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  • Zina

How tennis made me a better person

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

I've had a lifelong love affair with tennis and Star Trek. You may ask - fairly - how those 2 things are related. They are related because they are 2 big interests I had in my tweens and teens that I shared with my mother.

Tweens and teens are difficult time periods in mother-daughter relationships. So, you can imagine how important those 2 connecting things were to my memories of the times! Meanwhile, this post is about tennis, so that first sentence is the last you will hear of science fiction.

The first thing that tennis did for me was to make me a better daughter. I remember, fondly, my mother watching tennis finals on TV and telling me about the game. It was in this time period she took me to my first tennis lessons also.

Tennis gave us a non-confrontational topic for conversations. She told me lots of tennis lore and details about the rules of the game. Somehow, learning about the rules of the game translated to learning about the rules of life, too! What a master stroke on her part!

In spite of the tennis lessons, I didn't play tennis in high school. I was a complete klutz and I still am. The high school tennis coaches did not think of me when they considered who to put on teams. I'm not sure I was ever even made aware of tryouts. Not that I would have tried out, mind you...

My next encounter with the sport was in college. I took a semester as one of my physical education credits in my first year. I made a C. This was unprecedented for me. Up until college, I never made a C in my life! So, the second thing that tennis did for me was to make me aware that I might have to actually work hard to get through college!

Right after college, I was going through a particularly hard break-up with a boyfriend. My mom came to the rescue again. She got back on court with me and we played a few times before I moved away - to get my head clear after the break-up.

In my adult life, I took tennis lessons no less than 3 other times. I loved the sport. I wanted to play, but nobody ever invited me to play, and I didn't know how to invite other people to play. Fast forward to age 40. My husband had moved us to Southern California. A perfect storm! I found a coach. He got my skills up to snuff. I joined a Tuesday night Mixed Doubles league in the next town over from us! (Informal leagues like this abounded in SoCal!)

Over the next few years, I was on USTA teams in every season of the year. Sometimes more than 1 at a time. Once I played in 4 different districts in SoCal in a single season, just to get enough court time! It was during this time, that I became the fittest of my life. So, the third thing that tennis did for me was to motivate me to pay attention to my body and learn how to do physical training!

Since SoCal, I've never gone a whole year without playing tennis. I've had a couple "dry spells" when I moved to new locations, and after a bad car accident. But never longer than a year!

The most important way tennis affected me may have been the mother-daughter connection, but I think that Effect #4 is a contender. Effects 1 and 4 may even be related.

I read an article once about the physics of tennis line calls. (Here is a similar article.) I came to realize that just as my tennis game is subject to errors, just as I am subject to errors, just as we are all subject to errors, my visual perception of tennis line calls is subject to errors! Tennis is based on collaborative play. The players on both sides of the court depend on one another to make the game fair, enjoyable, and competitive. I must make the calls on my side of the court to the best of my ability. And, I must trust the player(s) on the other side of the court to do the same. If I forgive errors in myself, I must forgive errors in others!

The fourth way tennis made me a better person was to free me from being judgmental about "calls" that rightfully belonged to other people. On the tennis court - and in life, that doesn't mean that I perpetually overlook obvious errors. But rather than judging and accusing, I seek to understand. On the tennis court, the second time I question a player's call in my own mind, I may ask out loud, "are you sure?" In extreme cases, I might discontinue accepting tennis invitations. Being non-judgmental does not mean being a pushover. Being non-judgmental means allowing others to make their own mistakes and learn from their mistakes on their own.

The last - fifth - way that I can think of (today) where tennis made me a better person is how I measure success. Being a klutz is not a fun way to enjoy ANY sporting endeavor! I learned very early to measure my success on the tennis court by how I felt about my game. NOT by the score! Did I have some good shots that day? Did I get better in some way? Did I solve a problem creatively? Did my winners, solid returns, and "forced" errors outnumber my unforced errors? (In my mind, a "forced" error is one where my opponent hits a very nice shot, and I did the best I could to return a hard shot - even if it was a weak return.)

In life, we should all measure ourselves the same way. It's not the score that matters (who has the best job; who has the coolest car; who travels the farthest on vacation; who has the biggest house.) What matters is how you feel about your game! Did you do the best you could with the energy, time, and talents that you had?

That's me on the far-right. My team went to Nationals this year!

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