Everyone who has spoken with me for longer than 5 minutes knows that I love tennis- to put it mildly.
I love watching it, going to tournaments, playing it (not that I am good at it…) but I especially love the lessons I derive from it. Tennis is a great metaphor for many things in life and I find that some matches and players are truly inspirational and you can learn a great deal from them.
I know tennis and interpreting might seem unrelated to each other, but they have in common more than you would think;
this is why I am sharing with you what I learnt about this job thanks to my beloved sport.
1. If it looks easy, it probably isn’t How lovely it is a job where you sit down, talk and get paid? For this is what interpreters do, according to some. Albeit looking simple, interpreting is a very demanding activity- multitasking at its finest. So is for tennis: fitness, coordination, technique, tactics, endurance… Players just make it look effortless, but there is a huge commitment and strive behind that.
2. Be always ready Interpreting is not an individual sport as tennis is, for you might have colleagues, sometimes glossaries or tools to hold on to; yet, most of the time you are there on your own and you can rely on your memory and your notes only. So, no excuses: you have to be ready all the time.
3. You cannot predict what and where is coming your way… There on your own, most of the time you don’t know what and when and where your speaker will throw at you. You can try to foresee it by studying the speaker beforehand, as a tennis player studies the opponent’ style and technique, but you are never 100% certain of what you will have to deal with. For this very reason, preparation is key: if you have an idea of your opponent’s strategy, you are more likely to succeed.
4. …but you must send it over the net. In a split second One thing is for sure: you have to hit something back, hoping it will be a winner. And the decision must be taken in a split second, judging many factors at the same time. Silence is not an option. (For us. But tennis players can be pretty vocal, too!)
5. When someone makes a mistake, don’t say “I would have done better” A comfortable forehand gone into the net, a missed smash- whenever we see them, it’s tempting to say “Oh, come on, that was so EASY! I could have done better”. The same goes when you hear an interpreter making a mistake: you notice it immediately and think “How could he/she miss that!”. Thing is, interpreters and tennis players are pushed to the limit in such a way that mistakes can happen and when they do, we are tempted to judge. Let’s be more sympathetic!
6. To be at your best, shut the world outside Tennis is also an extremely mental game: psychological endurance and resilience often make a difference in a match. If the player is able to maintain the concentration throughout grueling rallies and long games, without getting too tired or distracted, then he or she has an enormous advantage. Both interpreters and tennis players need to shut the world outside and dedicate their undivided attention to what they are doing, no matter how lousy the headset or how noisy the crowd.
7. Enter in the zone In shutting the world outside, you are able to see what is happening more clearly and deal with it in a uber-efficient manner. Some call it “seeing the ball as big as a football”; some “being in the zone”, but it just means having control over the events and feeling at ease. To get into such a state where words flow and you feel in command requires a tremendous effort in concentration but it is well worth.
8. Practice, practice, practice “Practice makes perfect” is a universal truth and even more so in the case of interpreting. A constant practice in technique, in words acquisition, in learning new concepts is vital to be up there. The best tennis players in the world practice every single day and so should you.
9. There is always something new to learn This has to be the best part of the job: you always learn something from every assignment, every topic, every client, even when things don’t go exactly as planned. In the game, someone said ” I need to learn, and you learn more when you lose than when you win” and I completely agree with these words (even if victory feels much better!).
10. Enjoy! The key to cope with everything is just one: ultimately, have fun. Some of the greatest players at some points have struggled, suffered or even felt they hated the game. Even during the worst assignment, when it’s tempting to think “why on Earth did I choose this career?” and you feel like quitting, you have to embrace the job and enjoy it: in your heart of hearts you know you wouldn’t want to be anything else than an interpreter.
What are the things that keep you inspired and motivated? I’d love to hear from you!