In the stuck-up, ego-centered, “I am the greatest” world of professional sports, it’s truly rare and refreshing to find such a classy and deserving champion like the current World’s #1 tennis player, Rafael Nadal. Despite his recent loss in the quarterfinals of the French Open which he had won the four previous years, Nadal epitomizes everything that is right with competitive sports. He is the anti-brat, the anti-John McEnroe, a.k.a Superbrat. He’s humble, polite and respectful of his opponents, the fans and match officials. He doesn’t throw his racquets, curse, or obnoxiously celebrate. He doesn’t cheat or play head games and he is always in control of his competitiveness. Simply put, Nadal is an extremely mature and well-adjusted young man for 23 who clearly has both his game and prodigious talent in perspective.
If only up-and-coming young athletes and their sometimes overly-driven parents could use him and his family as a model for what it really takes to become a champion. Rafa’s only coach, his paternal uncle Toni, has taught the boy well. He has helped him understand that what is really important is not the winning, but to do your best, all of the time and, in the process, to set an example of a good human being. These are forgotten lessons for far too many competitive athletes whose only priority seems to be to win, no matter what!
Parents who collude with their child-athlete’s bad behavior and cheating, i.e. they look the other way or dismiss it as unimportant, could learn something extremely valuable from Coach Toni. In June Gourney’s finely written June 21st cover story about Nadal in the New York Times Magazine she quoted Toni Nadal,
“It’s about respect. It’s really easy for these guys to start thinking the world revolves around them. I never could have tolerated it if Rafael had become a good player and a bad example of a human being. I was at a symposium recently and a trainer said to me, ‘Look, if you ask a young player’s father which he’d rather get at the end of this process – a courteous person or the French Open champion – you know what the father is going to say,’ And I said: No, that’s all wrong. Because if that player is brought up courteous, brought up as a respectful person, he’s got a better chance to reach the championship of the French Open – because it’s going to be easier for him to accomplish the hard work.”
Sadly, there are far too few coaches out there who maintain such a healthy perspective about winning and what’s really important. The fool’s gold allure of winning blinds athletes, their parents and coaches to the point that all are willing to sacrifice the athlete’s character, integrity and emotional well being just for a win. This is like making a deal with the devil.
Toni Nadal clearly has his priorities straight. He understands that what’s fundamentally important is training a good human being and that the athlete as champion naturally comes out of this. Obviously his methods work pretty well, don’t you think?