Strawberries, cream and sparks of genius: Tennis parallels to help us be the best we can become

As I start to write this post, the second week of Wimbledon is underway. The initial 128 men and women playing in their respective championships have been whittled down to just 16. Inevitably, the majority were seeded anyway, but some non-seeded players usually get through the first week as well. They are often the ones that have had the toughest battles, knocking out players with much higher world rankings than themselves. At this stage in the competition, however, it seems highly likely that the trophies will be lifted by one of the top seeds, although it’s not unheard of for an outsider to storm through and surprise us all (Becker in 1985, for example).

I don’t follow a lot of sport, but Wimbledon happens to be one of my favourite events, so although I have little time to spare to watch matches live, I do try to catch up in the evenings at the very least. And while admiring some tennis greats, it strikes me that we could, if we were of a mind to do so, find a few parallels between their world and our own.

Bar a few exceptions every now and then, the top tennis players tend to dominate the Grand Slam circuit and win again and again. What makes them so much better than all the rest, those who, despite being good, hardworking professionals, might play out their entire career without ever winning even a minor competition? And why are there so-called “premium” translators at the pinnacle of our profession who similarly seem to walk away with the juiciest strawberries and luscious cream? It’s obviously not just the luck of the draw, feeling fit on the day or talent, although undoubtedly those do figure as main ingredients. You don’t get anywhere in tennis, in translation or indeed in life without determination, dedication and effort.

A certain self-assured confidence also marks out the best among us. They chase perfection from a solid foundation, secure in the knowledge that they have the skills to back them up. Often they are astute at business as well as amazing linguists and impressive writers. Being organised, efficient and great negotiators are other traits they might share. But none of them magically appeared out of nowhere without years of solid graft and a willingness to keep learning.

Unfortunately, there are some professional tennis players that will never make it to the second week of major tournaments. But that doesn’t mean they cannot dazzle us with sparks of genius or ever enjoy the satisfaction of beating a well-known opponent. Dustin Brown’s spectacular win over Rafa Nadal in the first week of Wimbledon was a joy to watch, yet he got knocked out the very next round. Not being outstanding is no reason to give up, especially if you love what you do.

However, even if we cannot achieve the success of some of our colleagues, we still need to strive to be the best we can become, to push ourselves to the limits of our capabilities. And one of the ways we can do this is by ensuring we continue to keep abreast of the latest developments in technology and glean as much as we can from others about translation techniques, style and terminology. This website lists several courses, webinar providers and podcasts on the Links & Tips for Translators & Interpreters pages that can help you in your endeavours.

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

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