The Agassi book is a sports psychologist’s dream. It is the most analytic, insightful, and detailed autobiography I’ve read in a sports book.
Agassi obviously tries to be honest. And it sounds like he is – mostly. The only parts where he seems to be stretching it a bit is where he spends too much time trying to turn Steffi Graf in to a Goddess and paragon of all things good. Maybe he actually sees it that way, but the passages are somewhat overdone and, worst of all, boring.
His other overdone and dull passages relate to his charity work. He goes into too much grinding detail and I have the urge to say, “Ok, ok already Andre! You are a good guy and a benevolent soul, despite the bad things you have done. We get it, so stop talking about it before we all go to sleep.”
The book is also an excellent example of how an over-the-top, abusive parent can create the drive to turn a kid into a champion, but how the kid ends up twisted, emotionally unstable, unhappy, and badly in need of love and comfort.
He finds it in Gil Reyes (who comes out looking awfully good), Brad Gilbert (who comes out looking very smart and also good), Steffi (Stephanie, as she wishes to be called) Graf, and a couple of old friends. Mostly, however, Agassi hates everybody and everything.
He is more naturally antagonistic than I had previously thought, although this is a trait common in very good tennis players.
Many of them are “we vs they” kinds of guys, meaning they are generally suspicious of people but have their group of trusted friends to whom they are strongly loyal.
This would include the likes of Jimmy Connors, Pancho Gonzales, Brad Gilbert, John McEnroe, etc. and, to a lesser extent, me.
Gilbert is a great example. I coached him when he was on the Pepperdine tennis team and found him to be a ferociously loyal person. He will never say a bad word about players he’s coached (Agassi, Roddick, Murray), any of his old friends, or me, and he will defend us all if somebody else says something negative.
Agassi is also a lot smarter than I thought. I had heard from Gilbert that he was very smart, but his public utterances didn’t sound all that smart and, besides, I knew the loyal Gilbert would say this even if he wasn’t.
Agassi’s book is filled with self-analysis, constantly trying to solve the puzzle of his own mind, but with limited success. He tries to atone for his aggressive, mean side by his generosity and charitable works.
This also stands to reason. All of us like to think well of ourselves even though we may do things of which we are not proud.
Doing good works for others feeds our needs for empathy. It leaves us with a warm feeling and this counteracts the nasty, negative, mean emotions we get when we fight with other people.
Whatever bad things Agassi may have done (taking drugs, hating his father, hating tennis, hating Boris Becker, hating Jimmy Connors, holding grudges against Jeff Tarango for giving him a bad call when they played in a 10-and-under match, tanking tennis matches, treating people badly, etc.), his charitable works prove to him and everyone else that he is not all bad.
And in my own opinion this is a good enough reason. The good works are getting done and helping people, whatever the motivations may be. I just don’t want to hear about it too much.
In the end it is a cautionary tale for parents. His father may well have thought that he was doing his best for his son by driving him relentlessly, giving him little or no warmth or love, and generally treating him harshly to toughen him up. (Adolph Hitler may also have thought he was doing his best for Germany.)
But the result of it was a person who was emotionally unstable throughout his tennis career and who probably still is.
As a player he went along for periods of time motivated, relatively uplifted (for him) and productive, but then some incident would completely derail him.
A miserable, steep, downward spiral would result until he hit bottom, wallowed for awhile, and finally something or someone would turn him around and start him back up.
All in all, in spite of his great talent and many successes, he led a pretty miserable existence, and, as a father myself, I would never want such a thing for my kids.
Success is admirable and useful, but not at this price. (I’m not saying that parents should coddle their kids and tell them they are great when they aren’t. Some negative reinforcement is necessary and useful. But Agassi’s dad clearly went too far.)