Maria Sharapova credits her success to an academic exercise her mom made her do as a kid

Grand Slamp champion Maria Sharapova
Shaun Botterill | Getty Images

Maria Sharapova clinched her first Grand Slam championship at age 17. Since, she's collected four more Grand Slams, been ranked the No. 1 player in the world and banked nearly $300 million in prize money and endorsements.

Much of the tennis star's success comes from an exercise her mom made her do as a kid: Memorizing passages and poems by Russian poet and novelist Alexandr Pushkin.

"My mother was very much into education. She didn't want anything to do with tennis," the Russian-born athlete tells Tim Ferriss on an episode of his podcast.

"She would read passages and novels that I was way too young to understand. She made me memorize a lot of those passages and something about that repetitiveness — I never liked to do it, but it was a sense of discipline that she taught me."

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Sharapova, who moved to the U.S. with her dad at age seven to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida, says that spending an hour each night memorizing Pushkin instilled a sense of discipline in her: "Discipline doesn't always come so easy. You have to build its foundations."

Persistence and tolerance for repetition "really comes into play as a tennis player," says Sharapova, but it's a habit that can help anyone. After all, as bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell likes to say, there is no shortcut to success.

"I believe in any job that we do … there are a lot of moments that we look forward to — there are projects that we love and that we want to be a part of — but then there's the tedious work. There's the repetition," the tennis star tells Ferriss. "You could say, 'I don't want to do it. I want to stop. I don't want you feeding me anymore balls.' But that mental persistence, I do think you can develop earlier. I certainly was able to with the help of my mother."

Ultimately, "the discipline that you have to carry on with, whether it's a good day or a bad day, just beats everything else."

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