International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Tennis is a team sport. Who’s on your team?

Having the right professionals on your team; or not knowing what you don’t know can hurt you.

The message of this short article is that your success depends on more than your match results, your physical fitness, and your hard work on the tennis court. Having the right people around you to help you maximize your opportunities, avoid setbacks from poor planning or simply lack of planning, and plan for life after tennis, is a huge benefit to you as you work to get the most from your tennis career.

When you win that first big tournament, and are making the acceptance speech of your life, and have an opportunity to publically thank your team, it is my hope that there will be people on that team that help you beyond the tennis court, to help you achieve in your personal life as well as help prepare you for your career after your days playing the game professionally have come to an end. This would potentially include trusted lawyers, CPAs, investment and insurance advisers, business managers, etc.

Have you ever heard a tennis player at a trophy presentation thank his or her lawyer or accountant?

I am often reminded how much I don’t know and how many experiences I have not had. I have studied more than any sane person should, worked in challenging environments for almost a total of twenty years now, and one thing I will always know, is that I don’t always know. While I have a vast and diverse portfolio of life experiences and education to lean on when life requires me to make tough decisions, there are obvious gaps which lead me to consult with other professionals as needed. As you can tell, this is not a legal article, but more of a practical one.

As I watched my daughter struggle this past weekend to come back from 0-5 down in the first set to win a tennis match in straight sets (she is 10 years old) I thought how her experience, going through what must be an emotional roller coaster, is something I have never had. When I was 10 years old I played some little league baseball and football. I was even one of the fastest boys in my little town and I enjoyed running road races, but I did not play an individual sport. Finishing a road race with a personal best time is no insignificant achievement, but the battle that my daughter endured over the weekend was a completely different experience.

So what you ask?  My point is that I could try to talk to my daughter about the experience she is having and the trials of competing on the tennis court, but I don’t think she needs to hear that from a lawyer who on his best day maybe could play tennis at a 3.5 or 4.0 level. My words would ring hollow because I just don’t have that experience to speak with any credibility on the subject. I can talk to her with passion about preparing for a trial or motion hearing or an argument in front of a panel of appellate judges (see goo.gl/kCaQY5), or about being pitted against the white shoe law firm and feeling totally outgunned, and coming up with the “W” in spite of what looked like overwhelming odds… But my experience is academic; mine is a mental struggle without much of physical struggle. No, the better approach would be for her to discuss these matters with the people in her life that have been there, done that, and been handed the trophy. She needs to talk to her grandmother or her mother, or another friend who has been through the types of experiences she is going through.

Team members often play different positions and have different roles, but they are all important.

Considerations for building your team?

It occurred to me that in all the discussion I read about professional athletes and their “teams” that with only a few exceptions (many popular agents come to mind), we mostly hear about those involved in the day-to-day physical activities of tennis professionals. Often these are hitting partners and coaches. It is understandable that the top players surround themselves with very capable coaches, trainers, doctors, and hitting partners, and these are discussed from time to time in the media for entertainment value.

But what about the professionals operating behind the scenes to help guide the top performers and help them perform off the court at the highest levels? There are countless advisors that help the best in the world become what they are not only as players, but as brands, and business men and women, and as philanthropists.

Who is more valuable? The coach that helped a player earn their first $1 Million in prize money on the tennis tour, or the accountants and lawyers that helped that person grow and protect that money? How valuable is prize money if it becomes lost to judgment creditors? Does it really make sense to trust that the contract you are asked to sign is not going to put you into a position that you would rather not be in? For many players surviving the financial strain of the tours is difficult, and the temptation may be to forgo obtaining counsel. All team members are important. Overlooking having the right people on your business team could be as damaging to a tennis career as or more than having the improper fitness regimen or diet.

But, you say, I am not yet a professional, so I will be fine? That may be true. But it doesn’t make sense to me to work all your life to get that first big paycheck from tennis and not know how to handle it. (Hint: the idea is to keep as much of it as possible.)

Did you know that most tennis professionals do not play on the tour?

That is right, they coach, teach, run tennis clubs and other tennis related businesses. The same applies to these people and their teams.

Whether you are planning on being on the pro tour, or working towards building a tennis related business, it is never too early to begin building your team. Likewise, if you are approaching a change, it is never too early to plan for the next stage of your career. If you are working towards winning a big tournament, and a big check, having a plan for how to manage your money before you have to deal with that issue can be helpful. Are you considering getting a sponsor to help fund your efforts on the tour until you have an opportunity to make some money? Are you aware that most contracts are written to favor the party who wrote that contract? People who have not experienced an avoidable loss often do not appreciate the value of professional advisors until after they are in hot water.  Are you engaged in a sport with a risk of injury? Do you have the proper insurance policies to provide some protection for you in the event you career is disrupted by injury or an accident? Are you concerned that people will seek to exploit you or take advantage of you now or in the future and want to have a team to help you look out for your interests?

If you made it this far in this article, then you likely realize that there is no reason to go it alone. Having a solid team supporting you will allow you to focus your efforts on maximizing your performance on the job. Sometimes in life we are in a position where we may be so unfamiliar with a subject that we don’t know what we don’t know. With a little foresight and planning, you can, with the help of your team, avoid stepping on any landmines that might be out there between you and your goals.

 

International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Lawn Tennis at Newport, RI. International Tennis Hall of Fame. Photo by the author.

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