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The importance of focusing on mental health was the message that came through clearly during the discussion between former world no. one tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf and sports journalist Ayaz Memon at the ongoing HT Leadership Summit.

Eight-time Grand Slam champion Agassi, who is married to Graf, described the pandemic as a “great equalizer in professional sports". Both the experienced and new athletes had to suddenly face unchartered, uncertain times. “Older players, you look at (Roger) Federer or Serena (Williams), you start to realize that missing this kind of time, it tricks your body. All of a sudden, you are asked to shut down and restart, which is not going to be easy for some. The younger enthusiastic ones that have that engine to keep pushing their body and mind, it might be the right time for them to float to the top," he said.

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Both Agassi and Graf, who now spend time on their respective charities, felt it was important for athletes to pay attention to their mental health. It brought authenticity and connected the athlete to people, said Agassi, who is chairman, Andre Agassi Foundation for Education.

Graf, who is chairman of Children for Tomorrow, which works with children and families that have suffered trauma, said that what tennis taught her was to stay in the present and always retain her perspective. She moved on to say it was important that parents didn’t force their children into a sport, and instead allow them to excel through self-motivation.

“The most important thing for any person to do, starting with parents, is to really define what success really means. If it’s about money or being the best in the world in a sport, then you are making a choice that’s pretty tough. You spend a third of your life not preparing for two-thirds of your life. And so, balance is crucial, else it becomes very one dimensional in retirement," said Agassi, who has two children with Graf.

For players who put all their energy into excelling at a sport, suddenly unplugging from it could have effects akin to a post-traumatic stress disorder, Agassi said.

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