I owe who I am and what I value in large part to the sport of tennis. The spring weather (and that I'll be heading home for a summer-ish break) has me longing for the tennis courts – the sound of balls bouncing and popping against the racket’s strings, the wind that whistles through the chain-linked fence. Excuse me while I reminisce about the great sport for a while...
My parents were not “tennis parents.” Tennis parents mold mini prodigies starting from the first moment their four-year old takes an awkward swing through the air. My parents encouraged my sister and I to try many sports, instruments, hobbies. We were well-rounded girls. I used to loathe my parents for that when I saw the tennis prodigies out-shine me as the sport became more competitive. I am begrudgingly thankful for their reasonable outlook on that now.
The first time I played tennis was when I was about seven years old. I don’t remember the specifics of that first tennis lesson, but I can guarantee that it started with Coach Roy cheerfully announcing the start of the lesson with a booming “Let’s play some tenniiiiiis!” Coach Roy was a former-pro-turned-coach with a warm smile and wrinkles around his twinkly eyes. He taught at the Johnson Controls People Center – an athletic facility that was a perk of my parent’s jobs at the large corporation where they both worked. You had to walk through the ping pong tables, around the kitchenette, above the pool, next to the track, between the racquetball courts and through a dark hallway before you got to the tennis courts. Once you stepped into the warehouse-like tennis area, it was like a whole other world.
I had a natural affinity for the sport. I used to think that tennis was designed for people just like me. Now, I think that maybe tennis made me to be the person I am.
You see, tennis isn’t just about strength, speed, agility and endurance – although it is about those things sometimes. No, tennis is a sport that is all about the mind. It’s made for strategists and thinkers. Most of all, it is made for hard workers. It’s made for people that love the work, regardless of the reward.
I made a full-on commitment to tennis after I was cut from the eighth grade volleyball team. When it seemed like the world was ending, tennis gave me hope that I could be really great at something. I was never the strongest or the fastest, but I had a deep desire to prove myself and as Coach Roy frequently reminded me, I was great at controlling my skills.
There was a core group of about eight of us – two girls, six boys – that hung around Coach Roy’s courts quite a bit. Most days after school, we’d lug our tennis bags (most of them larger than our bodies) down to the courts. We’d spend hours running drills, conditioning and challenging each other to practice matches. At 6:10, we’d each run over to our oversized bags and pull out a simple black binder from out of the rubble of empty Gatorade bottles. You see, Coach Roy gave us homework. Each of us was tasked to find a tennis-related article, about anything really, to share with the group. We’d sit in a circle between Courts 1 and 2 and present our findings for the day, and then Coach Roy would give us some words of wisdom. I still remember quite a few of those lessons.
I think I might begin sharing a few of the lessons that he (and a few of my other coaches, my good ol' dad included) have taught me over the years. Thoughts? Are any of you closet tennis afficianados? Did a sport ever teach you like tennis has taught me?