Recently I had lunch with one of the greatest coaches of all-time. Coach Greg Patton coached the Boise State Men’s Tennis Team for 22 years. He retired after the 2017-18 season to take a position in the Boise State University Athletic Department. We met for lunch in Boise when my wife and I went to Idaho for a vacation.
I took with me my notes from a Greg Patton coaching presentation at the Illinois Coaches Workshop in January 2017. I have always been intrigued by one of the things that Greg preached at that tennis coaching conference. Greg pointed out his philosophy on what is the greatest feeling in playing tennis (or any sport for that matter). He said the logical choice is winning. Winning can be a great feeling but winning finished fourth on his list.
Coach Patton listed the following as his rank order:
- To Play
- To Play for Others
- To Do It Well
- To Win
His #1 priority or suggestion was to play for the feeling that tennis or sport can bring you. I am going to interject my interpretation of what he means or what it means to me. The athlete can play for the joy, the challenge, the excitement, the emotional feeling of competing. It can be a thrill to challenge yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally in any sport.
The #2 reason is to play for others. It can be a real energy high to play along with teammates and for a common goal. This can be especially gratifying when you grow up in an individual sport like tennis, golf, wrestling, swimming, or gymnastics. Now you get to strive together and compete together for a team.
The #3 reason is to do what you do well. The feeling of self-improvement is personally satisfying. It creates a great sense of accomplishment. Pride and improved self-esteem from personal improvement is uplifting for any athlete.
The #4 reason is to win. Yes, there is an inherently great feeling from winning. For some athletes it is a great sense of relief. But for many athletes it makes all of the hard work worthwhile and it is the feeling that many athletes cherish the most. The problem is winning can be a worthy, yet fleeting goal. If you are in the game for any length of time, and you truly test yourself, you will experience how it feels to lose as well. Consequently, it would be wise to also value the feeling of something beyond winning each time you compete in the arena. Determine what that is for you.