I was pretty obsessed with tennis for a phase in my mid-teen years. In middle school, I took summer group lessons with an enthusiastic coach and eventually tried out for the high school JV tennis team. I was almost always next-to-last in the team rankings, but that didn’t stop me from loving the sport overall. I continued playing for fun with my friends and family, and I fulfilled my high school and college P.E. credits with a handful of tennis classes along the way.
In the decade or so I’ve been playing, tennis has taught me a few important life lessons:
1. It’s not about strength. If you have ever picked up a racket and ball, you know how easy it is to knock one out of the park. Home runs in tennis are not applause-worthy achievements; they are groan-inducing signs of inexperience. Hitting with too much force and too little control involves climbing through bushes, running through parking lots and/or playing real-life Frogger to retrieve balls that have bounced through traffic. Strength unchecked? It ain’t pretty.
2. It’s about control. The key to tennis is to control your power. Keep your force in check, target it towards a specific area (i.e. the court) and start slow before working up to faster and harder swings. I know I sound like a mentor character in the scifi/fantasy genre, but it’s as true in life as it is in fiction and tennis: you have to learn self-control before you can be effective. Throwing around power alone doesn’t work. Power controlled by discipline and sound judgment scores big.
3. Speed comes with time. It’s just one of the sad facts of our impatient culture. Rushing into things usually ends in regret and having to relearn everything we thought we mastered. In tennis, especially when it comes to swing technique and serving, you have to take it slow before you can master the kill-shot. It’s tempting to try (see above lessons on controlled power), but it’s worth the wait to perfect your technique first before attempting the zingers.
4. Each moment is a new chance for success. Tennis is as much mental as it is physical. The winners are the players who refuse to get discouraged or beat themselves up about mistakes. They learn from what they did wrong and move on. Each game, each shot, is an opportunity to do better, make corrections and bounce back like… well, like that little yellow-green sphere we chase around the court.
5. It is a game of patience and endurance. Whether on the community courts on the weekend or on the sports channel during Wimbledon, you see the rookies beat the hot shots by one simple trick: outlasting them and making fewer mistakes. I have seriously won at tennis by just sticking in there long enough for the other person to wear out, make enough faults or get frustrated with themselves. Most of the time, you don’t have to put on a fancy spin or connect with the ball while jumping and spinning in mid-air. You, little David with nary a slingslot, just need to play defense long enough to wear out the ol’ giant. Goliaths fall against humble patience and relentless endurance.
6. Etiquette is the name of the game. The tell-tale sign of mature tennis players is that they know when to play aggressively and when to back off. (For example, a warm up is just a warm up, not the time for making your opponent sweat). Character goes a long way in a sport that requires a partner to return hits. The same could easily be said for any sort of group project or community endeavor. Courtesy can take you places skill and showmanship never will.
7. Love means nothing in tennis. If you have a loved one who volunteers to play with you, be very careful. This is a game that can easily result in frustration, stress and shouting all the way home. Don’t assume that your daily life partner (whether a roommate or significant other) should be your tennis partner. Take it easy the first few times, gauge how they respond to your playing style and ask yourself if you can both keep it fun. Only THEN should you consider asking them to play a scored match. Bonus: This is just one reason why, if you join a class or team, you shouldn’t date your teammates.
Even if the sound of fuzzy rubber against concrete doesn’t send your heart racing, choosing a new neon shock absorber isn’t your fashion decision of the year and you don’t whine about a lack of pockets in your athletic shorts, there is so much to learn from this game. You don’t have to be young or muscular or a superstar athlete to enjoy tennis. Pick up a racket and join a club or class, and be prepared to learn some new insights about much more than sports.
What have you learned from participating in sports yourself? Leave a comment here or reply back on Twitter to @Jenna_DeWitt.