I want to go back to the 1997 US Open. Michael Chang draws you, however you want to look at it. What's going through your head before you even get to the match?
This is one of the most powerful stories that I share with a lot of people. There were a lot of stories developed over the years, but this one is powerful for me and I like to share it. It's 1997, I’m first year out of college. I went to Stanford. I’m thrust onto the world stage and I'm playing Michael Chang in the second round of the US Open. I had won my first round against a guy, about 65 in the world, from Sweden. It’s Mikael Tillstrom for those tennis fans out there and I'm playing Michael Chang. It's a Friday night match, the first year of the Arthur Ashe Stadium as we know it. 24,000 people. John McEnroe, Ted Robinson on the call for USA Network and it was a night match.
I knew since it was a Friday night, millions of people worldwide were going to be watching this match in New York City and every other city around the world because it's Labor Day weekend. I woke up that day and I was scared to death. Here's the little kid from Colorado. This is not a tennis hotbed. You don't grow up in Colorado and go play pro tennis. Here I am at 6”1’, 170 pounds with this big fireball lefty serve, 125-mile bombs. People are excited for me to play Michael Chang who is number two in the world. I woke up and I had this thought that I was going to forget how to play tennis, that I was going to forget how to hit forehands and backhands and I was going to embarrass myself in front of the entire world. Not exactly the mindset that you want to have when you're getting ready to play the number two player in the world in front of millions of people. I like to tell people the back story is I won the first set.
What happened was I warmed up three times that day. I warmed up in the morning and warmed up midday and then I went out to the US Open and warmed up. You don't normally warm up three times for a tennis match. I knew the match was going to start at about 8:00 PM or 9:00 PM. I had a lot of idle time and a lot of nervous energy. I warmed up three times because I thought I was going to forget how to play tennis, which is a ridiculous thought. I have been playing tennis since I was four years old, I'm not going to forget how to play. We get out on the court and I walk out on the court. I'm wearing my Denver Broncos orange Nike shirt because I'm a huge Denver Broncos fan coming from Denver.
From the first four games of the match, I'm pretty nervous, I'm pretty tight. Somehow someway I held serve twice. Michael Chang held serve twice. It's two-all in the first set. At that point, I took a deep breath and I started relaxing. I started absolutely bawling and not the type of bawling where you're crying. I was bawling as in kicking Michael Chang's butt. I was flame-throwing my serve lefty, nailing forehands, athletic, smiling and having a great time. The crowds were like, “Who is this guy? Where did he come from? He's burst onto the scene.” I get to set point, I'm serving at five-four and I've got the big lefty serve. I hit the wide slice and I come in and I hit this angle backhand volley winner and the crowd absolutely erupts. People are standing up, they’re pointing at me. I've got 25 people in the box, my coach, my dad, my mom, my stepdad and my ex-girlfriend from college. She finagled her way into the box, fraternity brothers. I'm looking at my box and backing up towards the baseline smiling and nodding like, “I did it.” I like to tell people that's when the match ended and people are like, “What do you mean that's when the match ended?” I said, “That's when I told myself, ‘At least you didn't embarrass yourself.’”
My set point was whatever you do, don't embarrass yourself. I didn't, I won the first set. I relaxed. I took another deep breath. My level dropped about 5%. Michael Chang is like, “Who is this guy?” He raised his game about 5%. He's a champion. He won the French Open. He was number two in the world. I lost the next three sets. It was a three-out-of-five set match. I lost the next three matches. I quit myself nicely. I lost six more in the fourth set. I shook his hand. It was a two-and-a-half-hour match. I played it. I didn't embarrass myself. It was an exciting match. Everyone was talking about it but I didn't play it to win. I was scared. I was the little Colorado kid that didn't want to embarrass himself. I always like to tell people that I'm coaching or helping or supporting is that, “You've got to have a new set point.” I should have won that first set, had a quick smile to my box or maybe not even smile. You watch the best players in the world. They're not smiling on the court. They are laser-focused on the task at hand and what they need to do. The mindset and the story in my head should have been, “I'm going to find a way to win this match. I'm going to find a way to take down Michael Chang, whatever I have to do,” instead of not embarrassing myself.
What happened after? You lost, you're boned but you didn't fail. You didn't look bad. What happened? Did you go to Denny's afterward? What happened after this match?
I remember going back in the locker room, Chang's trainer, to whom I am friend with, came up to me and said, “Nice job.” I was one year out of college and at that point, it was very clear that Michael Chang was the consummate pro. He had been playing professional tennis for many years. He had more experience, more endurance, more professional. I was green behind the ears or wet behind the ears. I went to the locker room and felt content that I quit in myself nicely. I went back to New York City. I had a nice dinner and the next day, I was in a hotel room with IMG. I didn't have an agent at the time. When you graduate from college, you're not a high commodity to be a big star in tennis. Usually, you're a star by the time you're seventeen or eighteen and the company signs you to million-dollar deals or whatever. There was this buzz because of that match. People were like, “Who is this guy? He could be one of the next Americans that breaks the top 50 and beyond. He's athletic. He's entertaining on the court. He's left-handed.” I met with Pete Sampras’s agent at the time, Jeff Schwartz, who was with IMG and a gentleman by the name of David Agnus. I was sitting in this hotel room and IMG signed me the next day. I was excited. I was like, “Now I have an agent.”
Interestingly enough, I went back to the Minor Leagues for the next three months because I was ranked 140 in the world at the time. If you're not in top 100 in the world, you're playing a Triple-A baseball for tennis called the Challenger Circuit. I go back with all the expectations of playing so well against Chang and I struggled. I struggled for the next three months because I thought I should be top 50 and I'm playing top 50 tennis. There's a big difference between playing it close and winning tournaments and moving up. I struggled and I get to December of that year. That match against Chang was in August. I get to December. I had been struggling. My confidence was a little bit shaken and I'm playing pick-up basketball at Greenwood Athletic Club in Denver Colorado where I grew up. I come down for a rebound and no one was around me and I felt a little click in my ankle. I said, “That doesn't feel right.” I started limping up the court.
My advice if you're a professional athlete, especially a tennis player, don't play pick-up basketball in the offseason. It's not like I stepped on anyone or I tripped. I landed a certain way and felt something in my ankle. That was the beginning of the next catalyst in my life in terms of transformation and growth mindset and learning. I was misdiagnosed with that ankle for eight months. I went to a lot of doctors. They said I had a stress reaction. I went to a doctor in New York City who was the ATP professional tennis doctor. He took a simple X-ray, he said, “You’ve got a bone spur.” He took it out three days later but I lost a year of my career because they couldn't find it or we couldn't figure out the solution. I come back after that. I'm having shoulder pain after that. I played my first tournament from the comeback from the ankle surgery and I feel a click in my knee. It was my right ankle, then my left knee. That was misdiagnosed for six weeks. I went back to the same doctor. He found it and did a meniscus separation repair.
Within two years, I had two surgeries after signing with the agent and after playing with Chang. I lost my world ranking. The agent couldn't do anything for me. My ranking was down to 800 in the world. I had a protected ranking but it's not like the NBA or the NFL where if you're hurt for a year, you come back and you get back into the starting lineup. You’ve got to earn your keep again, much different in tennis and golf and in some of these other professional sports. I come back at age 26 after a lot of soul-searching wondering if I should continue or not. Reinvigorated and re-energized but knowing that I had a lot of work to do. I started over again and that was at 26 after the two surgeries. Where that helped me transform and develop more of a growth mindset is I started studying everything. I studied spirituality, mindset, how the body worked, injury prevention because I was disillusioned with these misdiagnoses that came about in a more traditional sense. Don't get me wrong, these are great people and great doctors but I wasn't getting answers.
I studied everything under the sun around performance, mindset, spirituality, physicality, athletic development. I went to nutritionists and that became my life. That's what I immersed myself in and I was more passionate about that than I was becoming top ten in the world. That's another reason why I kept myself is that I was more interested in learning about these things than I was in winning and making a lot of money. I would distract myself and try all these different diets and different plans because I was like my own lab rat. I wanted the answers. It's been an interesting journey to say the least.
Let's go to that moment when you're at the bottom and you're discovering all this stuff. What's your ranking at the bottom of all this?
I dropped to 800 in the world. My protected ranking was around 350 in the world, which means that you have about six or eight tournaments where you can use that ranking. If you're 350 in the world you're still playing in the minor leagues. You're not getting to a lot of events. You're essentially starting over. I didn't get any wild cards from the Federation. I wasn't getting help with the coaching. I was going to have to invest my hard-earned dollars into having a team. It’s much different than professional sports where they get everything taken care of for them.
I want people to understand the money too because I love a great story but I also want to apply it. In golf, if you’re top 100, you're okay and you’re banking and you’ve got endorsement deals. In tennis, if you're not there, it's not the same. What is it like if you're not top 100? What's that life like?
I like to tell people and any tennis people out there that I might get in trouble for this but tennis is one of the worst business models in the world because in order to make a lot of money, you've got to be top 50 in the world. Imagine that to be top 50 in the world where millions of players play a sport to make a decent living. You can carve out a decent living at 80 or 100 in the world but top 50 is where it starts to happen. At the US Open, they're making for winning. Djokovic in the 2018 US Open made $3.9 million. These guys at the top are making insane money and the guys that are outside the top 200 in the world are losing money. 250 in the world, you are losing money to play professional tennis and that's one of the challenges with our sport. I was a career journeyman. When I was healthy, I was between 150 and 200 in the world. I had a hard time breaking into the top 100 although I did it for a cup of coffee, which is great.
I had some great opportunities. I played all the Grand Slams. I played Wimbledon, US Open, French Open and Australian Open but I was doing it all on my dime and I had to do it on the cheap. Every dollar that I made, I reinvested it in myself. I knew guys that were 70 in the world that were still eating at Subway because they wanted to pocket the money and put it in the bank and that's great. Probably smarter than I was but every dollar I made, I'd go to the chiropractor. I'd spend $500 a month on supplements. I was eating organic. I was drinking powdered green drink. I put powdered greens in my water in 2003, 2004 at the Australian Open and yet all these other guys, they're drinking Gatorade and Powerade. Powerade would sponsor these tournaments and they were drinking the blue dye Powerade and I'm bringing out my green powders and people were looking at me like I was nuts. This was 2003 and I turned pro in ‘96.
I was way ahead of the curve around this concept of wellness and fitness and a holistic approach to life and to athletics. That's what my passion was but I tell people, “I played on and off on the tour for eleven years.” I played from ‘97 to 2007 before I stopped. I didn't put any money away so I wasn't smart about that. I played for the love of the game and I played for the wealth of experience. The knowledge and my ability to coach now and impart wisdom and help people, I like to think that's the value or that’s the money or the wealth that I earned from those ten years of doing that. I'm grateful for that opportunity and now it's getting better. Guys are able to make more money playing on the tour. More are but certainly compared to golf, they've got four or five different tours that you can go around the world and make a decent living. You can't do that on the tennis tour.
You're in college, when did you know you were going to make this a career? That first moment like, “I'm going to go do this.” Did you try a couple of tournaments and you’ve got some success or did you know, “I'm going to give this a go because I'm going to give it a go?”
This is a great chance for me to go back to the beginning and take you to that place to set the context for my journey. It's funny when people become successful at something, they're like an overnight success. You didn't hear of someone one day and the next day all of a sudden, they're successful. People think they're good at what they do and that’s what they do. In my case with tennis, my dad was my first coach. I was four years old when I started playing. I had exceptional hand-eye coordination. I was a good athlete for a youngster. My first trophy was when I was eight and I was absolutely hooked. At twelve, I was a National Champion and I like to tell people I won the Nationals at twelve years old coming from Denver Colorado. Playing an hour or an hour and a half a day, competing against Florida, California, Texas. These guys are playing five hours a day. I have no idea how this happened. Maybe I was ahead of the curve with the smarts. I like to think that I was. I played smart tennis. I had good fundamentals.
By the time I was fifteen, I was five-foot nothing and 102 pounds. I was down to 69 in the country. That was a pivotal point in my teenage years where a lot of people, when you're number one at twelve and you're number seventeen at fifteen, you pack it in. It's done. You’re like, “I had my run when I was twelve. I'm going to go hang out with the girls and have a good time.” I rededicated myself at that point and got back to top five in the country by the time I was sixteen. I took a half scholarship to go to Stanford and that was my dream. You talk about manifesting and attracting and goals and not even knowing that you're doing it.
When I was twelve years old, I said, “I want to go to Stanford,” because that was the preeminent program that Coach Dick Gould, who is arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. I'll put him up against John Wooden. He's won seventeen national titles. He was fourteen and three in National Final matches. He brought in studs. He brought in pros for twenty years. Guys that ended up being pros. I go there on a half scholarship and it's a whole another story about how I got there. I go there and I'm from Colorado and that's a big step up for me. I play five singles my freshman year. I'm nineteen years old playing five singles with one of the worst, if not the worst serves in college tennis. I wasn't breaking 100 miles an hour. Here I was, playing smart, crafty, cagey, lefty tennis. Annoying people with my craftiness with this little serve that I spun in. I double faulted a lot. My coaches are trying to figure out how to help me pronate on the serve, which is a term in tennis that all great servers do. I went to play some pro tennis events that summer after my freshman year. I lost in the qualifying rounds of all of these low-level single lay, they call them futures now, they were satellites then, low-level pro tennis. I couldn't qualify. I couldn't get out of them.
This is the college tour, all the college players did that. That was what you did in the summer, in between your season. I go, I'm losing and the next tour was about to start in a week. I said, “I'm not doing this. I'm not going to get on the hamster wheel and have this crappy serve and keep losing in these satellite events.” I drive back to Denver. Wimbledon's going on. Wimbledon's in the summer, end of June, early July. There's a gentleman by the name of Goran Ivanišević from Croatia. This guy was left handed. He had this weird Archer style serve, big serve and he loved the grass. He was a Wimbledon champion later in his career and he had this ball. He serves so big and I'm watching him on TV and I'm in Denver and I'm alone and everyone else is playing those tournaments. I'm not following the herd here.
I go out to my local club with a hopper of balls and I started tinkering. This is the power of modeling, when you look at modeling in any business or athletic sports. I didn't have a coach. I model Goran Ivanišević. I did my best rendition of him I copied his serve motion and I tinkered and I played and I said, “Something's happening here.” My serve started popping a little more and a little bit more. Something clicked that summer. I go back to Stanford and the coaches see me serving. I'm a sophomore. I've grown a few inches. I was the last guy to go through puberty as well so that didn't help. I grew a few inches and my coaches, Coach Willinger and Coach Gould were like, “What happened?” I'm like, “I don't know. I just copied Goran.” I'm serving 120 miles an hour, I added twenty miles an hour to my serve through experimentation and tinkering. The coaches were like, “You're playing two singles this year.” I'm playing two and I'm the hot sophomore, playing big style, serving volley tennis.
My game completely transformed. I had this cagey winning style without the serve. Now, I had the cagey winning style with the aggressiveness and the big serve and that's when I started to think something's happening here. In my junior and senior year, I played one singles. I was top five in the country in my junior year. I got to the semi's in the NCAA in the individuals. We won the team championship. I was the team captain, undefeated year. That's when I started to think, “I'll try this pro tennis thing.” Not part of the plan but this big serve enabled me to give it a shot.
I have to ask so people can understand this. Does a Stanford guy have any advantage on the tour? You've got this amazing education that you're acquiring. Does this give you any advantage whatsoever?
Coming back from those surgeries at 25, 26, there was a player by the name of Jim Courier. He was number one in the world for a couple of years. He beat Andre Agassi at the French Open. He was Davis Cup captain for many years. I was practicing with him in Orlando. He had dropped to about 25 in the world. I was coming back from the ankle surgery. I'm playing with him and practicing with him and he's beating me in most practice sets. This guy was number one in the world. One day we're sitting, we're drinking water and I'm looking up to Jim Courier. He’s only two or three years older than I am but he's been playing on the tour since he was eighteen. I looked up to him and I'm choosing my words carefully and being polite, “Whatever you need Jim, I’m here for you.” I'm his OJ boy, his orange juice boy, getting his OJ and making sure that his practices are great. He looks at me and he goes, “You know what your problem is, Salzenstein?” I’m like, “What?” He goes, “You think too much.” He goes, “These Stanford guys, you think too much, you're too smart for your own good, you over analyze things, and that's why you find a way to lose matches.” I said, “You have a point.”
To answer your question. I don't know if it's an advantage to be a professional tennis player to have gone to Stanford. There are a lot of guys on the tour that are not the sharpest tools in the shed and they've gone on to win Grand Slams because they have this incredible ability. They have the ability to tap into their subconscious and their true ability of what they can do and they get out of their head. One of my challenges was that I did get my head too much. That might be the negative but the positive was that because I went to Stanford, because I was cerebral, I found ways to win matches. I liked having a game plan. I was able to figure out ways to exploit my opponent. I had almost this computer in my head where I knew where guys were going to serve on big points. I analyzed the game. After a set, I knew where a guy was going to serve on a breakpoint or 30 all. I would then journal afterward and I would write down patterns and themes and trends. All that was happening and I didn't even know I was going to be a coach someday.
I didn't know that I was going to be a tennis coach, a performance coach. I like to think that all of that training, all of that preparation around game planning and seeing patterns and themes, enabled me to be an accomplished coach even when I started coaching. I was essentially coaching myself since the time I was five years old. That's why tennis is such a metaphor for life and in business, “When you're playing tennis, you're the only one on the court unless you're playing doubles.” You have to problem solve. You have to find ways to win. You have to find the game plan. You have to be able to adjust. You have to be able to respond instead of being reactive. You develop emotional control for most players, John McEnroe and Serena Williams aside. I was developing all of those skills as a player, not knowing that I was going to shift into the next stage of my life, which is coaching.
You mentioned Chang, Rafter, Guga, Todd Martin, Björkman, Kafelnikov and most folks reading in unless you're a true tennis nut like I was. I even played video games where some of these people appeared, you come to the end of your career. You’ve played with some amazing names. You traveled the world. You've been all over, Acapulco, Australia, Bermuda, Miami and Shanghai, all these other cities but you come to a point now where you determine it's time to retire. How do you come to that decision?
I am absolutely honored that I had a chance to travel 35 JC year to play on multiple continents to meet wonderful people. You can't trade those life experiences for any dollar amount. The people that I met, the network, the people that I'm still friends with. It's amazing how strong the Stanford network is and how strong the tennis network is. It’s high quality, high character people for the most part. I always had this dream. I always believed that I could be top twenty in the world. I believed I had the talent to do it. Injuries got in the way, belief systems got in the way a little bit. Not having a team around me, that's one thing. One regret would be if I could have had a stronger team.
Nowadays, all these top players, you see they've got an entourage. The entourage is bigger now than they were ten or fifteen years ago but you need that. You need those people around you to support you. I remember when I first started playing pro tennis. Some of my best experiences were playing for Stanford. We won two national titles as a team. My fondest memories in tennis are the team side of things because it's lonely out there in that individual world of tennis. I remember playing in Germany during my first year on tour. I was alone in Germany and I remember I win this match at night. The German hall, everyone's excited, they're drinking beers, beautiful German women and cool people coming up congratulating me. Then get in the car and drive back to my hotel and it is silence. There's no one around. I don't have my girlfriend with me. I don’t have my coach with me. There's no one around to support me, to revel or celebrate the wins and be there with my losses. It was a lonely feeling, even winning. Some of these pro athletes out there today that are struggling because the dopamine hit that you get from winning a match is super high, but then there's a down that comes with it. That's why I believe people go to drugs and alcohol and make not the best choices because they're looking for that fix. That's the part of the sport that's interesting that I've thought a lot about.
In terms of stopping and transitioning, I still believed I could play great tennis. I was coming to a crossroads in 2007 and I remember there were three times within about three or four weeks that I cried. I cried with an ex-girlfriend in Palm Springs where I said, “I think I'm done.” I went to a tournament in Florida and I drove down and I knew my father who was my first coach and my grandmother who recently passed, were going to come to watch me play in this tournament. I remember driving down the highway in Florida and I started crying because I was like, “This is the last time my dad's going to see me play pro tennis.” I remember going to a tournament in Tallahassee, Florida. I was living in Atlanta at the time and I drove down to Tallahassee and I won a challenger, your Alma Mater FSU. I won my first challenger after the comeback from the injuries in Tallahassee with my father there and that catapulted my come back after all the surgeries.
We were playing at a Racquet Club in Tallahassee and my coach who helped me break the top 100 for the first time. An amazing gentleman by the name of Joseph O’Dwyer, he helped bring the fun back into the sport for me and he gave me a feel. He helped me to feel the game in a different way instead of being overly technical and over analytical. I'm 33 years old and he comes to watch me play and I'm balling. I am playing well and I finish, I qualify and I ended up losing first round but he's like, “You are playing great.” You've got another couple of years. Your body, you're taking care of yourself. Nowadays these pros, Federer is 37 and he’s crushing it. I like to think I could have played until I was 40 if I had a team around me. I was doing everything alone and it was so exhausting mentally, physically and emotionally, when you're not winning and you're not making enough money and it's tough. He's like, “You can do this. You're crushing it. You look amazing. You're playing amazing.”
I sat in this racquetball court after the match and I'm like, “I think I'm done.” I started crying. Three crying spells. I go home to my apartment. I'm alone in the apartment and I wake up with these flu-like symptoms. I laid in bed for a week with the flu-like symptoms wondering should I keep playing or should I not. I could sense my heart and my gut was like, “You're done,” but my strong-willed head was like, “You're going to keep playing.” I remember calling my coach and said, “I've had time to think about it, I'm going to keep playing.” I got on a plane and I was in Houston, Texas at the US Clay Courts qualifying. I woke up the morning of qualifying and I felt lightheaded. I felt weird. I played the match light headed and got my butt beat. I came off the court, called my parents, my stepdad and my mom and I said, “Something's off. I feel lightheaded, not like blood sugar. It's not like Vertigo but I feel like my head's in the clouds.” That was the last professional match that I ever played.
I was light headed for about eight months and no one could figure out what was going on. Not to get too woo-woo, but I do believe it's possible that I manifested some type of health challenge, if you will. It was like my body and my mind and spirit was like, “You're done. We're going to break your leg. You’re not going to keep playing.” Something was off with my body, stress, emotions. For eight months, I was in limbo thinking I could still make a comeback. The part of the story that gets even more interesting is that I went to go visit my father in Florida and he has three children from his second marriage. My half siblings and my brother at the time were seventeen. He has addiction issues with drugs and I went to visit them and he was totally out of control at the time. I woke up the day before New Year's 2007 and my brother was lying on his bedroom floor. Saliva coming out of his mouth, essentially incoherent. He was on some type of trip, cocktailing different types of drugs.
To this day I still don't know what they were because I'd never gone into that world. We rushed him to the hospital and long story short, he got out of the hospital that night. They let him out, I was like, “How can you let this guy out? He's struggling big time.” We had an incident at the house that night. The cops came. There was wrestling on the floor and I'm not a fighter. I'm a lover, not a fighter but I had to try to contain my brother. From that point, I took action. Six days later I found a rehab facility. I borrowed $18,000 from friends and family. I borrowed money from my grandmother and I found a rehab facility, an interventionist and got him into a rehab. When that happened, that was the decision that I made that I'm done. I'm done with pro tennis. It took a very significant family event with my younger brother who I had to physically see him lying on the floor.
If my dad would have called me and said, “Your brother is in trouble,” I might have been like, “I hope he gets better,” but I saw this and I've got to do something and I did. I took action. I went back to Atlanta. I packed my bags. I drove back to Colorado and I announced to the tennis community in Denver that I was coaching and that's how I retired. I like to tell people that Boris Becker and Andre Agassi retired, I stopped playing because I was almost famous. I wasn't famous enough to “retire.” I stopped playing and that's when I started coaching. My brother came to live with me three months later because we thought it was better to get him out of Florida. He came to live with me in Colorado. I bought my first home at age 33. I never had a real job. I still don't have a real job. I started coaching and he came to live with me. There's more to that story that I like to talk about a little bit later but that's how I stopped playing pro tennis.
What happened to your brother?
He went through a tough period. He went through rehab. He came to live with me. Three months in, I figured out that he was using again. That was like a gut punch. I’m a big believer in getting coaching and mentor. That’s the thing that fast tracked me to the online business. Even now, I have coaches and mentors. I'm expanding into corporate training and leadership training. I reached out to some addiction counselors, rehab leaders and said, “What do I do?” They said, “He goes back to rehab or you basically put his bags on the front lawn saying, ‘Good luck.’” With family, that’s a challenge. I followed the coaching. I said, “You’ve got six days to find a place to live.” He couldn’t believe I was going to kick him out of the house. My family was giving me a hard time. I said, “This is what I’ve been coached on. This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to follow the rules here.”
He ended up going back to Florida and it was a path to destruction for about six years. He committed two felonies. He ended up going to prison. He was faced with life in prison if he was convicted with these two felonies. Two weeks before he was supposed to go to this trial where they would throw the book at him, the prosecuting attorney quit and got married. The new prosecuting attorney came in and knew the public defender and they did a plea deal. When you talk about the universe, you think about things aligning, he dodged a bullet. Somebody was looking out for him. He plead on both charges. Each was four years, a total of eight years. However, they made it concurrent. He basically got four years in max security. He is up there with the dogs. This bad idea genes out there. He goes up to outside of Wacoal Springs outside of Tallahassee. I'm not in touch with him. I pretty much cut it off because I was like, “I tried to help you. I changed everything for you.” I'm out. When you decided you want help and you’re ready, I’m there. Until then, I’m not involved. He goes up there and I’m hearing from my dad that he was in solitary confinement. He was getting fights. He is protecting himself. He is 5’8”, 140 pounds. He is not a big dude and he is dealing with gang members and some serious stuff.
Halfway through his sentence, he calls me. He picks up the phone and he says, “Jeff, I want to change but I don’t know how. No one has ever shown me how to change.” It’s one thing for people to want to make a change, it’s another thing to actually know how to do it or to have someone to support you. I sent him two books. The first book, Tony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within
. The second one, Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek
. What I want to do is I want to plant the seed of how he could change with Awaken the Giant
and now I wanted to plant the seed of entrepreneurship and ideas around how you could show up differently in the world when it’s time. He read Awaken the Giant Within
and it completely transformed him. He literally knew how to create a value system. He knew how to find his purpose. When he finished that book, he was all-in. He started calling me every weekend. He is like, “I couldn’t get enough.” He is asking me about my business. He is asking me about entrepreneurship. He started doing public speaking. He did Toastmasters within the prison. He was cleaning the bathroom stalls as if it was the only job he was ever going to have with this attention to detail. He was meditating. He was praying. He was journaling. The guy transformed. I like to say, my brother Eric, he found his freedom in prison.
A lot of people in the real world, they are in their own prison, in their mind, with their habits and the way they are living. This young man found his freedom in prison. He got out in July of 2017. He transitioned out. Now, he is a server at two restaurants. He is getting ready to perform his first body building completion. He went from 5’8”, 140 pounds soaking wet to a 5’8” 180 pounds absolutely jacked. He trains like no other. He is making his own meals. He is more regimented and habitual than I am. He puts my habits under the table. He is way further on but when someone has a challenge around addiction, they find their focus or their “addiction” in something else. He has found it in lifting weights. He is a life coach. He is already coaching people. That is his side hustle. He is an amazing speaker. I believe that Eric and I are going to be on stage someday together. The two brothers. The “golden child” who went to Stanford and the black sheep who was the drug addict/drug dealer who got right. That’s the inspirational story in my life to day around him and how I’ve been able to support him as a coach and as a brother.
You're in coaching. I imagine you're in debt. You borrowed money to put your brother through this. You have a house now, so you’ve got a mortgage I would assume, unless you bought it free and clear. You're in coaching as a way to generate revenue. Talk a little bit about that switch mentally. You just show up and play matches to now you have to hustle. Not that you weren't hustling on the tour but hustle in a different way.
There's a side of me that loves life hacking, biohacking, a big side of me. How can you make life and business as easy as possible? Although there have been many challenges along the way in sports, in life and in business. I took the path of least resistance. After Atlanta when I said I drove back to Colorado, I had to put my brother into rehab in Louisiana. I had decided I was going to go to Point Clear, Alabama where my coach, Joseph, was coaching. I thought. “I'll start teaching tennis in Point Clear, Alabama. I'll drive to Louisiana every weekend to see my brother three hours away.” I get down to Point Clear and I'm there one week and I can't get out of bed. I am waking up in the morning depressed. I'm not the depressed type of guy. That's the closest that I've been to being down and depressed because I was scared. I was like, “What am I going to do?” I've never had a real job in my life. I've got to hustle. I'm in Point Clear Alabama. Nobody knows me. That week I was like, “This is not right. Something's wrong. I don't feel right.” That's when I called a couple of friends in Denver and said, “I'd like to come back to Denver to start coaching. Can you help me out?” My mom and my stepdad were established. I got my family in Denver. I've got step-siblings, cousins and my grandmother and so I took the easy way out. I went back to Denver.
I moved in with my parents. I'm 33 years old. I move in with them for three months. It was February. I was teaching lessons in the dead of winter in February in Colorado whenever it was above 40 degrees. That's the rule in Colorado, if it's above 40 and it's not snowing, you give lessons. I started working with all these kids and word started traveling that Jeff Salzenstein was coming back into town, the hometown hero. I started coaching and by April I was full. I was teaching 30 hours a week, I was charging $75 an hour. I was making $2,000 a week. That's how I got started. I save some money up with my parents. My parents helped me out a little bit to get started. I got that first home and I kept teaching and kept grinding. I developed a cool little program in Denver for a couple of years. I was my own lab rat with technique and footwork and movement and mindset. Now, I had all these lab rats from age six to eighteen. I had a great group of kids from Colorado that wanted to be good and their parents wanted me to help them. That was some fun times starting out.
That's when I realized also that I was born to coach, that coaching was my gift. Here I was the top 100 in the world. A lot of athletes get to a high level in professional sports, but they have no idea how to coach. They can do it but they can't explain it. They can't communicate, they can't articulate it, they can't see things. I had gone so deep with video analysis and studying the human body, when I started coaching I felt like I was inexperienced, but I already had master coach knowledge. I had to refine it and practice. The feedback that I was getting when I was coaching these players, that players would go to tournaments and parents would come back and say, “We can always tell which player that you're coaching by the way they move, by the way they swing and by the way they act.” That was cool that my system if you will or my lab rats were doing what I was telling them to do and that I had something. That gave me at some point the idea to start figuring out how to take that information and put it online.
It would have been very easy and I’m very sure this happens to a lot of folks that exit, they created an academy, build up the program and coached. They make money and have a good life and be outdoors and have fun. You said, “I want to take this online,” which is another transformation for you. You've got to figure that out. You're not a marketer, business owner, just barely. Why did you decide to go down this hard path?
Transformation, not having a box, being an innovator, it seems to be that's in my DNA. No one plays pro tennis from Denver, Colorado. Not many people come back in juniors when they're down. Not many people develop a big serve in college. Not many people have two surgeries by the age of 24 and then break the top 100 at 30 years old. The perseverance and the resilience, those character traits seem to be what's woven into my DNA. My parents divorced when I was four and I was an only child. I'm a total mama's boy. I'll admit it, I'll come clean. I lived with her. I grew up with her. I was nine when she remarried but I remember even as a kid you talk about mindset and putting thoughts and beliefs in someone's head. My dad was a teaching pro and I would go visit him every summer. It was the best summer any kid could have to have your dad be that teaching pro instead of in an office. She would always say, “Whatever you do, don't grow up to be a tennis pro like your dad.”
I heard that but then when I stopped playing it's like, “What do you do?” I have an Economics degree from Stanford, but I had no interest in finance or law or business or real estate at that point. I started coaching. That's what you do when you don't know what you're going to do and you have an expertise in tennis. I'm a couple of years into it and I was at the fork in the road. Some people wanted me to build a facility and run an academy. I then had come across some stuff online where, “You can make six figures with your content, 100k in a year if you do this.” I saw some type of advertisement for that. I went to my first workshop in July of 2009 and I met these online fitness guys that were helping people in the fitness space with this and then I had this other track that I was running a fundraising and possibly creating an amazing facility to help junior tennis players in a public/private experience in Denver.
I remember going to the Town Hall meeting and the bureaucracy and the politics and the fundraising. Then I started thinking if I build this thing, I'm going to be teaching because my cadence was I was helping kids. I would work from 3:00 in the afternoon until 7:00 at night during the week and then the weekends, I was teaching eight to ten hours a day Saturday and Sunday. That was my cadence. I was like, “Am I going to want to do that every weekend for the next twenty years?” “No, thank you.” That can be for other guys and gals. What I did is I started studying internet marketing. I hired those coaches, like everything else I started learning and modeling. I was intrigued by this concept that instead of helping 25 kids in Denver, I could help millions of people around the world. I started making YouTube videos not knowing what I was doing. The power of taking action and doing things when you don't even know what you're doing. There are hopefully a lot of lessons in this talk for people that they can take this and run with it. I started making videos on YouTube and I remember I was passionate about nutrition.
I like nutrition more than tennis and studying it and I became a nutritional practitioner. I went through a nutrition practitioner nine-month program at the time. My first video on YouTube
was I was sitting at my kitchen table talking about the power of blueberries and then the health benefits of avocados. Those were my first videos on YouTube and then I was like, “What am I doing? I know everything about tennis. I need to make tennis videos. What am I doing making videos on blueberries?” Those were my first videos and then I had an assistant that worked for me. At the time we were using flip cams to make our content. We posted some of them on YouTube and that's how I started. Two things, starting when you don't even know what you're doing and then also hiring coaches. I learned from Craig Ballantyne
. He’s one of those folks who is doing turbulence training in the fitness and now he's more into the transformational business coaching now. I got into his mastermind and I remember the first one that I went to, Joel Marion was the guest speaker because he was friends with Joel Marion. He did all the product launches in fitness and then he did Bio Trust supplements.
Here I am in 2009 in a room with Bedros Keuilian who just released his book, Man Up,
and Craig Ballantyne, The Perfect Day Formula,
and Joel Marion
. I was with some big dudes in 2009 and they were getting started with their mastermind concept. I started doing blog posts. I started doing email marketing. I got JV partnerships and I launched a forehand course for $57, not knowing what I was doing with a $37 upsell. I used PayPal as my payment gateway and I never sold a thing online before. With some affiliates, I did $25,000 on my first day. I was like, “I've hit the mother lode. This is my drug. I'm in.” That was the beginning, 2011 is when I launched that first course so we're going on seven years.
There are so many stories to unpack here for sure, so little time. You are a nutrition nut and folks can come to understand that, but I want to make it real. High achievers, entrepreneur, people that want to succeed, want to perform at the highest level, if we're not taking down Serena, Federer or even yourself, why do we need to be concerned with nutrition? What are the things that will make a big difference in our lives?
First of all, let me preface it by saying I am not an extremist when it comes to nutrition. I've chosen to be gluten-free. I'm not celiac. When I was having that health condition with the lightheadedness that lasted for a year or two and it did subside. I don't know what made it subside other than the fact that maybe my stress levels decreased. I also did get gluten out of my diet. I took a saliva test, a DNA test and it's based on genetics. It's passed down through your heritage. I was strongly sensitive to gluten, so I got gluten out of the diet now. I go to restaurants. The waiter will say, “Are you celiac? Do you wonder about cross contamination?” I’m like, “No, I'm good.” It's not like I have any physical symptoms, but my belief is that if we can eliminate inflammation in the body that's essentially it. You're either eating foods that create inflammation or foods that limit the inflammation.
I'm not an extremist. I eat gluten-free pasta. I should eat more vegetables. I eat some gluten-free cheese. I come from the angle of a little more moderation. Compared to most people, I'm an extremist but I don't do the raw. I don't do the vegan. I don't do vegetarian. For the entrepreneur out there, for the business owner, it is important to feed your body with the nutrients that it needs to be able to sustain for the short-term and the long-term. You can get off on the caffeine a couple of times a day to get through the day. You can bluff your way through it. If you're going for the quick money play, if you're going for anything quick in life, you can do the stimulants. If you're in it for the long game, if you want to look good when you're older, if you want to be an example to others, if you want to be great for your children, if you want to be amazing for your partner in life especially as you get older. It's important to create the habits around food.
I'm not a chef, I don't cook. That's one of my downfalls is I don't cook my own food. A lot of people might be, “He's not doing it. He's not cooking his own food.” I travel a lot. I go to Whole Foods, before I travel I make sure I have all my snacks. I rarely eat in airports. I usually pick a time to fast. I do a little bit of intermittent fasting but I'm prepared. I have healthy snacks. I always have them in my backpack. I make good choices most of the time. I limit my alcohol. I limit my caffeine and I drink a lot of water. It's not that complicated. For people that are like, “I know all this information. I still don't do it.” Here's what you have to understand. We're all running a program. 95% of how you act, choices you make, are completely embedded by the time you're 35 years old. If you at night say, “Tomorrow's my day. I'm going to change my diet. I'm going to go to Whole Foods. I'm not going to go to Del Taco. That's great on a conscious level but know that if you go back into those old patterns, it's because you're running a program every day. You have to become more aware and make a decision in every moment to make those choices to change.
Jeff, you're big on mental performance. You had to be focused to achieve at the highest levels. We're not on the court or playing sports. What can you share with us to help us get the more out of ourselves and out of our productivity?
I like to tell people what I alluded to with nutrition is the first thing is to start becoming aware. Become aware of your thoughts, become aware of the words that you say, become aware of how you're showing up in the world and related to that, I am absolutely obsessed with words. The words that we speak and the thoughts that we think creates reality. It might sound woo-woo, it's the secret or however you're hearing this. If you start to become aware of the words that you use on a daily basis you can change your world. Your relationships will change, your ability to communicate and to connect with other people will change. That's why copywriting is powerful because we are using words to create an environment to connect with other people. That's the one thing when I work with clients one-on-one, when I'm coaching them on the court, when I'm executive coaching, when I mindset performance, whatever you want to call it, it's all the same. It's what we create with our words, the story that we have. Jim Loehr was one of the top sports psychologists in the world. He was in tennis and then he moved to all sports and then he created corporate training with the Human Performance Institute in Orlando Florida. They sold it to Johnson & Johnson. I've known Jim, I played tennis with his son since I was ten years old.
Jim has a book, The Power of Story
. I have another friend, Bob Litwin, who has a book called Live the Best Story of Your Life.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful things you can do to change your life and to get to the next level, to perform at a high level. He talks about writing your story, a new story every 30 days. When you put pen to paper and you write down what you want to create in your life, you have the imagination, you have the visuals. When I was twelve years old, I said I want to go to Stanford and somehow I didn't know how I was going to do it. It's not important to know how, it's important to have the what and the why as it relates to your purpose. What's your purpose? The what and the why. Writing your story every 30 days, that’s a great exercise. Being aware of your words, understanding language. Think of the word, Abracadabra, which we all relate to magic. It actually means, “With the word I create.” If you start walking around your day and you remove the, “I need to, I don't, I should, I can't, that always happens to me, that never happens to me,” all of those are being embedded into your subconscious mind and it becomes part of your program.
Become very aware of your words because your words also create images. If you want to change a habit, start creating an image in your mind seeing yourself doing what you want to do. If you haven't been meditating, see yourself sitting down meditating. If you haven't been working out, see yourself working out and start to create the trigger words and the images around what you want to create and start to see what happens. If you don't do it, that's okay. Don't beat yourself up. I'm big on removing any type of judgment. Any type of, “I need to, I should, I feel bad if I don't,” that stuff doesn't serve you either. I'm big on removing the judgment and accepting. If you don't do what you say you're going to do in terms of working out, try it again the next day. You always got the next day, the next moment to show up in a different way. You have that power of choice. You have that power to decide.
I completely resonate with that.
My house. I moved to Denver in 2008. It was the first home that I bought. It was a ranch house built in the 1950s in a great school district, the best school district in Denver, Cherry Creek School District. I went to Cherry Creek High School. I moved there in 2008 and many of you know that was not the best time in the housing market. Denver is an amazing place. If you haven't been to Denver, you’ve got to get there. It's one of the most progressive cities because marijuana being legalized. It’s one of the most progressive states and cities as it relates to the economy. We get startups everywhere. In 2008, when Florida and Vegas were getting crushed, Denver didn't have as huge of an impact, but I invested in 2008. I sold my house in 2017 and I moved downtown and that was a great decision. I've made some other investments that haven't worked out as well. I've invested in gold and silver when it was supposed to go to 5,000. I’m still waiting for it to shoot through the roof. That is a long play but the house was definitely my best investment.
What's your guilty pleasure? What's your splurge now?
People are going to think I'm so boring. I love the gluten-free pizza.
Where do you get it? What's your favorite place to get gluten-free pizza?
I'll go anywhere that they have gluten-free pizza and feel like I'm healthy, which it still isn't gluten-free. I would say another guilty pleasure. I developed an affinity for tequila so I'm a tequila sipper. I'm single and I'm on some of the online dating apps and in my profile, I put “Tequila sipper” and that gets a lot of responses. What I notice is after I do a big event like a seminar, I taught at a seminar, I saw you like my post. I'm working with a group called Racquetfit
and they're based in Oceanside California. We are going to change the game when it comes to tennis education and how to help coaches, fitness professionals and doctors improve performance and reduce injuries. What's interesting is that a lot of people at the end of a hard day's work, they go have a couple of cocktails because they want to unwind. For me, because I've conditioned myself, I don't do well with alcohol. I'll sip some tequila. I'll have a cider. I'll have a glass of wine, but I don't feel that great the next day. I have a super low tolerance.
After big events like that, I focus a lot on self-care because I've learned that there's a bit of a crash after a big event. You've experienced this. The high of putting on an event and it goes well and you get amazing feedback. The next day or even the next week, there's that malaise and that's normal. Instead of going to the drink or going to a drug or going to some vice that's not healthy, I try to focus on self-care. I go get chipotles, that's my vice. It's healthy. It's what I eat on the run. That night I had chipotle and I had an easy drink. That was my splurge or getting a massage. Massage is great, I love to do float tanks. Another pleasure of mine is I like to go to the mountains and get away and get in a nice hotel. I'm not a log cabin guy, I'm more of a nice hotel guy but I'll go to the mountains, drive up there or go on a trip.
When you are unfocused, when you feel overwhelmed and that's not working, what do you do? From a mental standpoint, not from an event standpoint. In the day you feel you're unfocused or not being productive, what do you do? Are there any special routines? How do you get back on track?
The one thing I do is I change my environment. One of my challenges is I've been building this online Tennis Evolution
business but I'm also expanding into corporate training and leadership training. I love that work because there's such a crossover between tennis and in life and in business. What I notice is in the online tennis world, because I also do a lot of management on my team, I spend way too much time behind the computer for my genius, for what I do well, for the coaching. I've got to change environments. I've got to get outside, I've got to go for a walk, take a shower. I also notice when I travel, not to say that anyone can travel when they feel overwhelmed, but I do notice I get energized when I change the environment. I know that about myself so whether it's getting on a plane and going somewhere, getting into a new hotel room, it will energize me.
If I'm at home, going to a different restaurant or a different coffee shop or going for a walk or driving or something that changes it up, that's the switch. Whenever I'm feeling down or things aren't working the way I want, and this is going to sound super simple, I sleep. People talk a lot about the hustle and the grind and that may be one reason why I don't have an eight-figure business yet, but I like to sleep. I value my sleep and it's important to sleep to be healthy. If I've had a rough day, if I can get a good night's sleep, the next morning I feel good. It doesn't linger. I know a lot of people out there are not sleeping well. I've hung out with people that are not sleeping well and I sleep well. When my head hits the pillow, I'm gone.
I know that if I'm waking up at 4:00 in the morning then my cortisol is off spiking too early. Sleep is important and then I try, especially when I'm home and I'm not running around, I try to get a twenty-minute nap. I do this nap where I lay on my back on the floor and I put my feet up on my bed. I actually don't get into bed. I lay on the floor and I set an alarm for 30 minutes and I doze off into that place where you're half asleep and half awake. That feels good. I do not push through if it's 3:00 in the afternoon and I'm struggling. If I worked in an office, I wouldn't be able to do that, but I work from home. When I'm in my apartment I'll go up, I'll set the alarm and when I wake up, it's like a new day. I'm ready to go for another five hours and I'll work until 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 at night sometimes because I'm single and I can do whatever I want, whenever I want but sleeping is important.
I'm fascinated that when you feel drained a little bit, you go to a new environment. What a perfect career as a tennis professional and being in all these cities. We could nerd out on some tennis history, which I know not everyone appreciates, but that makes the show great as we bring on different folks from different genres. For folks that are tennis nuts or love your message, interested in corporate coaching, interested in the online tennis stuff, where can people keep up with you?
, that's my performance coaching website. I work with clients one-on-one. I also have leadership training. I can do keynotes. You talked about transformation and we've talked a lot about my transformations and what I've done and being an innovator. That's the next playground that I'm playing in. If this message resonates, if you want to bring a former pro athlete in, if you want to work with a former pro athlete/master coach, I'm open to having a conversation. Coaching my jam, that's what I love to do. I love to impact people on many levels. I like to think the people feel at ease when they hang out with me. They feel like they can open up and share. Those are the reports that I've gotten from my clients. They feel safe. They feel like they can share. They feel like they can trust me. I’m a pretty grounded guy for the most part and that's where people can find me. If you love tennis, go to TennisEvolution.com
, we've got a cool platform there. My plan is to bring more coaches in to help keep evolving. I mentioned Racquetfit
, at the end of the day I'm a coach, I'm an educator, I love to help people. It's been an honor to be on this episode, Dustin. Thanks for bringing me in to chat with you. It's been a great experience and best of luck with everything that you're doing as well.
Jeff, thanks again for being here. It was an honor to have you on the show. I hope people had as much fun as I did.