he tanked points and argued with fans – I think there’s something around the perils of not loving what you do despite being hugely successful.
Just to clarify I’m not saying that if Nick pursued what he loved, or found his love for tennis again, he would behave Federer-esque on and off the court. However what I’ve seen a lot of in my work around helping people find their passion is that people who have become successful feel a sense of emptiness if they aren’t pursuing what they love.
Psychologically a lot of us hold off passing judgment until we’ve reached career milestones. What I mean by that is we may park our true feelings until we make X dollars a year or reach Y position. When we eventually get to that stage and have accomplished our career objectives we subliminally expect to have figured everything out and be happy, healthy and wealthy. Or the alternative is now that we have the money and title sorted we can now look to other aspects of life which we may have been keeping on ice for a while. And so when we’ve met our definition of success and we aren’t say happy we feel a sense of emptiness which can then manifest in a lot of ways, for example a mid-life crisis or even mental health issues.
So if you look at Nick Kyrgios, he was worth USD$9m in 2016 and reached a career best ranking of #13 in the world. The tennis world have heralded him as one of the greatest talents we have seen in a while. And he’s only 21 with his very best tennis ahead of him – clearly doing exceptionally well in his profession.
Perhaps with Nick he has reached the stage in his tennis career where he has met the initial goals of ranking and net worth (I say initial because I suspect he has loftier goals in tennis). At this stage he was subliminally expecting to love what he does – the game, the spotlight, the fortune. However he doesn’t and he’s said as much. His sheer competence – otherworldly tennis ability – has propelled him so far. And so with success any kink in the armour is magnified for all and sundry to seem. For Nick it might be a lack of love for what he does, or a need to find the love in tennis again.
Perhaps even professional athletes need to find and pursue their passion.
* In full disclosure I have assumed that being #13 in the world Nick Kyrgio travel first class and stays in 5 star hotels however do not know this to be fact.