actual self not pictured
Most of what I really needed to know about life, I learned on the tennis court.
I flirted with a couple of other sports as a kid: swimming (which I was both terrible at AND hated) basketball, etc but from about the age of ten on, nothing did it for me like tennis.
I played as a junior and all the way through college where almost all of my best friends were other players. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world and a six figure book deal but after college I moved to New York where playing tennis (like everything else) is expensive and a huge hassle; besides which I was burned out after four straight years of four hours a day.
But after a much needed break, I started to miss it. The smell of new tennis balls, the comradery, the competition, the adorable outfits. And now that I’m back in my hometown, there’s no reason tennis and I need to be apart!
And so, number 28: join a USTA league team.
Luckily for me tennis is one of the few sports that you can play seriously on into adulthood. The USTA bestowed me with a rather terrifying 5.0 rating which means I get mixed in with people who played division 1 and are 6 feet tall and like teach other people to play tennis for a living. But I am rising to the challenge readers- shin splints and all! I am super stoked about being back in the game and have that familiar OMG-I-want-to-do-nothing-but-play-tennis feeling.
Since we love a list over here at 30 Things: here are five life lessons I learned on the tennis court.
Be a team player
Tennis was mostly an individual sport growing up but once I got to college it was all about the team. As you can imagine with a group of 18-22 year old women, there was A LOT of drama on the team but it was also the most rewarding social experiences of my life. Very rarely do you share a common purpose with other people the way I did with my teammates; we shared the good the bad and the ugly (and TRUST there was a lot of all three) of life as college athletes. There’s no empathy like that you have for your teammates because whatever happens to them, good or bad, directly affects you as well. There is almost no area of life where knowing how to play well with others ISN’T helpful: from work life to romantic life to social life. The day my team won the regional championships my senior year (which meant we were heading to Nationals for the first time in the program’s history) was one of the best days of my life—partly because I got to share it with my teammates and best friends. Sharing really is caring y'all.
Always play to win
Winning is awesome. It really is. Few things in life give you the pure shot of unadulterated joy that victory does. And losing, conversely, sucks. But you can’t fear losing so much that you tighten up and play like crap. Life is like this too: if you let your fears take your head out of the game, you’ll never be at your best. As long as your risks are calculated, you're better off concentrating on the possible good outcomes than the bad ones; letting fear rule is never the way to go.
Practice, practice, practice
You know how you get a great serve? Spend hours upon hours serving. Hitting a jillion baskets of serves isn’t really that much fun but having a serve that's good enough to ace an opponent on match point is SUPER fun. There is extraordinarily not-fun legwork involved in becoming good at anything and developing the focus to stay motivated enough by what you want to get you through the drudgery is vital to success. The aspect of daily discipline involved in becoming good at a sport is especially helpful in learning how to be a writer (for further reading on this connection, do yourself a favor and read Murakami’s excellent What I Talk About when I Talk About Running).
If the match is still going, there is time for a comeback
I was never the most talented player but I was always one of the most tenacious. I never gave up on a match. Never. Even when I was playing crap tennis, even when one of my myriad overuse injuries was hurting, even when I really just wanted to get to the post-mach celebration/commiseration with my teammates already--I always wanted to win more than I wanted to walk away. This alone got me further than anything else about my game. Desire for something is powerful and being willing to stick around until you get it—no matter what happens—can make you unstoppable. Marilyn Monroe once said of being a movie star that she wasn’t the prettiest girl or the most talented, she just wanted it more. Word, Marilyn, word.
Losing happens, learn to deal
I hate losing. HATE it. But losing is valuable. When you get a big juicy overhead on an important point and you flub it right into the net, you’re going to be mad at yourself but if you keep dwelling on that flubbed overhead for the next five points, guess who’ll win those? Not you. When you lose a close match, if you let it destroy your confidence for the rest of the season, you might as well not even show up. One of the most important lessons in sports is how to use a loss to your advantage, to learn what you can from it and then move the hell on. Just as it’s a million times easier to be a gracious winner than a gracious loser, your real mettle shows when you’re faced with coming back from one of life’s big disappointments.
Who or what taught you what you know about life?