Every so often, more so when I was younger, I have been asked who a sportsperson is I most admire. Until recently, the answer was Matthew Le Tissier because I spent the 80s and 90s watching Southampton Football Club.
However, my answer has now changed, and I am sure it will surprise you that it is now the professional tennis player Nick Kyrgios. He has been a professional for ten years but only has seven singles titles, none of them Grand Slams. It doesn’t take long to find quotes about him like “… bad boy of Australian and, let's be honest, world tennis…” So why on earth does he hold my admiration?
The answer stems from the first episode of the Netflix documentary series, Break Point. The series itself shows what an isolationist sport tennis can be. Yes, the amount of money available, like most sports, is unimaginable for most of us, but the dedication, training, and mental toughness to year in year out travel the world playing an individuals’ sport when there are only four tournaments that most people have heard of, is relentless. But to me, not necessarily admirable in itself.
So, what has Nick Kyrgios done that inspires me so much? Well, he has recognised that perpetual tennis with the associated pressure has been detrimental to his mental health. It has meant that he stopped enjoying the sport he loves so much, recognised that it had a negative impact on his relationships with family and friends and had led him into depression.
It would be easy to ask how someone with career earnings in excess of £10m can suffer from mental health issues, but that is entirely missing the point. Such trauma is no respecter of wealth. So how has he dealt with this? He has repeatedly stated that he has no interest in playing for twelve months of a year and he refuses to do so, primarily because he finds it extremely difficult to manage the mental pressures and misses his family and friends.
In my blog way back in March 2020, I observed that I completely underestimated what was psychologically required to recover from my heart attack. This directly led to some fractious times with my family, friends, and my gym coach. Rightly or wrongly, I was so pre-occupied with me that I could not see how everyone else was also being affected.
In that same blog I also quoted the Greek philosopher Seneca:
“How many have laid waste to your lifwhen you weren’t aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire, and social amusements – how little of your own was left to you. You will realise you are dying before your time!”
So, I guess my admiration for Nick Kyrgios stems from him recognising how his actions have been negatively affecting him, his family, and his friends, where I could not, and that he has done something about it. It is that level of self-awareness and perceptiveness that feels elite, not the sport or the sportsman.
Do not get me wrong, I am content in where I am in life but there have without doubt been some rough edges getting here that if I had been able to take a step back and smooth out, would have meant a far gentler ride. However, life isn’t supposed to be like that as we know.
I said that Nick Kyrgios has never won a singles Grand Slam.
In January 2022, he and his childhood friend Thanasi Kokkinakis got a wild card entry into the Australian Open men’s doubles and won it. They were the first wildcard pairing in the Open era to do so. The fact that that Nick Kyrgios’ only grand slam title come by partnering his best friend is heart-warming for me. It is not the money that makes you achieve, it’s the people. As my music hero Joe Strummer once said, “without people you’re nothing.”
Not everyone has the awareness or perspective to appreciate when they are suffering from stress. If they do, they are not always able to “fix” themselves, may not know where to go to seek help, or may even be too scared to ask for it. This is a significant part of my motivation in starting to plan my post (35 years this year) financial services career.
As I write this, I am 57 ¼ with a determination to have left financial services no later than my 60th birthday. I intend to play my part in demonstrating the physical and mental benefits that exercise can bring. As I state on the holding page for my new website stevefoxfinefettle.com, I believe that if you have the ability to help someone you have the responsibility to. So, with that in mind I have enrolled on a year-long, part-time course to become a Mental Health and Exercise Coach (MHEC).
I do have some ideas of what the business Steve Fox Fine Fettle (the name specifically not concentrating on physical fitness) will look like, and who its clientele may be. However, what really excites me is that I am under no time pressure and that my education will without doubt be challenging but open up new opportunities. The end product is likely be completely different to what I may envisage it to be now. I’m fortunate to have many friends within the fitness industry, and many outside. I am fairly sure they will all be hearing from me in one shape or form in due course about by eventual transition, and how they can support me.
I am not qualified to do the things I want to do. However, if you add one of my favourite words to that sentence, yet, it changes the whole sentiment around. Yet is such a simple little word, but it can be one of the most profound and powerful; it can flip a negative to a positive so easily.
· I cannot enjoy exercise...yet
· I cannot run to that lamppost…yet.
· I cannot imagine myself taking part in an outdoor “bootcamp” session…yet
· I cannot do a Parkrun…yet
· I cannot run a 10k…yet
· I am not qualified to improve someone’s mental health and/or fitness…yet
So, I am a yet man as opposed to a yes man!
Having said that……the things I regularly seem to say yes to, without putting up any fight, are challenges with friends, or bits of “stupid” that Sarah and I like to call them. My 2023 stupids are:
· 15km obstacle course race (OCR) north of the Artic Circle in Lapland
· Spartan Trifecta weekend – 21km, 13km and 5km OCRs in the same weekend
· Europe’s Toughest Mudder – multiple laps from 8pm to 8am
· Man versus Mountain – running up and down Snowdon
However, I maintain that Sarah has outstupided me given she is doing the Rat Race Ultra Tour of Arran which is sixty miles over two days!
So, I guess what I have in common with Nick Kyrgios (other than a rebellious affection for counterculture but that’s another story) is that we could opt to plough a lonely furrow but we choose not to due to the perceived danger to our mental health and the absence of fun And at the end of the day, as I’m so fond of saying, if something is not fun, why would you choose to do it? My last blog focussed on a cost of not living crisis, and I know my life is fuller when spent with family and friends and presenting myself with personal and professional challenges.
Both my stupids and my career development plans for 2023 currently scare and excite me in equal measure, and that’s provided me with a platform of eager anticipation. I have a rough idea of where I might be this time next year, and as I approach the age of 60, but no idea what it will actually look like. As (courtesy of my granddaughter) Elsa sings in Frozen 2:
Every day's a little harder
As I feel my power grow
Don't you know there's part of me
That longs to go
Into the unknown