Don’t Believe Everything You Read

This is the second in a series of posts from sports icon Billie Jean King. In the series, King outlines her thoughts for continued success for athletes of all ages and abilities, from the citizen athlete to the elite competitor.

Real champions — and I mean champions in life as well as champions in sport — are most often students of the game. Today, with the rapidly growing prevalence of social media and the opening of new communication channels, I am surprised at how many of today’s athletes are getting caught up in what everyone is saying about them when they could be focusing on much more important things.

When I was 11 years old, I decided I wanted to be the best tennis player in the world — and I committed myself to that goal.

As a young player, I dreamed of the day I would be featured on the front page of the sports section of the Long Beach Press Telegram (my hometown newspaper). I was 15 when they finally put me on the front page … but it was to report that I had been defeated 6-0, 6-0. For those of you who don’t know tennis, it’s the very worst you can do!

I was crushed. But when I talked it over with my father, he could not understand why I cared. As he said, “That is yesterday’s news and your future starts with today.”

From Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook, to blogs and articles online, too many athletes are getting caught up in old news — what my father would have called “yesterday’s news.”

Sports are a mental and emotional game, and I’m afraid too many young athletes are wasting precious energy on commentary rather than proper preparation and development.

Ever since the day I finally saw my name on the front page of the sports section, I rarely read or watch media stories about me. I have tried to keep my focus in the now. It has guided me through my career as an athlete, as a businesswoman and as a leader.

It has helped me keep things in perspective. My parents were the first to teach me about perspective — usually with my father covering the sports side and my mother keeping me focused on real life. And I think about their take on things each and every day.

Perspective is all about the words you use to define yourself and your experiences. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about the creating the opportunity to be in it. Athletes shouldn’t let other people’s words define them. It’s clutter.

While tennis has certainly been a big part of my life, it has not been my whole life. Part of what motivated me as a player and drives me today is making sure to keep it all in perspective — accentuating the positive and trying my best to eliminate the negative. Whatever we do, we can improve our chances of success by making sure we live up to our potential and constantly look for new opportunities for growth.

If you can keep it all in perspective, you may not always win, but you will give yourself a chance to be fulfilled. And that’s the win that matters most.