Yeah, I have hated tennis before. Many times.
When I first started playing tennis, I loved it. I hit on the wall of the house over and over again and got to have a few hits with my older brothers/sisters and my Dad. There was something thrilling about it and perhaps looking back it was the ultimate way for me to concentrate. There is a ball coming, you better hit it back. If only that concentration could of carried over to the classroom.
Once I started playing competitively for Summertown in the Adelaide Hills, I really got the tennis bug. Not only was I engaged by this back and forth popping of the ball but I was winning, and kept winning over and over again in the first 4 or 5 years of playing on Saturday mornings with whatever team and division that Summertown could scrape together.
I always had great hand/eye coordination and was reasonably athletic but mainly I just didn’t really miss many shots. I just chased it down and in most cases looped the ball in. I knew that most people I played just made so many mistakes and as I started playing older players, they even more so would keep trying to hit me off the court making mistake after mistake.
But once I reached a level of making representative teams for the Adelaide Hills and then starting to play the ‘city tournaments’ I soon realised winning wasn’t that easy. Getting the ball back was ok but there was lots of others out there much better than me. They hit harder, they trained multiple times per week and they had racquet bags which fit more than 1 racquet!
So then you have to deal with losing. When you put so much of your identity and self confidence with being good at tennis, losing really sucks. I remember losing matches in tournaments or competitions and taking HOURS to recover. This started as crying and morphed into getting angry. At 13 years old my parents bought me a boxing bag and let me tell you did that cop some abuse when I lost.
The higher the level of tennis, the more the stakes go up. Even playing tournaments to try and get my ranking up was stressful. If your seeded #7 you really are hoping to make the quarter finals at least to justify your seeding. This was with both of my parents putting absolutely no pressure on me. The pressure was all self pressure. Trying to keep up with my own expectation on how I should go.
Sometimes multiple losses would break me. You could say that I didn’t lose quietly. You could definitely tell I was losing. I would revert back to just moon-balling and if that didn’t work then I would let my opponent know as well as players on other courts, spectators and the referee! Afterwards I would declare that I hate tennis and am playing Cricket. This could last anywhere from 1 night to even up to a week. But then I would win again and it would all be ok. But during those painful losses I really hated tennis. I wanted to remove the pressure I put on myself and eliminate the pain I felt losing.
So did I hate tennis or did I hate how losing made me feel? If I am honest about this, I have never once hated tennis when I win. Even if I don’t play well and think the score should of been more one sided, winning was always ok!
Eventually I played some College Tennis in the USA which brought out the best and worst in me. College gave me the opportunity to really raise my game. And I did. But the pressure of being on a college scholarship made the losses even worse. I felt bad losing. I felt like the coach would be disappointed he recruited me. I remember losing one match 60 60 to a player from a strong div 2 college called Lees McCrae and after the match, I set off into the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina to disappear for a while before I recovered mentally. I hated tennis that day.
With maturity comes perspective and I know that tennis is not the most important thing in life. I also know that as you play higher levels, you are going to play other good players and like the saying goes, you cant win them all.
As I got into my mid 20’s, I started to have a far better mindset. A mindset of controlling what I can control and giving my absolute best every single point. If I did that over and over again then either I will be rewarded with a win or I have played someone who deserved to be the winner that day.
I know recreational players struggle to understand why anyone would ‘hate tennis’ but in a highly competitive environment, tennis can really shake you around. It is one on one and there is no one to blame. So yes I have hated tennis on many, many occasions. But I have loved tennis on even more occasions. Now I am grateful to have the skill-set to play a quality game of tennis and maintain the athleticism and fitness required to compete. Winning is still the goal but competing and competing with integrity is the focus.
So these days as a coach working with junior players, I have compassion for those ultra competitive kids who would do anything to win and simply hate losing even a single point. I encourage that spirit because it really will help them excel but then try to reshift their focus towards competing rather than winning. Put that energy into your legs, use breathing to slow down the mind and take it one point at a time.
But we all know its easier said than done.