Like Julie Dibens, a friend and fellow pro triathlete, I too have been reading Andre Agassi’s book “Open”. Julie has a great blog discussing her reflections on the book and how it applies to triathlon. I read her post and was not only struck by her insights but also by the fact that we had completely different portions of the book that resonated in our minds. While Julie was struck by Agassiz’s “last ten minutes before you fall asleep”, there were different lessons in perservence and perfection that I extracted from the book. (click here for her blog it‘s definitely a worthwhile read) I must admit that I am mostly a fair-weather tennis fan just tuning in for the big tournaments, but this book gave me more appreciation for Agassi and the game. In addition, the life lessons that Agassi articulates so eloquently are applicable to triathlon and everyday life.
For me, Agassi had several life experiences that struck me as an athlete, but perhaps his resilience was the most inspiring. Despite facing numerous setbacks through his career, he kept on overcoming challenges that would have stopped many lesser athletes. Agassi continued to keep playing and improving over a long career. Remarkably for a tennis player, some of his best performances were later in his professional life when he should have been past his prime. In addition, as he matured, Agassi seemed to relish the wins more as he appreciated all the hard work and perseverance that were required to get there. As a triathlete, anytime an athlete can overcome injuries, personal difficulties, and burnout, to achieve success, it is very inspiring. I hope that I can continue to triumph over my challenges half as well as Agassi.
Likewise, another key insight for me came from one of Agassi’s coaches, Brad Gilbert. Brad stressed to Agassi that he didn’t need to aim for perfection with every shot. He merely needed to beat the man across the net and force the other athlete to feel the pressure and make mistakes. I think many athletes fall into the trap of trying to achieve perfection all the time every day. Unfortunately, this is never possible in training or in racing. Most days, you just need to go out there and give it your best. Setting unattainable standards, only sets an athlete up for failure and disappointment. For me, the most satisfying training days or races have been not when I was perfect but when I succeeded despite one issue or another. The real trick is to stay positive mentally despite the ups and downs that are inevitable in sport and life.
Finally, the last lesson from the book was that Agassi trained and performed best when he was happiest and his life was going smoothly. While some of this can't be controlled, I hope that I can keep a positive and happy attitude in 2010. It seems like easiest way to improve my chances of having a great season.
For anyone looking for an inspiring and real book, I definitely recommend it. In fact, I might just read it again now.