Leadership

Maria Sharapova is returning to tennis—here are the top 3 things she learned while she was away

Maria Sharapova speaking at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports conference.
Kelly Kline | Getty Images
Maria Sharapova speaking at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports conference.

The world's former No.1 tennis player Maria Sharapova has been a star for over a decade. Last year, however, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned her from playing after she continued to take a prohibited drug.

The Russian-born athlete, known for winning five major tournaments during her career (her last at the 2014 French Open), appealed and had her sentence lessened from two years to 15 months.

Sharapova, who had been ranked the highest-paid female athlete for 11 consecutive years thanks to lucrative endorsements, returns to tennis later in April at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany.

While speaking at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference recently, Sharapova discussed her ban and what she's learned from the experience.

Here are three leadership lessons to take away from the athlete's time away from, and plans to return to, tennis.

1. Do what you love, but also have a conscience

Sharapova told the audience at the conference that it's important to never take an opportunity for granted. It's paramount to work and lead with a moral conscience.

''When you love what you do, and you do it with passion and integrity," she says, "then you know what you stand for and who you are, and that's why I fought so hard to get that back."

That's a phrase that apparently resonates with "Shark Tank" star Daymond John. "I loved what I was doing," he says about his journey to becoming the billionaire CEO of FUBU, the street-wear fashion empire he built from nothing.

2. Live and work on your own terms

For an athlete, retirement typically comes earlier than for other careers. For Sharapova, the ban could have prematurely ended her profession as a tennis champion.

The 29-year-old, however, didn't let that happen. In fact, she says, the ban has made her appreciate the sport even more.

After all, adversity may come out of nowhere. When it does, it can both figuratively, or in Sharapova's case, literally sideline you. That's why, she says, it's crucial to stay strong and make every moment count.

''You always want to end your career or a chapter in your life on your terms and in your voice,'' Sharapova says. ''And to be in a moment where you felt like it could have ended on someone else's terms was very difficult for me to accept."

"You always want to end your career or a chapter in your life on your terms and in your voice." -Maria Sharapova, tennis champion

"That's why I fought so hard for the truth to be out," she adds. "You don't realize how much you love something, how much something means to you, until you lose it for some time.''

Her advice mirrors that of psychotherapist Amy Morin, who recently wrote about 13 tips for high-achievers. "Mentally strong people don't waste their time and energy thinking about the problem," she says, "instead they focus on creating a solution."

For Sharapova, that meant appealing the ban and fighting for the longevity of her career.

3. Only focus on what you can control

Sharapova says she's learned to relax and let life run its course during the last 15 months.

''I learned that life is okay without tennis,'' says Sharapova, who started candy business Sugarpova in 2012. ''Life can be okay, which is a scary thought, because when you've done something for so long, you always think of, 'Well, how am I going to feel when I don't have that?'"

''I don't know if there's much that I can control,'' Sharapova continues. ''I think what I can control, and what I always have controlled, is what I can do, and how I can go out there and how I can compete, and how I can manage my career and my time and what I do with it, and the way I play tennis."

It's a lesson that Morin writes about as well: "Pay attention to the times when you're tempted to worry about something you can't control—like the choices other people make or how your competitor behaves—and devote that energy into something more productive."

"It gave me a chance to realize that you're the one that creates your life," says Sharapova, "and you create your own opportunities.''