tennis, a building block

I wasn’t the greatest tennis player in the world, but in high school I played on a team that was usually in the top 2-3 in our district and the top 10 in the state. My home state was a pretty competitive tennis state, so that wasn’t a small achievement. I was on the varsity team in the 10th grade, playing mixed doubles (basically the #4 guy on the varsity team). I just missed the cut to letter, but by my junior year I was up to the #2/#3 guy on the team, playing men’s doubles, and a few times I even played at the #1 position. By my senior year I was pretty much in a good position to challenge for #1 although there were definitely two guys much better than me on the team (both seniors, like me), and one junior who was probably better although not really “into” it that much – he tended to skip practices and miss tournaments, which obviously meant the coach didn’t trust him much.

I had a love/hate relationship with tennis throughout high school. It dominated my daily life more than anything except my studies, really. However, the day I played my last tennis match as a senior, I more or less quit forever. I think I played sporadically that summer but basically I quit playing for anything more than just idle “hit-arounds” at that point.

But I learned a few thing about sports from those days playing tennis, and some of those lessons apply to life past sports, as well.

  • Tennis is an incredibly athletic sport that requires dexterity, strength, flexibility, speed, endurance and focus. I can’t think of another sport that is so demanding in terms of total physical workouts, except maybe – maybe – basketball as played on a “street” level. A lot of pro basketball and even college basketball is standing around passing the ball back and forth.  But you know what? Something that involves your ‘total self’ – be it athletic, mental, or emotional – is worth doing.  Parenting is an emotional 100%-all-in activity; it teaches you a lot about yourself, just like tennis does physically.
  • It’s a fairly simple sport. The rules aren’t that tough to understand and at its base the rule is basically “hit it back over the net before it bounces twice.” Nothing like baseball, for example.  But just because something is simple doesn’t mean it can’t be perfected.  Writing is simple – almost anyone with mastery of the basics of typing, grammar and spelling can do it.  With Microsoft Word you can probably even dispense with grammar and spelling, and with some sort of speech-recognition typing even becomes less critical.  But just because you CAN do a thing doesn’t mean you can DO a thing.  I can shoot a basketball.  I can’t shoot over Yao Ming.
  • It’s international in appeal. There’s nowhere in the world where tennis, or some form of it, isn’t a fairly-well recognized sport. There are other sports that approach it, such as basketball, and one that transcends it, football (soccer), but generally it is one of the few worldwide sports. But it’s not as popular in the US as it is elsewhere.  The lesson I learned here is that just if something is not valued in your country/state/town/tribe/whatever, doesn’t mean it can’t have value to you.  Learn what appeals to you and set your course in that direction.
  • I don’t think I’ll ever take up tennis again.  I enjoyed it intensely while I played it, and then I put down my racket and walked away without ever looking back (I took up lacrosse instead).  Every activity or interest in life is a step.  If that activity continues to lead you forward, hold on to it.  If it doesn’t, let it go.  I’ve taken up many interests in my life – hobbies, studies, jobs, sports and even TV shows – that I cherished, used or enjoyed and then left behind.  Make sure that each activity is a building block, and not a filler – if it’s building you up as a person, it’s never going to be wasted time.