Though you’d never know it now, I used to be a pretty hard-core tennis player in my teen years. I played for the USTA, had a private coach, and spent 8 hours a day in the summer on the court.
The funny thing is, sometimes I totally forget that episode of my life. Like, completely blank out on it. Weird, right? I was pretty good at tennis, but not the best. And in sports like tennis that aren’t team sports, when you fail – YOU fail. And you can read it on everyone’s face. It sucked. I liked tennis but eventually it wasn’t fun, wasn’t something I looked forward to or enjoyed. Just something that I had to do - that other people expected me to do.
I was just remembering a couple incidents that in retrospect seem interesting to look back on. One was on a summer day a few hours after my mom had dropped me off at the courts for the day. I was probably about 15. My coach was running me through drills and I complained I didn’t feel good. She wouldn’t let me stop, telling me to buck up, stop being lazy and weak. I tried to push through but finally had to literally sit down on the court, I was so ill. She threw up her arms and told me to go call my mom and go home if I was going to just give up. I did, and when I got home it turned out I had a fever of 103. No wonder I blocked that out!
The other incident I thought was poignant is when one afternoon, while my coach was working with me on my forehand and backhand, she had a sudden thought and ran to her truck. She came back with a walkman (remember those?) and made me put it on while I was hitting. To her surprise, I hit markedly better. She determined that I was a better player when I was distracted and not concentrating so hard, so she worked with me to figure out how to get to that slightly removed place. Pretty ironic that now I sit here trying to figure out how to be present and aware, eh?
I’m not saying that these two incidents shaped my life and are to blame for anything wrong with my life, but I think its pretty interesting to look back. I do have many good memories on the court. But I had enough bad ones that eventually, at 17 years old, I was miserable but realized that I had a choice. And one afternoon I literally walked off the court and never looked back. Do I miss playing? A little. But really, I’m not sure I was ever doing it for me. And if you’re not doing something for the joy of it, to give something back to yourself, I think its OK to choose something else.