You may or may not know by now that ONEOFTHE8 is a family affair. Jake - ‘the podcaster’ - is my brother and John - ‘the founder’ - is our dad. Jake and my dad have been a part of the tennis world for many, many years; I like to curl up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book. Despite having zero sporting aptitude, you’d think I might have picked up the rules of tennis by now - it being such a significant part of our family life - but still, I’m oblivious. What I have learnt about tennis though, from the outside of the metaphorical court looking in - is that it’s far more than just a game. It’s a community. It’s a vehicle for human connection beyond hitting a furry fluorescent ball back and forth.
Somebody who I now know would confirm this theory is Niklas Herbring, who my brother fondly refers to as ‘Nik’ and so for the purpose of this story, I shall too. Just like Jake, Nik discovered tennis at a super young age and in this instalment of real life stories from real world people, we talk about how the sport has shaped his 27 years so far and how life led him to be supporting men’s mental health through the Movember campaign this year.
“I can push the boundaries and I’m capable of doing things that I didn’t even believe were possible”
Born in Berlin in 1993, life started with football for young Niklas Herbring but after his older sister began playing tennis and he began tagging along, it soon became clear where his passions and prowess lay. “I quickly realised how much I enjoyed it and how easily the sport came to me” Nik tells us, and modestly chronicles his time spent competing in everything from local tournaments to state championships.
Nik talked about how “tennis has shaped [his] childhood and family life for a very long time” and how his sister was always by his side supporting his wins and crying for his losses. He remembers how while his schoolmates where doing your average preadolescent things, he spent week nights practicing and weekends travelling with his family to tournaments and training. His memories are peppered with outpourings of complete and utter love and gratitude for the parents who supported his dreams and without whom he couldn’t have done all he did - and has done.
Such a fiercely dedicated family guy, moving away for education was never really something on Nik’s radar. He had dreams of becoming a radio host or sports reporter close to home but curiosity and an active mind eventually led to Nik to apply for universities in the US. Finishing high school in 2011 with an impressive tennis ranking under his belt, Nik began applying for American universities and on January 5th 2012 boarded a flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta. Destination: Atlanta, Georgia.
Nik spent six years stateside, amongst a melting pot of different cultures - a period of his life which he believes has taught him some of his most valuable lessons. He tells us how these lessons can be divided into two main categories: what he learned from others and what he learnt about himself. The former being about how “we’re all different in some way” and how becoming close to people of different cultures enables you to have more honest and eye-opening conversations around things like prejudice, cultural history and race. The latter revealing how “the less you have, the happier you actually become” and how Nik realised his own capabilities and how he could “push the boundaries” and do things that he “didn’t even believe were possible”.
“Whatever is going on in your head, which might sometimes make zero sense, it is very very important to find a voice and the guts to speak about it and get help”
Nik’s life up until now hasn’t been all globetrotting and glamour though. Through the pressures of competitive tennis, he developed a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which “started off harmless” but fast led to Nik experiencing “a prison” within himself. His habits and compulsions eventually controlled his life - something which Nik has had to work incredibly hard to overcome and not something which he finds easy to talk about openly. Just one of the reasons why we’re so grateful to be sharing his story with you, ONEOFTHE8 reader.
Meditation is something which has helped Nik in his plight to regain control of his OCD but he also champions the positive impact of talking to others and “taking a step back” from time to time. Now living in London - a city he has always had an affinity with through a love of The Kooks and skinny jeans - Nik describes how the door of his apartment is always open to his friends and family who need support, a shoulder to cry on or even just to let lose for a while.
Extending his innate desire to help others even further, this year Nik took part in the annual Movember campaign, designed to raise more awareness of the issues surrounding men’s mental health. Nik pushes himself to open up and speak out despite how difficult he might sometimes find it, as he believes that exposing your own vulnerabilities is one of the most effective ways to help others.
“It’s important to reflect when you have some time to reflect […] and take a deep breath and enjoy the ride because you know ups and downs will be coming your way”
As we do with all ONEOFTHE8 guests, we asked Nik what his greatest inspiration in life is and in the wake of the conversation he had just had with us, it came as no surprise to hear him say his family. His “closest circle”, his support system and the people who showed him such “tireless caring” and unwavering mental, emotional and financial support growing up - and still do.
Nik describes some of his life decisions as being very “un-German” - veering off the course of tradition, which typically steers young Germans towards settling down and building a career. He talks with us about how his family have always championed these unconventional decisions and cheered him on along the way and in the process, gifting him with some of his most “invaluable memories”, which Nik always “keeps nearest to [his] heart”.
So, I shall conclude this short but sweet introduction to the wonderful world of Niklas Herbring by leaving you with some final, wise words from the man himself: “Never forget to say ‘Hi’”. Two letters, one syllable but something far too many of us forgo from our vocabulary far too often. Next time you make eye contact in the coffee queue or pass a homeless person on the street, share this simple word with a smile because you never know, it might just make somebody’s day.
To hear more about Nik’s travels, tennis-playing and tips on how to manage your own mental wellbeing, make sure to catch up with his full episode on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast.