Tennis Legend Billie Jean King’s Best Advice

I am one lucky person. Yesterday, I had the incredible privilege of listening to Tennis Legend, Billie Jean King, speak. She has this ability to immediately lift you up with her words. To make you feel like you can do the impossible, because that’s what she did.

In 1973, King beat the world’s number one tennis player, a man named Bobby Riggs, in a game called The Battle of the Sexes. This legendary game was hugely publicized, 50 million people tuned in, because Riggs was quoted saying that women’s tennis was inferior to men’s. And women around the world wanted to see King put him in his place. And she did! "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match,” King was quoted saying at the time. “It would ruin the women's [tennis] tour and affect all women's self-esteem.”

King is the founder of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), World TeamTennis, and the Women's Sports Foundation. In 2009, President Obama awarded King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Without King there wouldn’t be a Serena and Venus William, Maria Sharapova, or Eugenie Bouchard.

Here are a few words of wisdom King passed on to yesterday’s group at the Women’s Executive event at the Rogers Cup that I hope inspires you, just as much as these words affected me.

On her dreams for women’s tennis…

“When we started women’s professional tennis, there were only nine of us… Our dream was that any girl in this world, if she were good enough, to have the opportunity to play professional tennis, to be recognized, celebrated and to make a living. That was our dream and when I talk with the current WTA players, I tell them ‘you are living the dream.’”

On being fearless…

“It is really important to get uncomfortable. When you look at turning points in your own life, I bet you were not comfortable.”

On challenges that women face in leadership roles…

“Instead of saying ‘why’, say ‘why not.’”

“Three things to remember: Keep learning, relationships are everything and be a problem solver.”

On winning…

“I don’t use the word failure; I use the word feedback… When I make a mistake, I hit the ‘delete’ button. When I do things right I hit the ‘enter’ button. Remember why you win. So many players spend all their life talking with their coaches about their mistakes. When I am coaching I spend 90 percent of the time talking about what we did right and maybe 10 percent on what they are not doing well. I want people to practice their strengths and go for it.”

On one of her favourite books, ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg…

“The best part of the book was when the woman from Google called Sheryl and asked, ‘What’s your biggest challenge or problem?’ I thought that was smart! That is what you want to ask someone heading up a company or division… Instead of promoting herself, she put herself in someone else’s shoes. And look what happened to her. Sometimes not taking a risk is a bigger risk.”

On the basic principles of life…

“Do the right thing, even if it is not popular, do the right thing.”

“Yesterday doesn’t matter; it is what you’re going to do today and what you’ll do tomorrow that matters.”

“Bring all of yourself to whatever you do in life.”

A sweet tidbit of information I learned is that her favourite ice cream is Hé¤agen-Dazs Rocky Road! Hé¤agen-Dazs was the amazing sponsor at yesterday's event and I thank them for bringing me along.


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