So since college, I’ve only played tennis a handful of times.
And honestly, over the past year, I haven’t hit once.
I got involved in other things. Lifting became my passion. It is what I trained for.
And I didn’t seem to miss the tennis at all. Which was funny since I’d loved tennis and it had been a HUGE part of my life since a very young age.
I just didn’t seem miss it. I loved all of training that I was doing.
I even started to question if I ever really loved tennis. Almost every other college athlete I knew went through “withdrawal” when they first stop playing.
But then two weeks ago, I began coaching again and even started hitting.
Suddenly that spark I’d thought I’d lost was re-ignited. Suddenly I wanted to play again and be good.
I wanted to be a top player again. But why? I then thought, “Will I ever truly be able to be as good as I once was and do I honestly want to dedicate the time and energy to become that good again?”
My answer was simply, “No.”
I didn’t want to spend hours a day hitting to try to get back to where I once was. I mean what truly would be the point?
I have no chance of going pro or really making it a profession outside of coaching. So why waste the time?
Yes, I love the sport, but I can satisfy that love by hitting just even a few times a week (even if it is sometimes frustrating that I’m only a shadow of what I once was).
But even though tennis will never play the same role in my life again, the spark is still there.
And I know realize, the spark never actually even faded.
While I love tennis as a sport in and of itself, what my passion, what my spark was really all about was more than just tennis.
My love for tennis stems from my love of competition, of learning and mastering a skill. From my love of physical activity where you are solely dependent on yourself, your skill and your mental toughness.
Because of all the reasons I loved tennis, I feel in love with lifting and all of the competitions that go along with it.
Anyway, this whole thought process started when I was thinking about athletes who get injuries that prevent them from ever again competing in their chosen sport.
While it is most definitely than simply graduating because it is a FORCED separation, the point is the spark is still there in both.
The key though is to use that spark to become great at something else that fills the void.
Once an athlete, always an athlete. No matter your age, you never lose that spark.
I’m a big believer in competitive sports for kids. Competing in a sport is a wonderful, character building experience.
Thinking back on my own experiences in ice skating and tennis, I marvel at all the things I learned from competing in a sport.
First off, I had to learn to organize my time. If I wanted to get all my homework done and get good grades, I had to learn to prioritize and use my time efficiently. Since I had a smaller window for doing my homework each evening, I learned to apply myself when I sat down to study. The endless evening of studying (or avoiding it) was not an option.
I had to learn to plan ahead for those weekends when I was out-of-town at skating meets. You didn’t study at a skating meet. I think the need to organize and plan ahead gave me a feeling of control and accomplishment.
And then, of course, there were those days when you just didn’t want to skate or workout or play tennis. I remember doing rain dances, pleading with the skies to open up so I didn’t have to go to a skating workout. But most of the time the workouts happened and I went and practiced hard.
I learned how to push myself. I learned how to push myself in a workout even though I was tired. I learned how to push past the pain in a race to cross the finish line. I learned how to push past the nerves in a tennis match and continue to go for my shots.
Once again I had a feeling of control and accomplishment.
I learned about cheating and confronted the kind of person I wanted to be. In tennis it’s very easy to cheat. Unless you’re a pro you call your own lines and your own score. It’s very easy to call that in ball out when you want it to be out so badly. It’s a big decision to decide that you want to win fairly. It’s a decision that can affect your whole life. Too bad more parents and coaches aren’t helping their young athletes make the right choice. Boy, do I have stories about that…
So I learned how to organize my time and plan ahead and push myself beyond what I thought I could do. I began to define myself as a person and find my moral center. I felt pretty good about myself – mature, accomplished and self-confident. I was busy doing something that I loved.
In talking to friends years later, I realized that I had missed a lot of the sturm und drang of high school. All the social one-upmanship and petty gossip went right past me. I was just too busy to pay any attention and, maybe, had enough confidence in myself to ignore it.
I also had enough confidence to march to my own drummer. I loved my sports, but they often conflicted with parties, social events and dates. I chose the sports – skating meets and tennis tournaments – and have never regretted it. So did Cori. She chose tennis over parties.
I remember having to fill out a questionnaire for Cori’s guidance counsel to help her with her letter of recommendation for Cori for college. I remembering putting down that Cori marched to her own drummer. I watched Cori ignore the mean, popular girls and side-step the drinking and drugs. She played her tennis and got good grades. She stayed focused and determined.
Of course, you can learn a lot of these lessons doing other activities. But mix these lessons with endorphins and a possible lifestyle choice and you have a winning combination.