April Fools! This title is a complete misrepresentation of my Friday morning. The opposite happened; I lost my match...again. More precisely, my sister and I lost together at First Doubles to a very nice team of women that we should have decisively beaten. But I did look pretty cute in my new skirt and top, so there's that. (And yes, I do own a selfie-stick, every self respecting "look-at-me-girl" should.)
My younger sister is an excellent tennis player. In fact, both of my younger sisters are excellent tennis players. Both had terrific high school records and went on to play Division-I College tennis on scholarships. And there is me. I was a decent high school player. My doubles partner and I even won our Interscholastic League tournament and the county title. Of course, that was 24 years ago, but who's counting?
I probably picked up a tennis racket for the first time when I was 10 or 11 years old because both of my parents liked to play and I wanted to try tennis too. I had no training, other than what my dad showed me and whatever little I picked up in gym class. But I was athletic - remarkably so for a runt - and I picked up skills rather easily. But tennis is unlike any other sport, except maybe golf. The nuances of the skills you need to succeed are practically endless. And it can be so frustrating. One miscalculation and you lose a point.
It was not until fall of 1989 that those nuances actually became important. That was the moment in 8th grade I recognized that I was no longer going to be able to play boys' soccer. Back then, neither my grammar school nor the high school I was planning to attend had a girls' soccer team. So, since I had no interest in getting hit with sticks in field hockey, I joined the boys' soccer team in 6th grade. I was ok. Not a stand out, too small, and not overly skilled. I was good enough. I played JV, mostly and then some Varsity in 7th and 8th grade. I was a forward and scored here and there - most likely when the goalie tripped over himself or fell asleep on the job. I was good enough, but not good enough to play Varsity soccer on an all boys high school, which was exactly what the high school coach told me when he came to scout my team. Like ever. He wouldn't play girls on Varsity. At least he was honest.
So, I went home and cried. I railed against the "system" and "the man." And then my dad suggested, "Why don't you try to play tennis?" Huh. I never thought of that. Up until that point, I thought tennis was just something we played at the public courts or rich people played in Florida. Tennis? Brilliant!
That spring and summer, I think I played every day for hours with my dad, who is unpleasant to deal with as an athletic coach. But he did his best, picked up every Vic Braden book he could find from the library, and started teaching me about top-spin, slicing and ground strokes. He put rackets in my 11 year old and 5 year old sisters hands. He was on a mission. He was going to make us into tennis players.
Sure enough, I made Varsity as a freshman - sort of. I started the season playing second doubles after winning enough games in our ladder match challenges, but was just not very good at doubles, since I had never played before. So after losing at that spot 3 or 4 times, our coach decided to make a change. And luckily, my good friends ended up sliding into that second doubles spot and did a great job, helping our team win the county championship that year. Thanks to them, I still got a cool "champions" jacket in 1990.
After that first season, my parents recognized that I needed tennis lessons. That winter, my middle sister and I started playing with an area pro and we got better. The next season, I made varsity decisively and had a winning season at the first doubles spot. Again that winter, both sisters this time and I played with a different tennis pro. This was the coach who trained the #1 girl on my team (who also happened to be the #1 girl in New Jersey at one point, by the way). Fall of my junior year, teamed up with the same doubles partner, our team once again took the county title. But now our winter, spring and summer needed to be serious - our #1 girl was graduating, my sister was joining the team as a freshman and she was beating me. A lot. I wasn't about to let my younger sister beat me out for the top spot. What would everyone think?
My senior year was reasonably successful. I ended up with the #1 spot on the team and won most of my matches. My sister had one loss, maybe two all season. Really, she probably should have taken the top spot. I graduated high school and ended my tennis career, deciding to focus on academics since a tennis scholarship to Rutgers where I had a full academic scholarship was just not in my future. (Of course instead, I focused on fraternity parties, but that's another story for another time.)
My sister finished her high school career successfully and her college career even more successfully. She even became a teaching pro for a short while before entering a corporate career. But once she began her own family, she too gave up the game. The other sister, 9 years my junior followed a similar path - amazing high school career, great college career at UNH, teaching pro at some of the most exclusive clubs in the country, but then she opted for law school. However, unlike the middle sister, the little one never gave up the game and she still plays amazingly well. Tennis skills are not like riding a bike. In tennis, if you don't use it, you lose it.
And that brings us to today. My sisters and I never played doubles together when we were younger for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons was the middle one and I used to fight like maniacs. So when the middle one and I took court #5 at the Center Court Tennis Center this morning, I was excited. We had a fairly good shot at winning the match, we thought as we eyed up the competition. We even won the first three games of the first set. And then, the wheels came off our wagon. Lets just say, we should probably practice together a few more times before we decide to play again.
The first problem was that our adversaries did not hit with any pace on the ball whatsoever. We call them dinkers. Neither my sister nor I have ever played well against dinkers. Our second problem was my lack of experience on the court in a competitive match. 9 times out of 10, my sister had to remind me where I should be on the court which led to a lot of shots I should have been able to return, missed. Third, our lack of opportunity to play at all over the past few years was a problem. We both just started playing again after about a 10 year hiatus. You can say we're a bit rusty. Best line of the day from my sister, "Well, I would have gotten that one...in the 90's!"
After losing the last point of the last game in the last set, frustrated, we immediately started rehashing what we were doing wrong. We spent another hour talking about it in my sister's kitchen.
Here's the point: we're winners. Or at least we have a strong desire to win. Losing, although never the end of the world, isn't fun. If we had played better and lost, we would probably have had more fun. But we tanked and we knew it. We are so much better than we played, and we knew it.
The generation of kids who grew up with "participation" trophies don't feel what we feel. Earning an award or a win feels great. And sure, we didn't feel great not winning today because we didn't want to let each other or our team down, but even as middle-aged adult women, we understand that we need to do more (i.e.: stink less) next time around to succeed. Just showing up may be half the battle, but it's never enough and unfortunately, there are too many people in our society who disagree (but we can save that debate for another time too.)
In the scheme of our lives, does it really matter all that much that we lost our match this morning? Probably not. We're still alive and all that good stuff. But in a way it does matter a great deal. We refuse to compromise in any aspect of our lives. We continue to push ourselves to be better. To be winners. And we know we won't always win, but it doesn't mean we don't try. Because earning the trophy or even just the high five from your team after a win feels great. We don't give up - we work harder.
In this age, maybe that makes us complete out of touch jerks who don't want our kids to "feel good" about themselves. I think it makes us the exact opposite - winning and losing are important parts of life. It is how we measure and define success. In order to win at anything, you have to lose sometimes too. I want my kid to understand both so neither event comes as a shock. I want her to understand that losing isn't the time to give up, rather it is the time to work harder. Also, being both a gracious winner and loser are also good life skills.
Today my sister and I were gracious losers. We thanked our opponents for a "nice match" (even though they made some terrible, terrible line calls...bygones, we still lost) and we thanked our team for giving us a chance to play together (we're just substitutes on this team). And then, my sister and I planned how we are going to win the next time we play together. That's just how we roll.