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Frances Tiafoe, Atomic Habits and the Long Road to the Top

There’s a great piece in the New York Times about Frances Tiafoe and the junior coaches who predicted his later success.

Even as an apparently unremarkable child with an unconventional forehand and no stand out physical traits they were able to state, with some confidence, that this kid would do something special. 

The story’s a reminder of the insight of true experts. In working with young, talented kids day after day and year after year they know how to spot the tiny traits that lead to excellence. 

In Tiafoe’s case it was his supreme dedication to the game that set him apart from his peers. The hours spent watching the Tennis Channel instead of cartoons. Or just hitting against a wall. The obsessive habits that – even if it wasn’t obvious now – they knew that if repeated over a number of years would eventually lead to him outstripping his rivals. 

Relative to some players it’s been a fairly long journey to that point. Unlike Carlos Alcaraz, Tiafoe didn’t burst onto the scene in his teens and start winning Slams. Despite debuting on the ATP tour at the age of just 16 and a half he struggled in his early years, winning only 9 matches in 38 attempts.

Things started to click for him in 2018 when at the age of 20 he won his first ATP title at Delray, the first wildcard to win that tournament. That was the year he broke the top 50 but it wasn’t until this year – at the ripe old age of 25 that he finally cracked the top ten. 

I’m being a touch sardonic, clearly. 25 is nothing to most of us. But Tiafoe shows how doing the right things, repeatedly, over a number of years gets rewards.

If you’ve not read James Clear’s Atomic Habits I would strongly recommend it. It talks about the power of habit – how even the smallest change in behaviour can have enormous cumulative effects. It also teaches you how to easily ingrain those habits in your day to day life.

It’s useful if you’re looking to improve your tennis game over the long haul – or your personal fitness – or frankly any other aspect of your life.

For Frances Tiafoe those good habits – as spotted by his earliest coaches – have taken him to the top of world tennis. 

He had a good run at this year’s US Open, narrowly losing to Ben Shelton in the quarters, and continues to win fans and admirers with his aggressively entertaining playing style and trademark on-court look.

And don’t be surprised if his ascent continues over the coming years.

If you’d like to get your child into the right habits as early as possible, take a look at our round-up of the best rackets for kids. Or if you want to get started on your own tennis journey have a look at our best tennis rackets for beginners.

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