Sports has always been part of my life. In fact, I do not have a memory of life that was before sports, and specifically tennis. The same can be said about faith.
I grew up in a Hindu household, and the thing about the Hindu faith that is different from others is that it is more a way of life rather than an organized religion. Going to the temple on a schedule or praying on a schedule was not really part of it. What was a big part of it was understanding that respect was of the highest priority, and that the most important thing when performing any task was to understand what your responsibilities are and realize that the result or outcome is out of your control.
I was one of the lucky ones in that my parents never pushed any extracurricular activity on me. They let me choose the sports I wanted to play, the friends I wanted to make, the girls I wanted to date or, just in general, which direction I wanted my life to go in. The thing that was important was that no matter what path I chose, I was to try my best in anything that I do, respect it and everyone around me in the process, and finally I was supposed to enjoy it. This, and not winning and losing, was deemed as being most important.
They also let me pick the people to whom I would turn to help with my tennis. I feel like they would have interfered if they thought I made an unhealthy choice, but as of yet they have not. A teacher is another person, along with parents, that Hinduism puts in the highest regard. I am lucky to have formed lifelong relationships with some of my coaches, and they have nothing but my utmost respect for the influences they each have had in my life.
Yoga and meditation are cornerstones of the Hindu faith. Removing yourself from the stresses of the uncontrollable can have a very calming effect on the mind, and this is the aim of yoga and meditation in their most basic forms. The elementary thing that one can control is breathing , and this alone can have a mind-calming sensation. That is why breathing is always the first step in any yoga or meditation exercise.
As I became more serious in my tennis and the level went up, the stresses and pressures became more. As a junior, it went from playing at my local club to playing at the state level to national and international competitions. After that it was collegiate tennis and then professional tennis. There was a certain added pressure once tennis became my job. Before that it was still a glorified hobby, but once I decided to make it my choice of career, there was no going back. I must say that any of this added pressure was purely self-inflicted. Throughout my entire tennis life, my parents have been strong in their stance for me to do it as long as I enjoy it and only do it for myself. As the stakes became higher, it was ever more important for me revert to the mindset of what got me to that point in the first place — controlling what I can control. At the highest level of sport, when the skill level is equal, winning and losing happens by the smallest of margins, and the difference generally lies in factors such as energy level, competitive spirit and preparation. Again, taking care of these details is what brings success over a long period of time.
But what is success actually? This is possibly the most important thing that I feel like my family, teachers and faith have taught me.
More than number of titles and trophies or money, success is really being the best you can be on a daily basis. That is our duty and our goal, and at the end of the day, that is all we can ask of ourselves. True happiness lies in knowing that you gave it your all in your chosen field, and when it is all said and done, there are no regrets. As of right now, using this as a measuring tool, I am proud to call myself extremely successful.
• Rajeev Ram is an accomplished U.S. professional tennis player, winning the Indiana state singles championship as a teen and two National Collegiate Athletic Association titles in college. Throughout his career, he has won a total of 15 ATP World Tour titles, two in singles and 13 in doubles, and a 2016 Olympic silver medal in Rio mixed doubles with Venus Williams. In 2010, he partnered with a tennis organization in Carmel, Indiana, to create EntouRaj for Kids and raise money for college scholarships and tennis programs. In 2014, EntouRaj for Kids became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit. @EntouRajforkids