A friend of mine recently asked me a question: “do you have to be arrogant to be a champion?”. My initial thoughts were that arrogance is more subjective and open to interpretation whilst there is no doubt that all champions have an incredible amount of self- belief which can be displayed in many different forms based on the players personalities.
When Lebron James recently broke the all-time leading point scoring record in the NBA he was asked if he thought he was now the greatest player of all time. He responded by saying he thought he was but was happy for others to make up their own mind, but he would gladly pit himself against any player past or present. Is this arrogance or just an incredible self-belief which has helped him get to where he is today?
Arrogance can be like a protective shield. In the same way a bully uses threats to assert dominance, some players will talk up their abilities but when pushed just like the bully, their true character will emerge and their vulnerabilities will be exposed. Whereas the player with a steely self-belief will go about their business without the need for a façade and let their tennis do the talking.
When you listen to a player being interviewed we will often raise an eyebrow when a player answers truthfully and says that they played amazing tennis or they felt they could not be beaten. While some followers see this as arrogance, some love the lack of cliched answers, and some admire the obvious self-belief. These varying opinions illustrate that arrogance can very much be a personal opinion and can change from country to country.
In Australia we still suffer from tall poppy syndrome and love our champions to be humble, modest and respectful whilst some other countries embrace the athletes who talk themselves up and see this as being honest and real without a sense of arrogance.
Australian tennis and sport in general is littered with superstars who we all loved for their amazing talents on the sporting field but were just as loved and admired for their off court personalities and how they came across as humble, respectful and extremely modest.
Athletes such as Rod Laver, Ash Barty, Pat Rafter, Ian Thorpe, Cathy Freeman, Gary Ablett junior and Ellyse Perry spring to the front of mind when we think about humble yet amazing athletes in their respective fields. Whilst nobody would ever accuse any of those outstanding athletes as being arrogant even for a second, they must have had a serious amount of self-belief to reach the pinnacle in their chosen field.
They could never have reached the heights they achieved without an insatiable appetite for hard work and a belief that they belonged at the pinnacle of their sport. They clearly had the upbringing and the personality to combine the hard work and self-belief with the ability to remain gracious and grateful at the same time.
Venus Wiliams once said if you don’t believe you are going to win before the match, then you should not even bother stepping on to the court and she believed that both her and sister Serena had won many matches over the years before they even stepped onto the court due to their unwavering confidence and belief whilst the opposite was often true of their opponents.
If self-belief is inherit inside every champion, how can players attain this necessary trait. If you line up almost any champion from any sport, they all have one thing in common: hard work. Athletes and their stories of work ethic are legendary.
Think of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretsky, Nadia Comaneci and what do we think of. The first thing that comes to mind is that they are arguably the greatest of all time in their respective sports but underlining their greatness is their work ethic.
Some of the stories about their practice sessions have become as legendary as their prowess in competition. This hard work fuelled their self-belief and is illustrated in the quote from Comaneci “ Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.”
In tennis, the last 20 years we have seen possibly the greatest tennis players of all time. With Rafa, Roger, Novak and Serena we have been incredibly fortunate to witness their ascension to the peak of the game.
We can argue about who is the greatest, who is arrogant and who is the nicest until the end of time but one thing we cannot argue about is the fact that they have all worked as hard as possible both on and off the court, improving their technique and their physical attributes but all the time continuing to grow their self-belief to help separate them from the chasing pack of players.
If I was to answer my friends question again, I would say you definitely do not need to be arrogant to be a champion but if you are going to be a champion you will need a bucket load of self-belief and there is only one way to build this: hard work so, you better embrace it!