Consider this – Nick Kyrgios is 21 years old. He plays one of the most lonely sports on the planet. He earns millions of dollars. And he just might be hating every second along the way. What were you doing when you were 21? I was onto my third career change, 1 year into a Psychology degree, with very occasional casual work, at least one to two 21sts on every weekend, and a penchant for barrelling myself under the table at these celebrations of coming of age. What about when you were 30? Were some of you in a job you didn’t like? A job that you spent your time in, dreaming of another life? A job that drove you to tears? Maybe you are the accountant on a handsome pay packet who fucking hates numbers. Maybe you are a tradie, union of course, working 6 days inside a hot roof, wishing you had have applied yourself a little bit more during high school science.
Kyrgios has openly told everyone that he doesn’t like tennis. He likes ball, man. NBA. He’s young, he has money coming out of his ears and he has told us, openly and honestly, that he wishes he was doing something else. And we wonder each tournament why he bombs out in bizarre, angry fashion? Some have said that this nonchalance is a psychological deflector, a chance for him to take the pressure off himself because he just doesn’t give a shit. It could well be the case. Here’s another psychological theory for you – he’s doing something he doesn’t want to, he has told us this, people close to him aren’t listening or taking him seriously, and he’s a pissed off young man. In his most recent loss, to Italian Andreas Seppi – who everyone conveniently forgot is far from a slouch – he at times looked like he would rather be anywhere else than on a tennis court. During the casual shots he had a look on his face that he just wanted it to be over. For all those who pulled the ‘not trying’ card on him – think of this: whether he is intrinsically motivated (want to get better for self development and achievement) or extrinsically motivated (money, fame etc.), there is a lot at stake. Personal pride amongst other things, for intrinsic, and at least $50,000 extra in prizemoney to get to the next round, for extrinsic. If he was ‘not trying’, to get off the court quicker, consider the internal trauma you must be enduring to throw both of those rewards away.
The likelihood is that he will continue the game for another 5-10 years, possibly winning majors, definitely maintaining a top 15-20 ranking. And if he does this, it’s because that is all he knows. Tennis, more so than other sports, has a nasty habit of isolating young up and comers and forcing tennis down their throats as soon as they reach double digits. Parents, coaches, and everyone else just can’t get enough of training these young kids, to the point where the normality that every other child experiences is lost. So when they’re 21, and they realise that what they’ve been training to do and putting their life into for the last decade isn’t what they want now, they hit a pretty significant hurdle. What else can you do? You haven’t been to uni; your social life is non-existent and at best highly irregular; and you almost certainly have never worked a proper job or had exposure to another industry before. A reasonably smart fella by the name of Carl Rogers had a concept that fits nicely with Kyrgios and his situation – congruence and the self.
In a very simplified explanation, Rogers’ suggested that people may experience psychological distress when they act in ways that are not authentic to their self-concept – who they want to be, essentially. The thing with congruence is that people usually act defensively when they identify that who they want to be and who they actually are, are different. In Kyrgios’ case, it appears he knows this and he has made no secret of it. It is a matter that I hope was discussed with the ATP ordered sessions with a sports psychologist. I really, really hope for Kyrgios’ sake that they didn’t just chat about on court tactics for concentration, because it would seem he has a lot more to make peace with internally than in regards to dummy spits on the court.
Kyrgios’ issues, as many would have them painted, can lead to a much longer and broader discussion about the issues elite athletes face when the bright lights of the arena are switched off, and everyday life ensues. Clearly they are not rounded in the other world that 99% of the population lives in. We get so caught up in sportsman’s lives because for most of us , it’s a childhood dream that we will never get to live. When we see a talent that isn’t fulfilled we get frustrated, and we ride these people very hard. You forget that they may be experiencing the same emotions as they walk on courts, that you have on your drive to the factory in the morning. So instead of wanting for Kyrgios to succeed at tennis, get off his back, let him figure out what he wants to do, let him grow up (your brain realistically hasn’t properly developed until you’re around 25 or older), and hope for him to be happy with whatever life he wants.