Interview: Age is Only a Number – Bob Litwin

Proud of his Jewish heritage, Bob Litwin took pride and self-confidence to build an incredible tennis career. But his journey was not the average journey, it began in his 30s. But he capitalized on every opportunity proving that age is only a number.

Backhand

1) Tell TGR readers about yourself.

I was a teaching tennis pro for thirty plus years. I saw that students were improving at strokes and strategy but they weren’t making much progress in learning how to win. I started to shift my teaching by emphasizing all that I was saying in lessons that wasn’t about strokes and strategy. What was left were comments like “stay positive, relax when you feel pressure, you are making progress, be optimistic, welcome the perceived adversity, make no excuses, enjoy the process, improve don’t prove.” Players started to move their focus from how they were building their physical game to how they were improving their mental approach. I decided that I would start helping players more by developing a method of training in these suggestions so that they weren’t just words. These ways of thinking began to fold into my students’ beings. I started rejecting on court lessons and would only talk with people. I started to do seminars in how to focus. This was in the 80s and there were not many coaches doing this”mental training stuff.” But there was a collective consciousness and those of us doing this were outliers who were making progress. I started to organize seminars for weekend athletes. People who showed up were looking for an edge to win their club championship or lower their handicap. I found that I didn’t need to know the sport or activity to help people in the mental approach. Some of the attendees tried to get me to come to their businesses because they saw the commonalities of sports mental and business mental. I resisted but eventually made the shift. I have been a performance coach for businesses for nearly twenty years. I get to work with people who are already really amazing (and some not) who are looking for the extra 5% so that they can be amazing all day, every day. High bar but why not?

2) How much more difficult was it for you to compete knowing that you began playing tennis in your 30s?

I  started to compete because I couldn’t understand why my students where struggling to execute these ideas. I quickly found out that it was harder than just knowing what to think and feel. By playing I found the ultimate missing piece. Practice. Practice. Practice. I realized there was no shortage of tips/ideas. But they were mostly useless if they weren’t trained in. Enough practice and these ways of thinking and being flowed into the being. Transformation occurred. So for me, starting to compete was the beginning of me transforming myself. Of course I wanted to win but that didn’t come so easily but my mental work included being patient, loving improving each time I played. So my growth as a player was slower than I wanted but I didn’t care all that much because each time I played I became better in some way. The results started to come. It was a one step at a time experience. One day I looked up and saw I was top 5 in New York in the 35 and over. One day I was ranked #55 in the USA. One day I was #1 in the World in the 55 and over. It was not instant. Not even close. It was 25+ years of head down, persistence, no quit, working on my life, pushing through obstacles. I always felt I had an advantage because I had my focus on growth. I don’t want anyone to think I didn’t care about winning, rankings and what people thought about me but I kept working on training that out and that eased the journey. 

3) You have gone on to win  21 USTA National Championship titles. What do you attribute to that success?

For the sake of clarity, I have won 25 US National Championships as well as 2 World Championships (one team, one individual). I won two Nationals when I was 40 and 41. Those were more a result of just somehow having two amazing weeks of tennis and the tournaments kind of falling in my favor. I have won 23 Nationals from age 50-71 (and didn’t play for about five of those years.) So I had become a different person. More mature in many ways. I had become more comfortable with who I was. I was in a better place in my life. I believe when we are at peace in our live then our muse can come out and play. We are more free and our bodies are able to do what we are truly able to do. The game becomes one of effortless effort. Oh and another big thing is that I love to prepare. I will not play a tournament if I have not done everything I can to bring the best version of myself. I don’t ever want to have regrets that I wasn’t ready. I love the training because it makes me better in other parts of my life. My marriage. My kids, grandkids. My work. My health.

4) Can you tell our readers a little bit about The Focused Game Method?

That isn’t what I call it anymore. My method is expressed in my book, Live the Best Story of Your Life: A World Champion’s Guide to Lasting Change. My coaching model is based on stories. Stories that we tell ourselves can help us fly or hold us back. I have people write their stories that don’t work, stuff like “I am negative. I am not making progress. I get uptight under pressure. I worry about what people will think of me.” Then using those stories as starting points, I have students flip the stories to better ones. Ones that are stories of who people might become. It can be very simple because they can just write the opposite. “My middle name is positivity. I am patient in my process. Managing pressure is a turn on. I am non-reactive to what others think or say about me.” The new stories are almost fictional but they become where people are going. All these stories can be trained. Stories are not hardware. We can change our stories. It is very exciting work. My hit ratio with people is very high. Part of the reason for me seeing so many people who do change is because those who are skeptical don’t really work with me or read my book. I stopped trying to get those people to change and my life is better. I cut bait early with people who seemingly want to stay the same. Maybe someday they will shift and I will see them again. I hope so.

5) Playing in the Maccabiah Games has been important to you. Why?

I love being identified as a Jewish athlete. I have a lot of pride in being Jewish. I identify with the New York Jewish athletes of the 1930s and 1940s who were known as Jewish boxers,  Jewish baseball players and Jewish basketball players. My uncle, Seymour Schneidman, played on a famous CCNY (City College of NY) basketball team with Red Paris, Lou Lefcourt, Ace Goldstein and coached by Nat Holman. An all Jewish team that was an NCAA powerhouse team. I spent time in the home of one of my Dad’s best friends, Marty Glickman, the great Knicks and football Giants sportscaster, and also one of the sprinters as the 1936 Olympics. He ran in front of Hitler. I was inspired by these athletes.

6) You mentioned to me that  in 2004 you defaulted the finals of the World Championships and sacrificed the #1 world ranking because the match was scheduled on Yom Kippur. What led you to that decision?

It was a no brainer for me. My family never worked or played on Yom Kippur. Once, when I thought I needed the money, I game a tennis lesson on Yom Kippur. It felt awful. I never did it again. I knew that if I made it to the finals I would not play. Not just for me, but for my daughters to see. I did it out of respect for my parents who were no longer alive but I felt them there with me. People thought I should go to the rabbi and ask for the ok. I didn’t want that. I wanted to do something that felt more important than being #1 in the world. To this day, I am most proud of this decision. I say the the best match I ever played was the one I didn’t play. Oh, side story is that people say “oh so you are like Sandy Koufax.” Not really, because when Koufax didn’t play the rest of the Dodgers still did. When I didn’t play, there was no one else who could take my place. I like that distinction.

7) What was your Jewish life like growing up and how do you connect today?

I grew up in Great Neck and it was a Jewish community. I was bar mitzvah and stayed on through confirmation. I maintained my identity as a Jew but did not practice much. I went to temple sometimes on the High Holidays. I celebrated Passover and Chanukah. When one of my daughters became engaged to a non Jewish man I decided to start to do Shabbat to help help her remember her identity. My wife, Jo Ann, who is not Jewish do Shabbat to this day and it is my main practice. My identity remains strong.

 8) What is next for you in the future of tennis and your professional/personal life?

I just played for the USA in Croatia at the Senior World Team Championships. I played well and our team won the bronze medal. I lost a match where I discovered how hard it is to do the thing the you know you need to do or you will lose. I realized that I was more afraid to stay the same than to lose the match. I want to practice this idea of doing the hard thing that you know you need to do but a not willing to do. That is what my tennis will be about in the near future. I will decide how much to play in 2020 as I get closer to the end of the year. I love it. I love having a reason to train. It takes a lot of effort. I finish a year of it and become ambivalent and say I am done. But I always seem to do it again and again. Professionally, I will continue to be a performance coach for businesses and individuals. My bucket is filled each time I help someone transform. Personally, I just want to continue to be better today than yesterday in some way. It keeps me young and jumping out of bed each day.

9) Where can people find your book?

My book is available on amazon.com another book websites. It is also in many Barnes and Noble stores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Tell TGR readers about yourself.

I was a teaching tennis pro for thirty plus years. I saw that students were improving at strokes and strategy but they weren’t making much progress in learning how to win. I started to shift my teaching by emphasizing all that I was saying in lessons that wasn’t about strokes and strategy. What was left were comments like “stay positive, relax when you feel pressure, you are making progress, be optimistic, welcome the perceived adversity, make no excuses, enjoy the process, improve don’t prove.” Players started to move their focus from how they were building their physical game to how they were improving their mental approach. I decided that I would start helping players more by developing a method of training in these suggestions so that they weren’t just words. These ways of thinking began to fold into my students’ beings. I started rejecting on court lessons and would only talk with people. I started to do seminars in how to focus. This was in the 80s and there were not many coaches doing this”mental training stuff.” But there was a collective consciousness and those of us doing this were outliers who were making progress. I started to organize seminars for weekend athletes. People who showed up were looking for an edge to win their club championship or lower their handicap. I found that I didn’t need to know the sport or activity to help people in the mental approach. Some of the attendees tried to get me to come to their businesses because they saw the commonalities of sports mental and business mental. I resisted but eventually made the shift. I have been a performance coach for businesses for nearly twenty years. I get to work with people who are already really amazing (and some not) who are looking for the extra 5% so that they can be amazing all day, every day. High bar but why not?

 

2) How much more difficult was it for you to compete knowing that you began playing tennis in your 30s?

I  started to compete because I couldn’t understand why my students where struggling to execute these ideas. I quickly found out that it was harder than just knowing what to think and feel. By playing I found the ultimate missing piece. Practice. Practice. Practice. I realized there was no shortage of tips/ideas. But they were mostly useless if they weren’t trained in. Enough practice and these ways of thinking and being flowed into the being. Transformation occurred. So for me, starting to compete was the beginning of me transforming myself. Of course I wanted to win but that didn’t come so easily but my mental work included being patient, loving improving each time I played. So my growth as a player was slower than I wanted but I didn’t care all that much because each time I played I became better in some way. The results started to come. It was a one step at a time experience. One day I looked up and saw I was top 5 in New York in the 35 and over. One day I was ranked #55 in the USA. One day I was #1 in the World in the 55 and over. It was not instant. Not even close. It was 25+ years of head down, persistence, no quit, working on my life, pushing through obstacles. I always felt I had an advantage because I had my focus on growth. I don’t want anyone to think I didn’t care about winning, rankings and what people thought about me but I kept working on training that out and that eased the journey.

 

3) You have gone on to win  21 USTA National Championship titles. What do you attribute to that success?

For the sake of clarity, I have won 25 US National Championships as well as 2 World Championships (one team, one individual). I won two Nationals when I was 40 and 41. Those were more a result of just somehow having two amazing weeks of tennis and the tournaments kind of falling in my favor. I have won 23 Nationals from age 50-71 (and didn’t play for about five of those years.) So I had become a different person. More mature in many ways. I had become more comfortable with who I was. I was in a better place in my life. I believe when we are at peace in our live then our muse can come out and play. We are more free and our bodies are able to do what we are truly able to do. The game becomes one of effortless effort. Oh and another big thing is that I love to prepare. I will not play a tournament if I have not done everything I can to bring the best version of myself. I don’t ever want to have regrets that I wasn’t ready. I love the training because it makes me better in other parts of my life. My marriage. My kids, grandkids. My work. My health.

 

4) Can you tell our readers a little bit about The Focused Game Method?

That isn’t what I call it anymore. My method is expressed in my book, Live the Best Story of Your Life: A World Champion’s Guide to Lasting Change. My coaching model is based on stories. Stories that we tell ourselves can help us fly or hold us back. I have people write their stories that don’t work, stuff like “I am negative. I am not making progress. I get uptight under pressure. I worry about what people will think of me.” Then using those stories as starting points, I have students flip the stories to better ones. Ones that are stories of who people might become. It can be very simple because they can just write the opposite. “My middle name is positivity. I am patient in my process. Managing pressure is a turn on. I am non-reactive to what others think or say about me.” The new stories are almost fictional but they become where people are going. All these stories can be trained. Stories are not hardware. We can change our stories. It is very exciting work. My hit ratio with people is very high. Part of the reason for me seeing so many people who do change is because those who are skeptical don’t really work with me or read my book. I stopped trying to get those people to change and my life is better. I cut bait early with people who seemingly want to stay the same. Maybe someday they will shift and I will see them again. I hope so.

 

5) Playing in the Maccabiah Games has been important to you. Why?

I love being identified as a Jewish athlete. I have a lot of pride in being Jewish. I identify with the New York Jewish athletes of the 1930s and 1940s who were known as Jewish boxers,  Jewish baseball players and Jewish basketball players. My uncle, Seymour Schneidman, played on a famous CCNY (City College of NY) basketball team with Red Paris, Lou Lefcourt, Ace Goldstein and coached by Nat Holman. An all Jewish team that was an NCAA powerhouse team. I spent time in the home of one of my Dad’s best friends, Marty Glickman, the great Knicks and football Giants sportscaster, and also one of the sprinters as the 1936 Olympics. He ran in front of Hitler. I was inspired by these athletes.

 

6) You mentioned to me that  in 2004 you defaulted the finals of the World Championships and sacrificed the #1 world ranking because the match was scheduled on Yom Kippur. What led you to that decision?

It was a no brainer for me. My family never worked or played on Yom Kippur. Once, when I thought I needed the money, I game a tennis lesson on Yom Kippur. It felt awful. I never did it again. I knew that if I made it to the finals I would not play. Not just for me, but for my daughters to see. I did it out of respect for my parents who were no longer alive but I felt them there with me. People thought I should go to the rabbi and ask for the ok. I didn’t want that. I wanted to do something that felt more important than being #1 in the world. To this day, I am most proud of this decision. I say the the best match I ever played was the one I didn’t play. Oh, side story is that people say “oh so you are like Sandy Koufax.” Not really, because when Koufax didn’t play the rest of the Dodgers still did. When I didn’t play, there was no one else who could take my place. I like that distinction.

 

7) What was your Jewish life like growing up and how do yo connect today?

I grew up in Great Neck and it was a Jewish community. I was bar mitzvah and stayed on through confirmation. I maintained my identity as a Jew but did not practice much. I went to temple sometimes on the High Holidays. I celebrated Passover and Chanukah. When one of my daughters became engaged to a non Jewish man I decided to start to do Shabbat to help help her remember her identity. My wife, Jo Ann, who is not Jewish do Shabbat to this day and it is my main practice. My identity remains strong.

 

8) What is next for you in the future of tennis and your professional/personal life?

I just played for the USA in Croatia at the Senior World Team Championships. I played well and our team won the bronze medal. I lost a match where I discovered how hard it is to do the thing the you know you need to do or you will lose. I realized that I was more afraid to stay the same than to lose the match. I want to practice this idea of doing the hard thing that you know you need to do but a not willing to do. That is what my tennis will be about in the near future. I will decide how much to play in 2020 as I get closer to the end of the year. I love it. I love having a reason to train. It takes a lot of effort. I finish a year of it and become ambivalent and say I am done. But I always seem to do it again and again. Professionally, I will continue to be a performance coach for businesses and individuals. My bucket is filled each time I help someone transform. Personally, I just want to continue to be better today than yesterday in some way. It keeps me young and jumping out of bed each day.

 

9) Where can people find your book?

My book is available on amazon.com another book websites. It is also in many Barnes and Noble stores.

 

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