What’s your legacy?

By Greg Chertok, Director of Mental Training at CourtSense, a high performance junior tennis academy in Bergen County, NJ, as well as private consultant with Telos Sport Psychology in the greater NY area. Greg has a Masters of Education in Counseling/Sport Psychology from Boston University and is a certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. He has worked with athletes from the junior to Olympic level.

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Prior to the departure of a player from his local sports academy several months ago, I asked him, “What do you want your legacy to be?” In other words, if I assembled his friends, teammates, opponents, and coaches in a room and asked them to give a few words about his character, competitiveness, and overall game, what would you like them to say about you?

A thought-provoking question, undoubtedly. And while this player gave me a fine answer, it got me thinking: there’s nothing this player could have done to alter the legacy that’s been crafted in the minds of teammates, opponents, and coaches. After all, this player was moving across the country the following day.

But for the rest of us, well, it’s a different story. Barring an imminent cross-country move, we all have plans to stick around for a while, and therefore have some power over the legacy that we create for ourselves.

An interesting exercise for coaches to employ with their players is to have them individually present aloud their desired legacy – how they wish to be viewed and remembered by others – to a group of their fellow teammates. “As a fighter on the field and someone who is always aggressive defensively”, “As a positive guy who is there to support the others”, and “As a player who never lets pressure get to her” may be some examples. Then, bravely, the player would stand there and allow the others to, similarly bravely, report on the accuracy of this. “Yes, this is exactly how I view you!” to “You don’t really ever act like this”, and everything in between, may be the sample group responses.

Based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, people tend to judge and remember an experience by its most intense point (the “best” or “worst” moment) and its end. This “peak-end rule” is what we use to summarize a movie we’ve watched, a meal we’ve eaten, or a tennis match we’ve played. If the end of a movie was enjoyable, the meal ended with a brilliant dessert, or a tennis match ended superbly, we’ll judge the event as highly favorable, even if the beginning or middle weren’t all that positive. In other words, the end, or most recently experienced moments, matters. How we play TODAY is what shapes our legacy, likely more so than how we played the day or week before. If our players place this kind of importance on today’s practice, or today’s fitness, we’ll see improvements in focus, effort, and attitude each and every day.