10 Lessons on How a pro tennis career prepared me to start a business

I started playing tennis at the young age of 4, by age 14 I made the decision to stop going to traditional school and pursue a professional tennis career. The lessons I learned over the next 6 years could have never been taught to me through traditional schooling. Here’s what I learned.

  1. “Do what you love, not what everyone wants you to do.”

In order to be successful in tennis, business or whatever it is that you are passionate about, you have to love it. It may sound cliche, but it’s the truth. In tennis you lose a lot, and when I mean a lot, in a tournament 64 players compete and 63 lose. There is always only 1 winner. It sucks! Losing is just part of the game, every coach claims they can teach you how to win properly, very few can teach you how to lose and learn. Take James Altucher’s example, he started 20 businesses and 17 of them failed. Now he is a sought after angel investor and many times over a New York Times bestselling author.

2. “There are no traffic jams at the extra mile”

Observing other tennis players around you is inevitable, it’s not a good thing to do, but you can always learn something. Very often there were players who had more talent in their wrist then most could ever dream of. The problem is they knew it, and everyone told them. A good work ethic was not common among most of them. Very often there were players who were horrible, they sucked. Their technique was bad and everyone prayed to draw them in the first round, and guess what? Over time some of those guys worked like dogs and just became relentless killers on the court. They valued their hard work, and they knew it. Same goes for business, a lot of people are born with talent and become satisfied with it. They never ever attempt to reach higher and don’t ever amount to anything. Then again the Gary Vaynerchuk’s and Jack Dorsey’s of the world are grinding while you are sleeping and they’re pretty damn talented.

3. “You can be winning by a mile and still lose”

I remember I was playing a tournament once and my opponent was one of my good friends and practice partners. I beat him quite regularly and that day seemed no different, I was winning 6–0 3–0 (by tennis standards that is HUGE)I looked over at the other side of the net and saw one of my good friends moping around the court and I started to feel bad(BIG MISTAKE) I thought, “Ok maybe I’ll just give him one game” and guess what? I lost 6–3, 3–6, 6–7!! When you step onto that court whether it’s tennis or business, the guy on the other side of the net is going to cover his ass first, and you should also.

4. “Make clear decisions, not decisions coming from fear or emotion.” “Act don’t React”

On the court and in business you get angry. It happens to everyone. I’ve yelled, broke rackets, and cursed more times than I can count. When I got in this state 99 times out of 100 I lose. Why? I was start hitting shots out of emotion, like a gambler at a casino going bigger and bigger, missing more and more each time. When you get pissed off in business your decision making muscle becomes foggy and weak. Simple as that.

5. “Learn to cry on the inside like a winner.”

Do you know how many times I cried when I lost? Too many times to count, in my defense it was “mostly” off of the court. Listen, losing sucks, but during a match if you’re whining and complaining your not representing yourself as a winner and a good opponent can smell it from a mile away. If things weren’t going my way over time I learned to shut up and keep pushing. Miraculously many times I pulled out a win after being down and believing I could win. I’ve pitched to VC’s and heard some pretty nasty comments, it’s part of the game.

6. “Having fun doesn’t make you less professional, learn to relax and have fun.”

The picture below is of me before I stepped out on the court. I was in Egypt for 8 weeks playing tournaments and was joking around with some friends. When I was younger I was way to serious. Practicing 5 hours a day, going to the gym for 2 hours, 7 days a week, and having absolutely no social life. I remember for 1 year during the age of 16–17 I did not do a single thing other than practice, for a whole year. Literally only being on a tennis court or at home. Practice does make perfect, but excessive practice will get you burned out. I remember my coaches begging me to go on vacation or even going out to see a movie. In the end it really burned me out I played a lot worse and was losing a lot more than usual. The same goes for business, observe Gary Vaynerchuk or Arnold Schwarzenegger. These guys are serious about what they’re doing, but they are having the time of their lives while doing it. That’s the simple secret of day in day out grinding, it has to be fun.

7. “Expect the unexpected”

Back in 2010, I travelled to Sri Lanka for 3 weeks. I had never been so prepared to win, I had practiced intensely 2 months prior and was in top form. The day had come to play my first match, and in the first 5 minutes, I twisted my back and heard a loud POP in my spine. All I remembered for the next few hours was being carried by little Sri Lankan nurses to a hospital on a motorcycle(true story). I arrived at a questionably looking hospital to see a doctor who spoke zero English prescribed me a 3-week supply of pain killers and sent me off. Back at the hotel my coach was ripping his hair out, we had just spent thousands of dollars and travelled thousands of miles just to be put out on day 1. I decided to try and play anyway. Little did I know, the doctor that had prescribed me the painkillers did not understand me well, and prescribed me medication used for schizophrenics that are in pain and cannot sleep. For the next few weeks, I had come from being a guy who was in so much pain I could not walk, to being high as a kite and not feeling a thing. When I mean high as a kite, I mean I was flying! I was falling asleep standing up, singing Beyonce to myself on the court and even at one point called a medical time-out to the referee because said ,“I felt like butter melting on a frying pan! In the end the trip turned out to be quite a success, I made it to the semi-finals in singles, and managed to win the doubles(all credit to my partner). This was definitely something that could I could never expect.

Side note: Back home in Poland the doctors told me if I had taken more of the “painkillers” they perscribed me, I most likely would not be alive, oops! ☺

8. “Go out of your comfort zone”

I have been to some really odd places, Kenya, Moldova, Uganda, and Albania to name a few. When I travelled to these places a lot of people in Poland mocked me for going so far away. Hands down I gained the most experience (and ranking points) traveling far away. Being dropped in a place where all of the sudden you do not have the luxury of a working toilet or shower teaches you to either sink or swim. Before I came to New York, I had been to London, Stockholm and India, meeting some really odd characters along the way. If you are open and accept your surroundings, then 10 times out of 10 those experiences will open your mind and teach you something unique. For example, Steve Jobs (Apple), Kevin Kelly (Wired Magazine), and Elon Musk (Tesla, PayPal, SpaceX) all went out way out of their comfort zones in order to expand their horizons. Either by backpacking through exotic countries or living on $30 a month. Look where they are today. Just a thought.

9. “Experience trumps everything”

The reason why you don’t see a lot of 20 year old tennis or business prodigies? They don’t have enough experience, I’m 20 and there’s a lot I don’t know. Pitching to investors, filing taxes, or negotiating terms on a contract. I don’t have that much experience and it’s not uncommon. If growing or selling your business was quick and took little experience everyone would be able to do it. Getting a mentor or seeking out your own experiences pays you dividends for the rest of your life.

10. “ Overnight successes are never what they seem, they often take a lot longer”

Look at the top 100 men’s tennis players; the average is 29 years old. Most of them started like me, around age 4–6. Best case scenario that’s 23 years of training, ups and downs before you make it to the top. With few exceptions in the tech world, the narrative is similar except a start-ups life cyle is a bit shorter . Coders, hackers and entrepreneurs are bred from a young age. They go through ups and downs, starting companies that fail. If you started a business from scratch today, would you be willing to work 10 years+ to reach your goal? Email or tweet me your answers @turojulian or to julian@fitbenefitapp.com

Best answer wins a free tennis lesson from me☺

Keep hustling,

Julian