I am a tennis player, and have been since age 8. For a long time, tennis was an everyday part of my life- I was fairly good and it became a part of my family routine. We played tennis and watched tennis. I chose tennis over soccer because I didn’t like to play soccer and I didn’t have the gumption to kick the snot out of others. Tennis was easy to stay with because I had instructors and coaches I liked (for the most part) and, even though tennis was yet another thing that made me stand out as different from those around me, I fit in here more than anywhere else. I could shine a little when I won a match or got compliments and encouragement from fellow tennis people.
Tennis player was an identity I sometimes didn’t want but didn’t know what to do without. I grew up in a neighborhood where people did so-called normal things, and nobody but my family played tennis. For this and other reasons, I was ostracized with few friends. Kids are cruel to people whom they view as different. I was told that I was weird, did I know what kind of people tennis players were (with derogatory names attached), and that my sport matched my strange name. I found it amusing that the very people who teased me would inquire if I still played tennis and did I go to college on a tennis scholarship when I later encountered them.
As with any other pursuit, there are successes and struggles. I learned to use my talent and skills to the best of my ability and, while I was never the best, it paid off when I put in the work. I am most proud of my undefeated season, being named to the conference team (the first #6 player to do so), and being MVP – all as the #6 player on the team. I am disappointed that, at times, my efforts to differentiate myself less and deal with life got in the way of achieving greater success, both on and off the tennis court. Tennis has taught me lessons I might not have learned otherwise about acceptance, commitment, and persistence. Some of my fondest memories as a youngster include meeting famous tennis players and being a “ball kid” at the professional tournaments in my city.
I struggled again with my tennis identity once I became a “former athlete.” I graduated from college and was no longer competing or training regularly, which was an adjustment after 14 years. I realized that tennis, like many other things, was now my choice. I didn’t have to formally train or compete, I could just have fun. I played for so long for so many reasons and now it is something I just enjoy, especially on a warm, sunny day with a slight breeze. I am a tennis player.