Tuesday, September 27, 2016

40-Love: A personal history of tennis

 As far back as I can remember my dad played tennis at least once a week.  I can still hear the ice water sloshing in his comically oversized 80’s thermos.   Sometimes my sister and I went out for lessons with our dad, which was equally fun and frustrating.  Needless to say I did not emerge tennis pro or even close to competent.  I did, however, get the earliest Wilson Hammer so that I looked like an ace.  Later, I lent that racket to my college boyfriend and somehow lost it in the break-up.  Even though I am sure he has long-since gotten rid of it, I take some small solace knowing he learned to play with a little girl grip!

After that there was no tennis in my life for a long, long time.  There seemed to be no time in graduate school, while D and I planned our wedding, and even less as we started our practices, decorated homes, and become parents.  Then one day I decided it was time to take up tennis.  The short version is that it was not immediately easy. I was pretty bad for quite awhile.  Why then would I choose to wax poetic on my milestone birthday about tennis? 

The answer is that, surprisingly, I liked it anyway.  A big lesson for me as I enter my 40’s is that it turns out that there can be joy in accepting that you are just okay at something.  And it turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks after all: I greatly improved with lots of practice.  I can now proudly and officially say that I am solidly “okay-ish at tennis.”     The lessons go much deeper than that, though.  You can learn a lot about life from the game of tennis.   Think for instance, that long before you start a match, you have to reach out to friends and make a commitment to be there for one another on the court.  It simply does not work to go it alone.  Sadly there is a maximum of four players on the court at a time, so sometimes you won’t be included.  Other times you will.  Make your own matches when you need to, and remember it’s just a game.

Once you step on the court, you have to play the  game for where you are at that moment—you have to be flexible and adjust whether you are on clay, hard court, grass or even the carpet at Frontenac.  Sometimes you will have the home court advantage and sometimes you will be the outsider.  Only YOU are responsible for your confidence as you step on the court.  It all begins with love.

Tennis players know that when the score is love all, or love everybody as I like to say, anyone can win.  That’s not to say it is easy from there.  Serving and getting the game started is one of the hardest things to do in tennis and any new venture.  Even if you serve well—you can get a foot-fault for standing in the wrong spot.  In tennis and life, you should know where you stand and know when to move if you are in the wrong place.  The good news is that if you mess up, you get a do-over.  That is an actual rule in tennis and each new point is an opportunity.  No matter how far behind you are, there is always room for a comeback unless you decide that you are going to lose, and then you probably will.  Sometimes you give it your all but your opponents is just too good—learn to compliment them and move on.  It is not always about you.  You can have the best rally of your life and lose the point—you have to recognize that your win was the rally itself.  Celebrate the small stuff.   Another day you may be better player.  You may be able to shut out a point, but find it to be more enjoyable to keep the ball in play instead.  The back and forth between the two sides is the reason you are there after all.   I could “serve” up these analogies all day, but it all comes down to this:  You can play up or down as long as you play nicely in life and on the tennis court.  Let new players in your game and love Everybody!

Thank you for being a part of my game and reading along with me!

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