It happens to me every summer.
I walk out on to the tennis court and warm-up with my opponent. As we’re rallying back and forth, I assess her ability and think to myself, “I’m gonna kick this woman’s butt today. 6-0, 6-0.”
Except that’s not what occurs. Sometimes I come close to winning, but very often I’m the one receiving the butt-kicking.
Do I have an over-inflated view of my tennis ability? Maybe. And is that such a bad thing?
And what about my kids? Is it harmful if they think they are better at a sport than they really are? Should I still encourage them to compete, even if they are disappointed at losing over and over again?
I’ve been asking myself these questions, as I prepare for the upcoming USTA tennis season. I’m wondering whether I should participate again. I’m not one to quit and if I make a commitment, I’m all in for the season. I preach the same rule to my kids: You must finish the season, no matter what.
But this year, maybe I should opt out. My doubt started to creep in the other day during my weekly tennis clinic. We were doing drills, as we always do, and keeping score. I was losing, and I was frustrated, mostly because I didn’t think I was playing that badly. I HATED to lose. I suppose most people do, but it bothered me more than usual that day. I was playing against the woman who is the co-captain of the team with me.
“I think I want to quit USTA,” I blurted out, mid-clinic.
“What?! No, you don’t. Of course you can’t quit. Besides, I’m not doing it alone.”
“No really, I insisted, “I think I really hate to compete. I’m not sure I’m meant to compete in tennis.”
The pro teaching us kept quiet at first. But then, as we were picking up the balls, he said to me, “you know, I quit tennis too for awhile. I burned out. I quit for three years before I picked up a racquet again.”
The thing is, I’m not sure this is burn-out. I’m questioning whether I actually ENJOY competitive tennis. It’s not just that I hate that feeling of losing, when I think I should be winning. I also dislike the feeling of pressure, which I feel much more personally as a singles player.
My co-captain suggested that maybe I should play doubles because I have a much stronger win record when I compete with a partner. But anyone who has played doubles with me knows that my major weakness is the net, and how I much prefer playing back at the baseline. Playing singles is what I love. I told her that I didn’t want to play doubles, but that I can’t seem to win at singles.
She then used the argument of my staying on our team so that I could continue to play with friends. She knew the social component was important to me. In fact, after playing tennis as a kid, I resumed playing tennis at age 40 because it was a social part of my day, and because it was good exercise. But, somehow I became involved in competitive tennis, and I’m not sure I want to stay there. Maybe I should go back to being a recreational clinic player, having fun during my lessons and enjoying the exercise. And maybe I should stop worrying about this and remind myself that I’m just plain fortunate to be able to play tennis at all.
Tennis, like all individual sports, relies on having a strong mental game. If you’re weak in your head, you’re weak on the court too. That’s me. I show my frustration on the court, my opponent picks up on it, and I’m pretty much cooked after that. I know this is something I can work to improve, but again, I’m not sure I want to.
I’ve seen it happen with my kids. They give their all to a sport and then they realize they don’t want to be part of a team anymore. They still like the sport, but don’t want to compete. And that’s just fine. I’ve let them figure this out on their own. I’ve let them discover what sport feels good to compete in and what sport does not.
All three of my boys tried and eventually dropped competing on soccer teams. They weeded themselves out, knowing that soccer just wasn’t for them. I’ve had another son drop competitive golf, even though he had talent that far surpassed his peers. He continued to play for fun, or go to the driving range, but he did not want to participate in any tournaments. We let it go, even though inside we were crushed that he wasn’t pursuing something that he was so good at.
As it turns out, that son is now on the high school golf team. He’s back at it, though his heart isn’t nearly as invested as it is with his other sport of choice, basketball. And yet, with a little encouragement from us, he’s participating on the team because we thought he should try competing again. I question whether that may be a parenting fail or something a Tiger Mom would do. But still, we’ve told him if he doesn’t want to join the team next year, he doesn’t have to. However, we thought the experience of being part of a school team — both for social reasons, as well as the pride of representing his school — would be a positive one.
I’m wondering now if I should approach tennis in the same way. Should I give competitive match play one more shot? Or should I walk away now, and protect myself from possible bruises to my ego? If I participate and do well, I can advance my rating and “move up” to the next level of competitive play. If I continue on my losing streak, I will remain where I am and feel like crap. I’ve got to decide if that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Please weigh in!! Should I stick with competitive tennis or not??