Maria Sharapova clinched her first Grand Slam championship at age 17. Since, she’s collected four more Grand Slams, been ranked the No. 1 player in the world and banked nearly $300 million in prize money and endorsements.
Much of the tennis star’s success comes from an exercise her mom made her do as a kid: Memorizing passages and poems by Russian poet and novelist Alexandr Pushkin.
“My mother was very much into education. She didn’t want anything to do with tennis,” the Russian-born athlete tells Tim Ferriss on an episode of his podcast.
“She would read passages and novels that I was way too young to understand. She made me memorize a lot of those passages and something about that repetitiveness — I never liked to do it, but it was a sense of discipline that she taught me.”
Sharapova, who moved to the U.S. with her dad at age seven to train at Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Florida, says that spending an hour each night memorizing Pushkin instilled a sense of discipline in her: “Discipline doesn’t always come so easy. You have to build its foundations.”
Persistence and tolerance for repetition “really comes into play as a tennis player,” says Sharapova, but it’s a habit that can help anyone. After all, as bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell likes to say, there is no shortcut to success.
“I believe in any job that we do … there are a lot of moments that we look forward to — there are projects that we love and that we want to be a part of — but then there’s the tedious work. There’s the repetition,” the tennis star tells Ferriss. “You could say, ‘I don’t want to do it. I want to stop. I don’t want you feeding me anymore balls.’ But that mental persistence, I do think you can develop earlier. I certainly was able to with the help of my mother.”
Ultimately, “the discipline that you have to carry on with, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, just beats everything else.”