Friday, August 19, 2011

The Many Rewards of Tennis

When a team wins their ALTA or USTA division, a City or State Championship, they are awarded bag tags, plates, towels and/or various other paraphernalia. We’re not professional athletes and there’s no money involved (at least I don’t think there is;-) but that doesn’t mean that most players don’t try their best to win these inexpensive spoils of our recreational sport. In fact, some try a bit too hard for a few dollars worth of plastic, metal or glass etc.

Having been a part of some teams that have achieved various levels of success over the past 11 years, I can tell you that what I remember most is not the reward hardware, but the people I’ve played with and, to some extent, against. Because, when it’s all said and done, the friendships developed and the positive memories are what remain; these are what mean the most to me.

Sure, I can recall matches that I lost which were heartbreaking, either because of my own mistake (or limitations) on a key point, or a questionable line call by my opponent, but I’ve tried my best to forget these momentary lapses. Unfortunately, I can also remember times when my actions on the court did not do me proud, in which I embarrassed myself (and perhaps my partner or teammates) with bad behavior. But I’ve forgiven myself for these moments of “temporary insanity” and have tried and will continue to make amends by being a better player, opponent, and teammate in the future. For the most part, adopting a "play well" versus "play-to-win" philosophy has done the trick.

But as I think back and reflect on the 50 or so ‘seasons’ of Atlanta tennis I’ve played, the overwhelming majority of my thoughts are of my fellow teammates, not specific matches or accomplishments. I’ve learned so much in the company of others, and the camaraderie when working towards a common goal with purpose. I can also remember those opponents who were particularly at ease with themselves and their abilities (which may have been less or more than my own) and the home captains, whose focus was on hospitality, and treating our team as guests.

Because what we share as tennis players is a love and a passion for our game, the sound of a racquet hitting the ball cleanly, the vision of a winner hit perfectly into the open court (vs. at an opponent), to cheer (and be cheered) for each other, win or lose, the nervous energy before and the adrenaline rush during a match – both of which we hope to channel for our benefit vs. our detriment, the competitive nature of our sport particularly when our skills are most evenly matched with our opponent(s), and yes, the euphoria of winning, but also the social aspect of the entire experience.

It doesn’t really matter what the prize is for a team or an individual achievement on the court, because the other rewards of tennis are so much greater.

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