When I was asked to write something for the NJD newsletter, I thought about what I might have wanted to read in a USTA Middle States New Jersey District newsletter as a young junior player. I decided I would have wanted to read something to know if all this effort was worth it in the end.
The choice to become a professional tennis player has shaped almost every part of who I am today. It has built my character, confidence, work ethic, willpower and colored the lens through which I see the world. Through tennis I gained so many experiences at such a young age. I have been able to apply the lessons I learned on court, to everything in my life off the court.
All those hours spent chasing a yellow fuzzy ball around the court then coming home exhausted to a whole night’s load of homework taught me discipline, efficiency and mastery of time management skills. These skills helped me when I came back to college after six years on the pro tour. I was able to jump back into a challenging academic environment, work three jobs, create and manage a blog, be an active member of three college clubs, have a thriving social life and still get a full night’s sleep.
From missing birthday parties and sleepovers for tournaments to missing sitter forehands (to go up a break in the third), missing has taught me how to be grateful for the moments I do have and how to truly enjoy the present to its fullest. Remembering to use my slice serve out wide indoors, to adjust my toss in extreme wind and to change my tactic when it wasn’t working taught me how to adjust, how to stay flexible and how to always be prepared for change.
Waking up early in the morning driving to Arrow Head Racket Club to play those 8am matches in the freezing indoor courts has made a 9am start to a workday pretty darn easy. Hoping and praying that those pusher girls wouldn’t moon ball quite so high or wishing I didn’t draw the number 1 seed in the first round, gave me a hard lesson, life is not fair so you better be prepared. Losing to the moon ballers taught me to go into every situation with at least a plan A. Taking some hard losses forced me to be honest about my weaknesses and take pride in my strengths. This lesson has given me a lot of confidence, confidence that I have taken into job interviews and my relationships.
Sometimes tenacity and just wanting it bad enough can beat a more talented player. Coming back from down 0-5 in the third has given me the willpower to push myself when life gets a little uncomfortable. Like my art class in junior year of college. I watched as the art students with years of talent under their pencils filled the room with Picassoesque sketches. Their 3d flying cupcakes had me intimidated to even enter the class. At the end of the semester my art professor told me “you must have been one heck of a tennis player because your tenacity is mind blowing. I gave you a 2% chance of showing up to class every week and everyday you proved me wrong.” I still might not know how to draw very well but I take pride in getting one of the highest grades in an art class.
Most of all tennis has put me on a spiritual journey. Scores of books have been written on the spiritual implications of tennis. How the game is won and lost between our ears. Man vs. himself. Sports psychology is full of finding ways to “know thyself,”conquering the mind you have conquered the match. This I have found to be true in all aspects of my life. The battle will always be there whether I am on the court or in the office. Some days I conquer it, others I let it defeat me. Tennis has put me on the quest for true mental mastery.
I look back now and laugh at all those middle states matches I won and lost. I laugh at how sad I would feel about a loss at a local tournament and even chuckle about how good I felt winning a championship. I am amazed at how insignificant those matches and their outcomes are at this point in my life. It also reminds me that my definition of success and failure is constantly evolving as my goals change. People will tell you it doesn’t matter in the end. What they forget is that, in order for it to not matter in the end, it had to matter in the beginning. So get out there, keep fighting, keep pushing yourself, keep playing the beautiful game.