This weekend, I spent time with people from my tennis past. One of my former coaches was in town. He gathered some of his players for a tournament that was affected by the weather we’ve been having. Storms. Major storms. Floods. Even tornado warnings. I would have spent more time out at the club on Monday, cheering and reconnecting with some people from my junior tennis days, but the rains came, so I hunkered down at home. That gave me a lot of time to think about whether tennis can or should be part of my future.
I loved playing tennis as kid, but I never loved competition. I enjoyed workouts and hitting with the ball machine and serving bucket after bucket of balls. But matches always felt more stressful than fun. When I thought about maybe playing college tennis, I didn’t hope to play #1 or #2 on a team. I hoped to play #7 or #8, so I could practice and travel with the team but only occasionally play since most matches had a six person lineup. As much as I loved the sport, I was someone who pretty much always wanted to be benched.
For more than a decade, I’ve been participating in triathlons. I’ve never been competitive about it. I’ve never chased a ranking or attempted to qualify for nationals. Is “nationals” even the proper lingo for the triathlon world? I don’t even know. My goal has been to finish my race and to finish it well. I race the clock and only the clock. I’m realizing that a sport like triathlon is a safe choice for me. I can participate but not compete.
Tennis isn’t safe. In tennis, you win or you lose. I always hated to lose more than I loved to win, and that made me a nervous player. I have no doubt whatsoever that if I had signed up for the tournament that brought my coach into town, I secretly would have been thankful for the the rain for interrupting play. That’s certainly what I would have done as a kid. I think that’s my single biggest hesitation in getting back into the sport. Can I play without being so fearful that I ruin the game for myself?
I think my fear affects a number of things. For years, I’ve built a legal practice of doing research and writing and letting others do what I call the “front line” work — the hearings and depositions and negotiations. I think I stay behind the scenes at work because I’m afraid of head-to-head combat. I’d rather have time to think slowly and carefully about my next move. I remember even being told by a college professor of mine that I’d never learn to speak Russian well because I was afraid to make mistakes. I could read and write at an advanced level, but I never developed much competency speaking because I’d spend too much time trying to make my words accurate both in terms of vocabulary and grammar. Communication was the main point, but I stifled communication for the sake of perfection.
I don’t like being afraid. I don’t want always to be safe. I’d much rather be someone who takes chances and loses or messes up sometimes.
Can I change that way of thinking going forward – the fearful way of thinking that has been part of my makeup since I was a child? Can I get to a place where I enjoy playing matches and tournaments, regardless of the outcome? I don’t know if I can, but I feel like I want to try.