Why do you play?

by Liz Sweeney
 

Billy Jean King says that when she begins coaching someone, the first question she asks is, ‘Why do you play tennis?”. This question got me thinking when I read a recent article on Courtgirl Magazine that lists common rules by which we sternly play women’s doubles and in the end declares “The rules are a tool not a weapon!”

So, why are we out there on the court? Is it to win at any cost or to prove something? Do we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders as we go out to battle — racquet slung over our shoulders, a canteen of water in our hands, ‘enemy’ stats swirling in our heads? I am guilty as charged on all fronts! There is something about the competitive atmosphere that draws us in, narrows our eyes and in some cases, brings out the very worst in us!

“I think you have 11% trim on that skirt — that will be 1 point for our team!”

“I think I heard a beep — is your phone on?”

“Don’t tell our opponent that was a great shot — that will make her feel good!”

After 20 years of playing in this amazing Women’s Fairfield County Tennis League — I have said or at least thought all of the above. But, I have also witnessed incredibly gracious players and tremendous sportsmanship that has inspired me to pay it forward. This week’s match against two very lovely (and very tall) Swedes was an exceptionally gracious match. Helena and Charlotte demonstrated such a love for the game and for everyone to do her best out there. And as they called poaches in their native tongue, I even learned a little Swedish along the way.

I think the answer to “why are we playing tennis” evolves over the years for each person. For me, when I first started in the league I was newly married and looking to make friendships — friendships that have carried me through really great times and very difficult ones.

But somehow along the way I turned this blessing of a break into a battlefield. It became a place to prove something to somebody — I am not sure who.

Then there were the early childhood years. What a gift it was to get the exercise and focus on something other than the next feeding or finding that missing LEGO piece as my son built his umpteenth Star Wars fighter jet. But somehow along the way I turned this blessing of a break into a battlefield. It became a place to prove something to somebody — I am not sure who. At that time in my life, I had gone from being competent and confident Liz Sweeney in the work place to being an exhausted and unsure mother of Tom, Ryan and Daniel — and somehow I had felt a loss of my own identity.

I had gone from being competent and confident Liz Sweeney in the work place to being an exhausted and unsure mother of Tom, Ryan and Daniel — and somehow I had felt a loss of my own identity.

I placed so much importance each week on the team line up — sitting by the phone (that’s how long I have been doing this!) — or by the computer, waiting for the line up. I would feel crushed if I wasn’t “in” that week. If I did get the nod to play, I went out on to the battlefield needing to prove something, needing to define who I was, and this created tremendous tension. And the rules would become a weapon. “You were 10 minutes late…too bad the traffic was bad…that’s a game for us!” This was even when my partner and I were in no rush to get off of the court and had nothing pressing after the match.

I have learned that old dog-new trick thing again! I can be taught! I am a work in progress and not a finished product.

As those early childhood years have turned into teenage years (with their own sets of interesting challenges!) what was once the battlefield of self-definition has returned to being a blessing. I have learned that old dog-new trick thing again! I can be taught! I am a work in progress and not a finished product. Without the need to prove something, the letting go can happen. Thank God that He is not finished with me yet!

Now, I wonder when that line up will come out ….

Grace & peace,
Liz Sweeney