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Untold Athletes

Bay Area local tennis stand-out David Ball took his tennis talents to BYU three years ago. 2020 was to be Ball’s senior year which like most American athletes have been shuttered by the Coronavirus pandemic. Although the NCAA will allow some senior year athlete’s an opportunity to return to play next year, Ball wondered if he should move on with the next piece of his life or return to the team he felt so connected to. During the pandemic downtime he started an Instagram account, Untold Athletes, an inspirational site for athletes to share their stories. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ball about Untold Athletes and the motivation for its creation.

SZ:  Technically 2020/21 is your senior year playing tennis for BYU. What inspirational life lessons if any have you learned being on a college team that you didn’t anticipate as a freshman?

DB: I feel like I could write an entire book about life lessons I learned while playing at BYU, so I’ll just mention a few. One: A rise in tide lifts all the boats. It’s truly amazing how big of a difference one individual can make on a team. During my time at BYU, we had a losing season, and also reached the highest national ranking in 37 years. The difference was just a few individuals. Hard work and good leadership are contagious. The actions of one individual can help or hurt an entire team tremendously.

Two: Self-belief is so important. Tennis is such a mental sport, and I experienced long winning streaks and losing streaks throughout my career. In those times where I wasn’t performing, it was almost always because I didn’t have strong self-belief. In those moments, reach back and find that love of the game and remember what has gotten you this far.  

SZ: Untold Athletes is a site with relatable, motivational stories from a wide range of athletes. What inspired you to start this site? When did it launch?

DB: I started Untold Athletes one day after my senior season was cut short to COVID-19. The shock of having my season come to such an abrupt stop left me wondering where I would fill this newfound time and how I could fill the void that tennis had provided. After talking to so many athletes around the country that were coming to terms with how their seasons ended, I realized I wanted to create a platform to tell the amazing stories of athletes and provide them with both recognition and closure.

Untold Athletes launched in mid-March and almost immediately received strong national attention. I’ve always felt that every athlete, no matter what level they play at, has a powerful story. My hope is that Untold Athletes can continue to be a platform that empowers athletes and allows readers to be inspired by these powerful stories.

SZ: Who does the site reach and how does your audience become aware that it exists?

DB: Untold Athletes began on Instagram and initially targeted college athletes. I’ve been surprised however to see how many people have been interested in following along with these stories. We’ve seen coaches and parents take real interest in our platform. We’ve also seen many young athletes follow our accounts to learn more about what it takes to become a college athlete and what those realities look like.

I think our followers mostly become aware of our platform through social media. I think the stories that are told are relatable and honest, which makes them very easy to share. Some of the stories we’ve shared have received over 100,000 impressions which has been extremely rewarding to see these athletes get the recognition they deserve.

SZ: Have you made your decision as to whether to return to BYU for your senior tennis year or move onto the next steps of your life? Either way what influenced that decision?

DB: Because the season was cut short, I was granted an extra year of eligibility. After a lot of thought, I decided not to return to BYU for my extra year. Instead, I decided to accept a job offer at Zoom, a company that has obviously been doing well and one that I felt was helping the world during a challenging time. The job offer and the desire to take the next steps in my life were big decisions in my life, but I also knew there would be uncertainty, because of the virus, with the 2021 season. It was very hard to not return and be with my teammates, but ultimately I’ve felt good about my decision.

SZ: What advice if any do you have for the athletes that are going through the same difficult situation as you have this year?

DB: I would tell athletes to use this time in the most constructive way possible. If you’re not competing as much as you’d like to, use it as a time to step back and take a deep breath. Evaluate how you’re doing things then work to improve yourself. I’d also remind everyone to have fun. If this has taught me anything it’s that the things that you love can be taken away in an instant. Cherish the opportunities you have as an athlete and when you do, I promise the game will give you more than you can ever imagine!

SZ: What do you foresee in Untold Athletes next steps as a resource for athletes?

DB: I hope that Untold Athletes can grow to become a community where athletes, coaches, parents, and fans can come together and rejoice in the power of sports. Too often sports storytelling platforms are reserved only for the best of the best, but I think we miss out on so many opportunities to learn from each other when we have that attitude. In 7 months we’ve shared stories on over 100 athletes, ranging from topics of injury, identity, mental health, victory and so much more. Everyone has a story, and every story deserves to be told!

Dave thank you for taking time out of your busy day for this interview.

Low Expectations/High Performance Standards

Courtney Nguyen,  Senior Writer, WTA Insider interviews Daria Abramowicz, a mental performance coach who works with newly minted 2020 French Open Women’s Winner, 19 year old, Iga Swiatek. Swiateck is a very talented player who has worked with Abramowicz for the past two years. Interview bullet points:

1) The younger generation is more comfortable with talking about mental health and the challenges that arise when you are a top athlete.

2) There are many outside challenges that arise besides performance that can add  pressure. A few of these are, being a a high profile public figure and added demands on your time, business obligations, relationships with coaching team, media obligations. There are multiple complex and potentially stressful  areas outside of practice and playing.

3) A key phrase that has helped  Swiatek be fully present on court is, “Have low expectations and high standards.” This implies she has done the work she needs to do to be fully prepared to play to the best of her abilities, mentally, physically technically, and leaves the expectations, “should, have to, must, ought to’s” outside of the court. As more and more athlete’s learn these tools their ability to play at the highest levels during the most challenging moments will be available to them.

https://bit.ly/2GUzkQq

Osaka, Focusing On What It Takes To Win

WTA Insider Podcast, senior writer Courtney Nguyen chats with Naomi Osaka, who recently won the U.S.Open Women’s final. Through her victory, 22 year old Osaka, becomes the first women in 25 years to win a U.S. Open final after losing the first set. This was Osaka’s second U.S. Open title and third Grand Slam victory. In  the podcast Osaka discusses how the Covid quarantine was useful as she was able to meditate, and train productively during the tournament lay offs. It gave her time to lay the ground work to shift her mindset to a positive focus. Osaka received a lot of media attention during the Open as she wore seven different Covid protective masks bearing the names of black victims of police violence, to bring awareness to the issue of racial inequality. The interview touches on how Osaka’s activism has been a motivating factor for her and she sees the potential for positive change.

https://bit.ly/33Bt9bv