Letter to My Younger Self

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Sep 26, 2015

“Play hard, do it on your own terms and stay true to yourself. Do that, and you can’t go wrong.”
Pete Sampras

Petros (Pete) Sampras, born August 12, 1971, is a retired American tennis player and was formerly ranked No.1 in the world. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in tennis history. He debuted on the professional tour in 1988 and finished his career at the 2002 U.S. Open, which he won, defeating rival Andre Agassi in the final. He was particularly esteemed for his precise serve, earning the nickname “Pistol Pete.”

During his career he earned $43,280,450 while winning 64 titles (seven Wimbledon and five U.S. Open singles titles). From early on, his great idol was Rod Laver, and at age 11 Sampras met and played with him.

But this article is not about Pete Sampras the tennis player, but rather, Pete Sampras the mentor looking back on his own life with advice he would now have given himself when he was 16 years old if he knew then what he knows now. In The Players’ Tribune, his “Letter to My Younger Self” begins with these words: “Dear 16-year-old Pete.”

His first words, “You’re about to go pro, you’re pretty excited. Deep in your heart you know you’re eventually going to succeed. But believe me, it’s coming sooner than you think. You’ll have your early ups and downs, but in just a couple of years, you’re gonna fight your way into the Top 5 in the world rankings, and you’ll win the U.S. Open, beating the likes of Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi in the process. At 19, you’ll be the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Open.”

Looking back on his life, Sampras added, “That’s when everything will change. ... All eyes will be on you, and the attention will take some getting used to — it won’t mesh well with your reserved personality.”

Sampras then shared four highlights in the letter. First, there’s more to being a pro than just playing tennis. People will make demands that you may not always want to oblige and the demands may not always be fun. “But as a tennis champion, you have that responsibility. You play tennis because you love the game, not because you love the limelight, so get ready.” He even suggested getting some media training and not reading the newspaper or any other publication where writers comment about you. “Let your racket do the talking.”

Second, don’t forget to take care of your most important weapon: your body. Always watch what you eat. You may crave hamburgers and pizza but if you eat them without figuring out what your body really needs, “ … you’ll get on the court the next day and fall flat.”

Third, keeping it professional and always maintaining a mutual respect for one another is what will make the rivalry one of the best the game will ever see. Of course, he was talking about Andre Agassi. They had a fierce and special rivalry. They brought out the best in each other. “You’ll rise to be the best in the world together, and it’s always gonna be a heavyweight match when you play.”

Fourth, it’s the people in your life that will shape you. Appreciate them. Sampras’ coach and close friend suffered from brain cancer and died. When things like that happen, “Don’t go at it alone. Appreciate him while you have him, and talk about it when he’s gone.”

Sampras acknowledged that his friends got him the phone number of Bridgette who became his wife. His gratitude for her, his parents, siblings and others was unlimited.

I wonder what my “Letter to My Younger Self” would say if I were to write one. What wisdom have I gleaned over the years that I wish I knew when I was 16 years old?  

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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