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Quotes Talk 3

I can’t stress how important it is to train yourself to seek clarity at moments of doubt. You have to stay calm and have complete faith in your abilities.

-- Pete Sampras


For the record, it is probably easier for Pete Sampras, a tennis player who ranks among the top two or three in history,  to have faith in his abilities than almost anyone else. That being said, what he's saying here can help players unlock what ability they do have. The key phrase here, "train yourself to seek clarity in moments of doubt," is extremely powerful stuff and deserves to be broken down. I'll take the second half of this first..."seek clarity in moments of doubt." 

Clarity is especially desirable because it is efficient; when we think clearly, we don't waste time with anything inessential. Most performers have, at some point, found themselves in a few moments where every decision was easy, where they perceived and acted without hesitation. Most descriptions of the proverbial "zone" contain an element of this highly evolved decision-making. Sampras contrasts clarity not with "confusion," but with "doubt," a word that is not an exact opposite.

What I think he's after is the idea that decisions must be made under stress, and time and energy cannot be wasted on doubt. Only through commitment can clarity be achieved because any plan is much more likely to be successful if there is full commitment to it. In fact, by going on to say that the key is to "stay calm and have complete faith in your abilities," he's further stating the importance of commitment. 

The first half of this quote is also telling: "...train yourself to seek clarity." Here, Sampras acknowledges that committing to a plan can be riskier than avoiding one. By committing, you have to take responsibility for the outcome. Some people are averse to this, and will only commit when they feel strong. Sampras believes that it's important not only to commit when you're feeling weak, i.e. in moments of doubt, but to practice doing so in order to be better at it. It makes sense: we have to get practice at committing in order to be able to feel comfortable doing it when we need it most.

Pete Sampras was one of the very few greatest male tennis players ever. He had a reputation as a player who played very well in important close matches, and players talked about him "raising his game" at the most important moments. I think that this quote shows a lot about his approach to these moments. He had trained his thoughts to be uncluttered, especially by doubt, which freed him to put his best foot forward at the most important times.

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Reader Comments (4)

Hey Mason, nice article! Not sure I totally agree on the opening sentence, about it being "easier" for Pete. I think that undermines the point of your article a little. Pete's talents weren't just his prodigious physical gifts but his ability to employ them under pressure. Look how many great (i.e. physically talented) servers have had reputations for breaking down under pressure over the years. It's an interesting catch-22: how much did Pete's innate confidence fuel his physical skills, and how much did his physical talent (that "live arm" if you will) fuel his confidence? Your thoughts?

p.s. welcome to SquareSpace.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurtis

Hey Curtis,

Good point. Let me try to elucidate.

I actually meant to show that Pete is indeed extremely skilled mentally. I was anticipating the criticism that his physical talents are what allowed him to have faith. You're completely right that many players with bigger serves have faltered without reaching near his level of accomplishment.

I think I could have looked a little harder at the word "abilities." I think I was approaching it in terms of "ability," as in talent. Talent, as a concept, makes me defensive because too much emphasis is placed on it. What I think he actually has faith in is his ability to compete, that is to use the skills, or "abilities," he has at the most needed moment. His ability to compete without fear, was based on this idea of having faith in his abilities.

I think it depends on "when" we're talking about in terms of Pete Sampras. Prime Pete had a lot of experience trusting his abilities (and his serve...), and he left the game before those abilities deteriorated too much. Proto-Pete, like when he first won the US Open, now that was more of a leap of faith. It's actually the Catch-22 of confidence in general: The largest fuel for confidence is past performance, but without confidence, how can you achieve something for the first time? Pete put it together at 17 to win the US Open, and was able to use that as a source of confidence for the rest of his career. It's interesting to think about whether he would have had the same career (for the most part) had he not won that day. I'd argue that if he had lost but stayed true to his approach, he would have achieved roughly the same amount.



PS - Love your site/want your job in my hypothetical other life.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMason Astley

Interesting stuff. I totally agree with your final point. Pete has said he was too young to let the moment get to him in '90, and I think it was another couple years before he won another ATP event. He obviously learned and drew from the experience, but his confidence in his abilities would have served him well in his career even had he not won that day.

Looking forward to new posts.

p.s. thanks for the kind words regarding the site

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurtis

Yeah, actually he won the Grand Slam Cup at the end of 1990 and the Tour Finals in '91 (after famously saying that losing to Courier in that year's US Open was like a ton of bricks had been lifted off him), but overall, he said he wished he had been a little older when he had won his first Slam. The media hit him pretty hard for a while. Second Slam?
.Wimbledon in '93.


April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMason Astley

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