I wasn’t an athlete growing up. Not sure why. I don’t think pursuing sports for me and my sister ever crossed my parents’ minds. My dad loved football (The Dallas Cowboys) and was an amazing golfer (played on the Army golf team). But, he came from a generation that associated sports with boys/sons, For the most part, he left his daughters’ Extra-Curricular activities in the capable hands of my mother. Doris was Girl Scout Leader Extraordinaire and we were her Miniature Scouting Progeny …. Lord, how vigorously and tenaciously we pursued those Merit Badges!! We sold cookies, canoed, sewed, played instruments, baked, crocheted and macraméd our very butts off. In hindsight, I guess the Merit Badge was the beginning of my life of competition. A sash full of badges? Well…it just ever-so-humbly screamed, “I guess I’m better than you!”
The first time I ever actually encountered a ball, was Dodge Ball in Middle School P.E. class. Thus, my initial relationship with moving balls, was primarily focused on CONTACT AVOIDANCE. Steering clear of the ball involved a series of ducking, twisting and jumping movements . So, it should come as no surprise, when I started taking tennis lessons in my late 40s, that my initial reaction to the rotating sphere flying through the air towards me, was to employ the athletic skills I honed years earlier- duck, jump, twist and avoid contact with the ball, at all costs. Much to the astonishment of the Pros who worked with me, I played that way for the first 2 or 3 years. The fact that I was armed with a racquet emboldened me not-in-the-least. I guess Doubles tennis was the way to go, as I quickly found my “outside voice” on the court- “YOURS!”
By now, it’s apparent that I was far from what anyone would ever call, “A Natural”. Fortunately, what I lacked in athletic prowess, I made up for in gritty determination. I vowed to learn the game at all costs. By “all costs,” I mean that I have literally spent my children’s college funds on lessons and leagues. As a result, I can, more or less, hold my own these days, on a tennis court – with that said, my fragile self esteem spikes and plummets daily. (Most players would agree that they are only as happy as their last win!)
As a side-note, when I am not physically playing the game, the psychology and the politics of the sport intrigues, entertains and engages me. I may not be a natural athlete, but I dare suggest that I AM a keen observer of human behavior and Social Darwinism. As such, I’ve come up with a short list of observations to guide those of us “Johnny-Come-Latelys – middle-aged adults that didn’t grow up fully indoctrinated in the Wide Wide World of Sports.
DON’T: BEAT SOMEONE AND THEN SAY, “I PLAYED POORLY TODAY!” …
You would think this was a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how often this happens. I’m not entirely sure what the intended message really is here – but, if you just kicked my butt -it’s extremely bad manners to inform me that you’re having an “off day”.
DON’T: WALK ON THE COURT AND TELL YOUR OPPONENT WHAT ALL AILS YOU…
At our age it’s quicker and more efficient to list what does not hurt. Nobody enjoys beating a sick person and NOBODY enjoys losing to a sick person, so either way it’s about to be no fun….
DO: THE BEST YOU CAN TO MAKE GOOD LINE CALLS…
I had to give up shopping recently (a pass-time I actually AM naturally gifted at) because I can’t read price tags anymore. This culminated with me paying 180 for something I thought was $80, mistaking the 1 for a $…. Everyone tries to make fair line calls, for the most part. Certainly, there are some people who let their competitive desire to win, affect their eyesight, but I truly believe it evens out along the way. We all have to admit that we think our own line calls are laser-focused and our opponents are egregiously unjust….
DON’T: DENY THAT YOU’RE COMPETITIVE
It’s actually NOT a sin to be competitive when you’re engaging in a competitive activity. (This should not be confused with underhandedly competing with someone who doesn’t realize they’re in a competition -see blog #10, where I unabashedly admit I sometimes compete with people who don’t know we are competing; it’s a quick cheap win). But honestly, when you step out onto a tennis court with a racquet and a can of balls, to play a game where we keep score, spare everyone your self-actualized, inaccurate self-insights. Some of the most competitive players I’ve ever played, proclaim they’re NOT COMPETITVE . This is not virtuous -perhaps, you could just own it. In the words of William Shakespeare, “Me thinketh the lady doth protest too much!” Again, it sucks the fun out of a match to beat someone who doesn’t care. And it sucks like Hell, to get beat by someone who maintains they didn’t even care. The “head game” here is quite transparent: “I’m so incredibly awesome that I just incidentally kicked your ass, when I didn’t even really want to…”
DO: COMPLIMENT EACH OTHER’S TENNIS ENSEMBLES:
We all know, the outfit is the real reason we started playing, and, for some of us, the only reason we still play…
In short, I started playing tennis because I thought the little skirts were flattering, I couldn’t bring myself to run one more mile on the treadmill and I cried at the thought of taking one more Step Aerobics Class. Unfortunately, I also can’t see myself giving up my second favorite pass-time (eating) anytime soon… So, I resolve to pack my sense of humor in my tennis bag with my Gatorade and Advil. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll earn a Sports Merit Badge! Do they even have those?