If you look at the best players or professionals in any sport, profession or line of work, no matter how diverse they are within their own lifestyles, personalities etc.., they all share many positive qualities; determination, desire, responsibility, maturity, passion, character, individuality etc.. etc.. the list goes on. But in this article, I want to discuss character & individuality within professional sport, although I am certain that everything I speak about is the same for any profession not just professional sport.
I want to look at how they keep their character & own identity whilst being at the very top of their sports, where they have information, opinions & thoughts flying at them left, right & centre. Very often they are their own person, make their own decisions & answer to nobody but themselves. This sort of thinking inspires these unique people to drive their own improvements & take responsibility for their improvements & development as a player & more importantly as a person. This in turn takes away the pressure on a coach to fix a player. Don’t get me wrong, successful players don’t go around being rude & dismissive of people, & not listening to anyone, but make decisions based on what they want & what they believe they need. Nothing gets in the way of what is going to help them get to the top. Ultimately, they have to be selfish. That then makes every decision they make become so simple & not personal, no matter how hard the decision is. It just must be made & has to happen as that’s what needs to be done to get them the improvements they need & desire. These decisions determine the difference between being the best & being the best of the rest, making those decisions that other players won’t make.
Being based in England I have been fortunate enough to train alongside world champions Nick Matthew & Laura Massaro, the best male & female squash players that England has ever produced. I know from working alongside them that no decision is too difficult if it will help them become the best player in the world They will always make that difficult decision & the right decision for them no matter how selfish, regardless of what anyone else says or believes. They always keep their own individuality & identity as they are always in control of what they do in their lives. Some people won’t always agree or like the decisions they make but to them it really doesn’t matter as in their mind it’s going to make them better & therefore must happen.
A good quote I heard from the boxer Anthony Joshua was “once I decided what I needed to do to go where I wanted to go, the decisions in my life became easy’. It really is as simple as that.
The thing I admire about Laura & Nick is how they do their own thing, keeping themselves to themselves, working hard & striving for perfection within the bases that they have built around them. It’s driven purely from them & their decisions. They are the leaders & bosses of their own destiny.
I think any young professional can learn from them. I imagine many other world-class athletes are just like these two as going back to my earlier point there are some things that all world class athletes share & this is definitely one of them. The Anthony Joshua quote above proves this. First, they decide what they believe they need, then they go search out the best people to help them. This could be people they trust or respect like a coach or it could be an ex-player or any other individual who’s on the same world class level of thinking as their own.
You don’t get average people helping world class people. But after finding the help they will then reconstruct their training to fit their needs going forward.
Is this individuality? Is this skill to be an individual something you are born with? I believe not, I feel it’s often a skill you usually learn with age. Almost a form of maturity. But if you understand it why do you need to wait to get old to learn a skill that could help you move forward quicker in your life? I think this is a skill or a way of thinking that can often go unrecognised & I believe it is an important world class quality, that every young athlete should be looking to acquire or at least be aware of.
You are probably wondering who I am by now as I’ve just made some bold statements. But to be individual you must be bold & open to change. I’m Ashley Davies & I write this article as a young professional striving to be a world champion & the best I can be within my sport (squash). I’m not saying all my beliefs around this topic are the correct ones, but I’m just exploring the impact of character & individuality through my experiences of professional sport & life. Just like everyone else I am trying to find my way to be the best in the world at what I do. I’m just guessing but isn’t everyone?! There is no certain formula for success.
How do you make the right decision & be individual all the time?
Reality is you can’t make the right decision every time, but you can make sure you don’t make the wrong decision twice. Athletes may not always make these difficult decisions as they don’t want to upset someone or financially it’s easier to take another option, but this can hold players back because the decision isn’t made purely on the question of will this decision make me world class?
I know this because just recently I made a similar decision when I decided to become a centralised athlete with England Squash for the extra funding. By making this decision I think I compromised my ability to be my own man, an individual & more importantly express my great character! I joined a system where I wasn’t fully in control of what I did in my training & my life. How crazy is that when you write it down? All just for a little more financial support. But at the time I felt I was making the correct decision even though a couple of people I respect & admire very much advised me maybe it wasn’t the right thing for me. I thought this was maybe the right path to go down because possibly I had strayed away from the one question that should drive all my decision making, will it make me world class?
I’m not saying that the system hasn’t helped me, far from it, if anything its helped me a tremendous amount & for that I am grateful. However, squash is evolving, & things are constantly changing as the game, technology & people move forward. I intend to continue to work within the system but in a way that is most effective for my improvements & self-development. Some people may see that as selfish but that’s how I believe you must be as a professional world class athlete. My point is that making these correct decisions isn’t easy & to make the right ones is a skill in a way. But the question you could ask is, if I hadn’t decided to centralise myself & had chosen to stay independent, slightly away from the system, would my results of been better. Could I have made the extra money through my results & performances? Possibly yes. Possibly no. Who knows? Nobody does. But I made that choice at the time & now feel like I am learning from it. All we can do is learn & live in the present, day to day & move forward with the experience.
I’m not saying that to be an individual is all about making hard decisions & going against the system or against the norm. Or trying to be someone who you are not. For some people they may be able to be themselves within those environments where somebody is in charge & telling them what to do. That person is not me! But it’s a personal thing of knowing who you are, your identity. Once you know that, then you can decide what’s right for you. It just happens that from my experience & my life so far, I believe I can’t express myself fully & be me within those parameters where somebody is making decisions on my behalf.
I know now that I must be the one with the reins in my hand & if it goes wrong or doesn’t work out, it’s all on me! That is who I am & the biggest thing I’ve learnt recently is that knowing who you are & being who you are, aren’t necessarily the same thing. I felt I knew for six months who I was & where I wanted to be & what I was doing was right. But in hindsight my decision making & choices weren’t directly driven by ‘what’s going to make me world class’.
Not until very recently have I started taking control & making those decisions that make me who I am or want to be! I’m not saying this is the only ingredient for world class success but I think it’s a crucial ingredient. Life is too short to live without expressing yourself. Live your life as you as there is only one of you in the world, you are an individual after all!
Ashley Davies was a professional squash player who started competing on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Tour in 2013 & achieved a career-high PSA World Ranking No.98.