The Players’ Tribune has partnered with Chase for a special edition of “Letter to My Younger Self,” a series where athletes reflect on their biggest lessons learned, from finance to relationships and careers.
Dear 11-year-old Caroline,
Let me just start off by saying, Dad was right.
He just was. Point blank. And now, finally, you realize it.
Ever since you were three, you spent hours and hours playing sports other than tennis — first it was gymnastics, then swimming, then handball and then … soccer. You were absolutely convinced that you were going to be a soccer player when you grew up. But there weren’t many girls teams in Denmark back then, and Dad didn’t like you having to play on the boys teams all the time. He wanted you to be able to build friendships with other girls. So he steered you toward tennis.
You weren’t sure about his plan for a while — you had to learn the game together when he started teaching you at age seven, and at some points it felt like neither of you really knew what you were doing — but look at you now. You just won the Danish junior championship for girls under 12. And you didn’t lose a single game in the tournament. You won all the matches 6–0, 6–0. You’re … good. And you know it.
After the final, the TV reporters asked you what your goals were for the future. You paused for a second, looked into the camera and said, “I want to be the best in the world.”
So, yeah, Dad was right. Tennis was the way to go.
And this won’t be the last time that you benefit from his sound judgment. He will be with you for every step of your journey. Before you know it, you’ll be spending more time than you can imagine with him. After Dad sees you win match after match against older kids without breaking a sweat, he will sit you down and tell you something you’ll never forget. Then he’ll ask you a very important question.
“Caroline,” he’ll say, “I can do whatever you need from me to help you get better at tennis. I will take you wherever you need to go, and make sure you have every opportunity to excel. But I have to know, for certain, that’s what you want. You have to be sure. The moment I’m dragging you to the court, or pestering you to get up early for practice, everything changes. You have to understand that. But, if this is what you want, I will give you my all.
“Is this what you want? Do you love tennis? Do you truly love it?”
Say yes and he will make it his mission to do everything he can to help you reach your goals.
He’ll wake up early to drive you to the tennis club at 6 a.m. so you can practice before all the matches start. Then, at eleven at night, he’ll jump back in the car with you and take you back to the club so you can practice after the day’s matches have ended.
Appreciate everything your family does for you during your childhood. They will sacrifice so much for you.
Do yourself a favor and make the most of those car rides. Soak in all the lessons and guidance that Dad provides you — and not just the stuff about tennis. Pay attention to what he is trying to instill in you about life. He and Mom will always stress the importance being a good person, of treating people right, of being respectful and kind. Let that sink in. Allow it to shape who you become.
And, just as important: Appreciate everything your family does for you during your childhood. As you progress as a tennis player, they will sacrifice so much for you. Recognize how expensive your chosen sport is — the travel, the court time, the private coaches, that all costs money.
For the next five years, as you get better and better, you’ll travel the world playing highly competitive junior tennis. You’ll win big … and earn little money.
There is no prize money for juniors.
Mom and Dad will support you in every way imaginable, and you’ll never for a second need to worry about money. Not once will you hear them say, “You know, this is going to be really expensive,” or, “Maybe we should skip this tournament so we can spend the money on something else.” They will give up so much to make sure you never stress about all the expenses that go along with being a competitive tennis player.
Savor each moment — not just the victories, but also the experiences, the relationships, the emotions.
That’s an amazing gift to receive from your parents. So be thankful, and know that you are loved. Your family just wants you to be happy. And that being the case, please make this promise to me now: Enjoy the ride! The whole thing — enjoy every step of the journey you’re about to undertake.
There are so many amazing things that lie ahead for you. Savor each moment — not just the victories, but also the experiences, the relationships, the emotions. And when times get tough, look to your family for support. They will always be there for you. Recall that time as a junior when, after you suffered a crushing defeat and shed lots of tears, Dad pulled off the highway on the drive home to buy you that big teddy bear. “This is the prize,” he’ll tell you, “for being the No. 1 competitor.”
And it will be exactly what you needed at that moment in time.
Keep that teddy bear, little Caroline. Use it as a symbol of the support system you have as you turn pro and begin building a reputation as one of the very best players in the game. It will help you stay grounded and remind you of what’s most important to you.
Maintaining that perspective is going to be huge, because very soon after you become a professional you’re going to realize that success in the sport of tennis results in nonstop obligations off the court. You’ll always be grinding, and sometimes it will feel like you can’t breathe.
Well I’m here to tell you to breathe, young Caroline.
Appreciate the moment when, in 2010, you defeat Petra Kvitová at the China Open, and wake up the next morning knowing that you’ll be the No. 1–ranked player in the world after the tournament. Breathe that in.
Let it lift you, and be proud of yourself.
Something inside you will want to push back, it will almost be as though you’re not willing to allow yourself to relish the accomplishment. You’ll think: I’m still the same person. I still have to train today. I’m still going to eat the same food. I still have to get on another flight. It’s all the same.
It’s not, though. And I’m here to urge you to remember, at that exact moment in time, that the little girl you are today — the precocious phenom who just went on TV and said she wanted to be the best in the world — will actually do it.
You will actually achieve that goal, which is awesome! It’s worth celebrating.
But it also means you’ll have a target on your back.
And here’s where I can provide some especially good advice based on experience. You should know that once you’re at the top, there are people out there who will try to bring you down. Not everyone wants what’s best for you.
There will be doubters, and naysayers, and mean-spirited individuals who will love nothing more than to see you fail. Do not let those people influence how you think about yourself. Know that you are a good person who treats people right — an optimist at heart — and don’t let cynical or pessimistic people change that about you.
The media will build you up in a hurry, but then, just as fast, will bring you down. Don’t get too caught up in either of those extremes. And please, Caroline, hear me loud and clear on this one: Understand the massive impact that social media can have as you get older and as technology advances. Give your fans some insights into who you are, and share some photos every once in a while, but please, please, please be sure to keep your most private matters private.
That’s a big one. You’ll thank me for it later. No one needs to know everything about you. Value your privacy.
At the same time, though, don’t become a shut-in or be afraid to live your life.
In your 20s, as your tennis career progresses, you’ll be very fortunate to receive dozens of offers to do fun things and partake in interesting experiences off the court. My advice to you there is simple: Take advantage of every opportunity you can. Don’t shy away from new things.
You only live once.
Plan for your future. Think about what you’d like to do next and take steps to set yourself up for a successful life after you play your last pro match.
And I can tell you for a fact, you’ll only end up regretting it if you let cool opportunities pass you by. So do the guest spots on TV, do the magazine shoots. Be creative. Push yourself to explore things you never thought you’d be into. And build relationships and skills that will help you for your life after tennis.
That’s another big one. I cannot stress that enough.
Tennis won’t last forever, Caroline. Plan for your future. Think about what you’d like to do next and take steps to set yourself up for a successful life after you play your last pro match.
You love fashion, so learn as much as you can about that field. If you can combine your passion for clothing design with all the business knowledge Dad will pass along over the years, you’ll be in great shape for a second career.
Over and over again as you’re growing up, Dad will press you to think hard about what it is you love to do, or what you enjoy spending time on, and then — regardless of what the answer is — he will encourage you to make a plan for how to be successful at it.
When you sit down with him as a young woman to talk about your financial future, and you tell him that you have always been fascinated by real estate, that will be music to his ears. Because you will travel so much for tournaments, and will always be moving from one place to the next, you will love the idea of owning land, and a beautiful home where you can feel truly relaxed. Dad will get that, and because he’s always warned you about the dangers of high-risk investments, he’ll be excited to hear about your interest in something more secure. “If you’re smart,” Dad will say, “You will always, at the very least, know that you’ll have a roof over your head.”
He’ll help you to fully understand the value in being prudent, and in making sure you have a safety net. Dad will preach the importance of not making bad decisions that could impact the lives of your children and their children. “You can secure your family for generations if you’re careful,” he’ll tell you. And he’s right about that.
So there will be no mega-yachts in your future. No jetpacks. No Fabergé eggs.
But it’s not going to be as bad as it sounds. In fact, I’m going to do something for you here.
If you promise to take it easy with all the handbags, I’ll allow you one — one! — Ferrari.
The red one, the one you’re dreaming about when you go to sleep tonight after winning that under-12 title.
One red Ferrari. Not six. And not a Rothko original, or any sailboats. No random expensive things. You’ve got to really love something you spend a ton of money on, Caroline.
But if you do, and if you’ve thought it through, and you can make it work without doing any long-term damage to your finances, then it’s O.K. to reward yourself sometimes.
And you love that car.
So buy it. You’re human. And you’ve worked exceptionally hard. You can give yourself that present.
Then go back to being frugal again for a while. And along the way, always remember those business lessons from Dad that date all the way back to the car rides to the tennis club at six in the morning.
In fact, wait … let’s not limit things here: Remember all the lessons you are learning from your parents right now. Not just the ones about how to avoid going broke.
Work hard. Find what you love and then be the very best you can be at it. But, most importantly, always treat people well. Be a good person, first and foremost.
During the next 16 years, I’m here to report, and can tell you for certain: You’re going to make Mom and Dad so very proud. Always keep them close to your heart.
You’ll be very busy. I get that. But always take the time to remember and appreciate how much your parents have done for you, and what they mean to you.
Oh, and Caroline, if you ever need a reminder of the love you’ve received, just grab that teddy bear from back in the day.
I still have it, so it will be there for you over the years.
I take it all over the world with me on my travels. Still. To this day.
And, without fail, every time I pack that bear into my travel bag, the same thing happens. I look at him, and pause for a second, and then I think of how lucky I am to have been shown so much love over the years, and I can’t help but smile.