Life lessons from an evening with a tennis legend

Life lessons from an evening with a tennis legend


Life lessons from an evening with a tennis legend. Tonight I had the chance to meet Belgian tennis legend Kim Clijsters. She was being interviewed at Belcham before a mixed Belgian-American audience of about 40 people for a so-called “Captain session” where Captains of Industry are asked mostly about their achievements and personal life .

Kim is admired worldwide as a former world No. 1 in both singles and doubles. Clijsters won 41 WTA singles titles and 11 WTA doubles titles. She won four Grand Slam singles titles: three at the US Open, in 2005, 2009, and 2010 and one at the Australian Open in 2011. In June 2011, TIME magazine named her one of the “30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present and Future”. I could write a book about her tennis achievements alone, but the focus of this interview was more personal and contained a lot of life lessons.

Bringing tips and tricks from the top sports world to the corporate world is one of the core elements of our Hercules Academy corporate wellbeing program. While Kim was talking about what helped her succeed in her career, I could not help but notice a lot of parallels with the corporate world and found it interesting to investigate how her advice would translate to the workplace.

Life lessons from an evening with a tennis legend. Here are my 7 key take-aways from the interview on how to succeed in sports and life, which I believe can easily be translated from the sports to the business world: 

  1. Follow your passion When asked where she drew her inspiration from to become so successful, Kim answered: “my drive was my passion”. Her deep love for the game helped her stay positive after setbacks and keep her career going. She stressed that it is a “constant learning and improving” that is most important – the “little pieces of the puzzle were added gradually”.The same is true for all careers, whether you are an entrepreneur, a teacher or a leader in a big corporation:  if you have found your passion and can focus on it, give it your all and are committed to always keep on learning and growing, you are setting yourself up for success.
  2. Everybody struggles – get a strong circle of supporters It is a misconception that famous life is easy. Everyone has their own struggles, some are more in plain view than others. What is important is to have a strong circle of supporters that give you good advice and help you stay grounded.In companies, your supporters can be your teammates, your manager, your mentor. Build a community, reach out to others, so you have people you can rely on when the going gets tough. Because sometimes it takes a village!
  3. It’s important to level the playing field for women Kim admires the famous tennis players who fought for equal playing fields in tennis like Billy Jean King, Venus Williams as role models. She feels women are under a lot of pressure to do well in their career, as a wife, as a mom and we need more women fighters.In the workforce, there is still a lot of work to do to even the playing field for women. On average, women in America earn about 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. And there are more CEO’s named John than there are women CEO’s.
  4. Failing is a part of success Kim understands the importance of failing to get to greater success. “When you are faced with a challenge, go for it, try it. Everybody fails and it should not be seen as a bad thing. You need to fail to become better”. It helped Kim become more aware mentally.The same can be said about the business world: you need to learn to deal with pressure, constantly check your metrics and keep on improving. If you are afraid to fail, you may miss the chance to succeed.

    “Failure is success if we learn from it.” Malcolm Forbes

  5. Focus is important but so is fun After the interview, I asked her how she managed to stay focused from a young age on her career and training and not give into temptations. And most importantly, what she would advise to other young people, who are constantly distracted by social media these days. Her response was candid: it needs to stay fun. After long days of tennis practice or tournaments, her father would tell her to put away her racket and go play.In the workspace, many people forget to play. And I don’t necessarily mean that we need ping pong tables or other gadgets in the workplace, but we do need to take the time to change things up, move around, connect with colleagues and after work, we need to focus on sleeping well, relaxing anding reload our batteries.

    Kim clijsters
    “Keep it fun!”, good advice from former No 1 Tennis Player Kim Clijsters on my question how she managed to keep focus. She stressed the importance of downtime, fun and friends to keep going, find a balance and avoid burnout.
  6. Give back to the younger generation Kim has her own tennis academy in her hometown Bree in Belgium where she trains the next level of talent. She finds it important to provide the young tennis players opportunities to learn about the importance of food , physical training etc… next to the pure tennis lessons. For those kids who need extra financial help, Kim founded TEN4KIM, a nonprofit to make sure that talented players are financially supported through contributions for training and tournament costs. Or as Kim stated: “I want to help the children and players that have the same dream as me… but can’t afford it.’’We all have a responsibility to teach the younger generations, be it through coaching and mentoring in your job or through volunteer work, the younger generations are the future and it is very rewarding to teach them and learn from them as well.
  7. Show respect for other people Respect is one of the core values Kim learned from her parents at home. She sees no differentiation between anyone, wherever people come from, no matter what they achieved or how famous they are, respect is important.I could not agree more. Respect is one of the basics for people to trust each other and work together. People who are respected will also get more self-confidence and are able to grow in life and pay it forward when it is their turn.

Life lessons from an evening with a tennis legend. Thank you, Kim for being so open and accessible and being an inspiration for so many people! And thanks to Belcham for organizing and hosting this amazing interview!

For the full interview, watch the livestream video from Belcham below.

Herculean Alliance