An Interview with Noah Rubin: Life as a Professional Athlete

Noah Rubin is a professional tennis player who is currently ranked 175th in the world. Noah runs an Instagram account called Behind The Racquet, where he gives other professional tennis players a platform to tell their stories. If anyone knows what it’s like to live as a professional athlete, it’s Noah. I had the great opportunity to talk with him, and here is our conversation.

Hi Noah, what would you consider to be the biggest struggles professional athletes face?

NR: This might be a little bit more unique to tennis, but I still think it's true for other sports. It's the loneliness. For the most part, whether it's for training or competition, you're away from your family, friends, wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend for an extended period of time. This takes a toll on athletes. Yes, the financial burdens are still a pain for lower ranked players, but it's the mental ones, the loneliness, that cause athletes to wonder, "I don't know how much longer I can do this for." That's truly the struggle for most professional athletes.

What else would you consider to be a main struggle for professional athletes?

NR: Another thing that athletes struggle with I've noticed, is dealing with failure. Many athletes want success so badly, and they have such high expectations for themselves, but since they had a lot of success at the junior levels, once they experience major adversity for the first time, they don't know how to cope. They expect to continue their success once they reach the pros, but that success doesn't always come. They begin doubting themselves. It takes a little bit longer for these young athletes to build up their resilience.

How do you think these stresses affect an athlete’s mental health?

NR: All of these struggles lead to anxiety, depression, and with this comes alcohol abuse sometimes. I'm not saying this is true for most athletes, but I've seen it many times. It's really sad. There's a lot of athletes that need help who go untreated. It helps that people are willing to talk about it way more often now, but still, there's a lot of athletes that need help. They may think they can figure it out themselves but many don't cope in the right way. They need more professional help.

How does mental health contribute to an athlete’s performance?

NR: People often speculate that pro tennis player are fixing matches when they're giving up and tanking, but this isn't true. For the most part, it is solely because the player doesn't want to be on the court. They are burnt out and just want to get the match over with and get on their next flight. This is partly because in pro tennis, we have a long, rigorous 11 month season. So there are moments when athletes aren't mentally prepared to give their best effort. This mental exhaustion greatly hurts their performance.

What do you think athletes need to do to effectively cope with these stresses and improve their mental health and performance?

NR: I tell junior players who are constantly worried about their matches that they have to relax! You have 20 years! It's easy to get burned out, and you have a lot of tennis to play. Try to enjoy moments and understand how long of a journey your career actually is. There's got to be times when you push things aside and focus on your happiness and mental health.
Also, I think athletes, especially men, need to check their egos and extreme masculinity, and not worry so much about comparing themselves to others and trying to be tougher than others. Athletes need to realize that the only ones who truly can relate to them, who experience the same struggles, are their fellow competitors. Therefore, athletes need to help and support each other. That's why we need to have a healthier attitude about competition, so we can help each other off the court.

What systematic changes do you think would help these athletes?

NR: I've actually been working to help get the ATP tour to team up with psychologists to help give players a more efficient way to receive help. Most people understand the need for this, but we need more urgency to make this happen. We're making progress though.

What are the best parts of being a professional athlete?

NR: One of the best parts is always going to be the fact that we're somewhat getting paid to travel the world! We get to see all these different cultures and meet so many people. It's really exciting.
Another thing is that I like to make people happy. I like running down a ball and hitting an amazing shot and exciting people with my athleticism and talent. It's thrilling to have a craft that you've worked so hard on, and have it entertain others and make them happy. Even if you wow just one person, that's still a cool thing to do. Not everyone can say that.

To end, would you like to share your final piece of advice for athletes wanting to chase their dreams of becoming a professional athlete?

NR: I don't think people realize just how much time you have, and how much time you waste. I know it seems like a contradiction, but you need to understand that you have so many years to perfect your craft, but at the same time, you have a finite amount of years to perfect your craft. So you really have to know how to balance patience with urgency. You can't rush the process, but you still have to work very hard towards your dreams every day.