Lessons from playing tennis


1 reactions 2022-12-31

The first time I learned tennis was when I was in elementary school. It never really sparked a serious interest then. I never thought I would become an avid tennis player. I felt like I spent more time picking up tennis balls than time actually spent in lessons because my coach would ask me to pick up other people’s balls as well and the lessons were very short. I soon lost interest and forgot about tennis for many years, until I picked it up again during my military service.

One of the closest friends I made during my military service grew up playing tennis. His father wanted him to be a professional tennis player, so his father wouldn’t let him come home until he hit a thousand shots again the wall without making a single mistake! (he had to start over if he did).

My friend was a mature, hard-working, smart, determined, and kind person. And I am proud to say he is my first true tennis coach whom I look up to. He taught me everything about tennis techniques from the scratch. And thanks to him, tennis is now more than a sport for me.

I want to share some of the many lessons playing tennis taught me.

Good things take time slowly but surely.

I never considered myself athletic. I played soccer my entire life and was even a captain of the high school Varsity soccer team at one point, but I was never good at it. My coach would jokingly say that I am a “five-minute” player because my breath will run out after five minutes. But I made sure that I ran my ass off during however short amount of time I was on the field and helped on decisive points. Anyways, there always were players so much better than me, and I never felt I was good at sports, at best I was probably an average player.

But tennis was different. Tennis was the first sport that taught me that good things take time slowly but surely. The more time I spent practicing my shots and reflecting on my weaknesses and strengths, I saw slow but certain progress. Sure, many times I felt I hit a wall and felt like not improving, but if I stick it out for long enough and keep practicing, I always found myself breaking through. Three important things were reflection, deliberate(focused) practice, and a good coach. And most important of them all was persistence and enjoying the process.

Compete with yourself, not others.

The joy comes from competing with yourself, not others. Sure, many people out there may be better than you, are more athletic, or have more experience. But thankfully those things did not bother me in tennis. When I saw better players than me, I found playing with them as an opportunity to learn from them and improve myself. At first, accepting defeats was not easy. I felt a bit salty and discouraged, no matter how good they were or how many years they played tennis. However, I soon realized that who I am today is not who I will be in the future. What was important is to make sure that future me will not make the same mistakes if played the same match with the same opponent. In that sense, a loss was a stepping stone to the future me and a guiding compass on what I need to work on.

Winning mentality

When playing a tennis match, there comes many moments where I have to overcome pressures and control my mind. In this regard, I still haven’t figured out what is the “right” mindset to have. When I’m losing, do I play more aggressively or defensively? Do I serve safely twice or go for more aggressive serves? Do I change my play style, or stick to the one I have? What if my opponent “figured” me out? Ironically, I ask the same set of questions when I’m winning too. I think many people have different answers to these questions. For example, some people say to focus on small things (moving my feet, watching the ball until the end, etc.) when the game isn’t going as you planned. I haven’t found my answers to these questions, but I think that makes playing tennis even more interesting, and I’m glad that I still have so much to figure out!

To all tennis players and fans out there, I very much look forward to playing with you or just chatting about tennis someday. Until then, let’s all humbly but joyfully walk the never-ending journey of tennis.