Tips from Vic: A Million Dollar Lesson for Juniors

April 5, 2004 11:34 AM

By Vic Braden, 4/1/04

Having been involved with professional tennis for many decades, one of my great thrills is to watch the maturation of some famous players as they gain experience. Tennis is a great mentor and we need to have our competitive juniors exposed to some of their stories. It's important for our juniors to know that their reputation will follow them throughout their competitive life. Some players have been so entrenched in negative actions that they have never been able to generate a positive public, or self, image.

One of the best examples of a person making healthy changes in life is Andre Agassi. His early years were spent throwing his shirt into the crowd and doing whatever was necessary to excite the crowd. I have known Andre since he was six years old and I've always liked him. However, many times I felt he had a mind and skills that could really help others when he was ready to change his direction. Andre said in one media session that "In the early years, I took advice from the wrong people" At this time, I can only think of five or six people who have given so much back to tennis and young people as has Andre Agassi. His efforts in developing, and operating, his special school in Las Vegas are legendary.

On the opposite side of the ledger was one of the greatest players in the history of our game, Pancho Gonzales. Pancho decided early that he couldn't trust anyone on the tour. He was quick to anger and respond negatively to those around him. While serving as a member of the management staff on many of the tours involving Pancho, I could see a wonderful talent slowly going down the drain. In fact, it was so bad at times that the tour owner, Jack Kramer, had me follow a short distance behind Pancho and apologize to the people he offended. And, I was very busy during that period. But what was so sad was that Pancho needed counseling in his early years and didn't receive it. There were things I liked about Pancho and I felt he had an uncanny ability to analyze tough situations on the court. He would often do a very nice thing, but the moment I felt he was on the right track, he would disappoint me.

So, what's the purpose of this article? It's simply that young athletes
often think it's cool to be "off the wall" and offensive to others. However, it normally comes back to haunt them later in life as people don't like to be around them. Thus, they often lose some of the richer things in life that others do enjoy.

Young athletes who often make excuses for every loss are heading down the wrong path. Recently, Andre Agassi lost to Roger Federer in the Pacific Life Open semi-finals. All Andre could say in the media room was that "Roger is an outstanding player and deserved to win. He's playing great tennis right now and one has to play really great to beat him."

That's why the media likes to interview Andre now because he is not afraid to say nice things abut players who beat him. In short, Andre has lots of class. Good advice from talented and caring parents and coaches usually includes a minimum of three ingredients: (1) treat your opponents in the same manner as you would like to be treated, (2) get the facts before making outlandish statements, and (3) don't hesitate to say nice things about opponents who deserve your praise. If a junior is always making excuses for his/her losses, that's one of the first signs of immature behavior and will usually lead to more problems in life. Of course you will sometimes meet line call cheaters on the other side of the net, but you can rest assured that their problems will only get worse.

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