Tennis: An Inspirational Sport

The BNP Paribas Open Tennis Tournament at Indian Wells, California started this week. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point before I graduated from high school, I became interested in tennis. I took tennis in college, but being only 5 feet 1 inch tall, I was not very good. I did learn to understand the game better and to be intrigued by it. When I found tennis tournaments on TV, I found myself mesmerized by the game.

Here is why I find the game interesting. 

  1. Men as well as women play the sport. Some women can actually serve the ball faster than some men.
  2. In singles, two people face each other to determine who the best is that day. All decisions rest on the individual player.
  3. No coaching is allowed during the match. The coaching takes place outside of the event.
  4. In doubles, teams of two face each other. The two members of the team must consistently communicate and modify their strategy.
  5. The stamina required by the players is amazing. Some men’s matches last 5 hours.

Why is it inspirational?

I find many aspects of this game inspirational. Of course, many of the players are inspirational and I address my favorites later in this blog. The structure of the game is inspirational. Each match is a battle between champions and it mirrors many aspects of life.

In life, we have teachers who help us understand the world around us. However, we have to decide for ourselves how we will use what we learn to impact our lives. This is true in a tennis tournament. Because no coaching is allowed on the courts, the players must rely on their training and knowledge to face the challenge ahead of them.

While the players are on the court by themselves, there is a box for each of them in the stands that they can fill with their supporters. This box typically has the coach, family members, friends, and other members of the player’s support team. During the match the players look up to their box for inspiration and support. This inspires me to remember that I have a player’s box of my own. I can decide who supports me and inspires me in my day-to-day challenges. Just as the players do, I can change who is in the box based upon what challenges I am facing. I can also reach out to my supporters whether I win the match or not to help me prepare for the next challenge.

One of the statements made about champion tennis players is that they have very short memories. They quickly forget the shot that didn’t work. The game they didn’t win. They learn what they need to learn from the experience and then move back into the belief that they can win the match. This is a skill that we all need to master to move through life without old memories tripping us up. This is a challenge for most of us and especially for many children with Learning Differences.

It’s a worldwide sport played all over the world. Several tennis doubles teams have members from countries that are not known for getting along politically. In fact, in Israel, the Israel Tennis Center (ITC) discovered that “via tennis, people can learn to be more tolerant of one another”. The ITC trains Jewish and Arab youth as doubles teams. Working as a team, you learn to communicate and strategize together. This is something all IEP teams can learn from.

Perseverance, belief in yourself, and life-long learning are what make the top players the best. Many of the top tennis players came from poor or middle-class families. Most communities have tennis courts that cost little, if anything, to use. However, it is the perseverance and belief in yourself that keep players practicing every day, even when they don’t want to. Of course, natural talent has a great deal to do with this. Parents of highly talented children know that it is important to keep challenging your child without burning your child out. Richard Williams, Serena and Venus Williams’ (both number one players in the world) dad, did not encourage his children to participate in every tournament. They are both still playing tennis at 33 and 34, respectively.

The Most Inspirational Players

When I was young, Billy Jean King was the queen of tennis and she still is. But, the player that I really liked was Martina Navratilova. I related to her because she was an outsider. Not only did she defect from Czechoslovakia (now known as the Czech Republic), but she was criticized for her body and physical fitness, even though she was winning tournaments. Martina went on to win 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. Martina was the number one female player in the world for 332 weeks. She is also one of the first players to announce that she is gay.

When Serena Williams starting winning tournaments in the 1990s, I was getting my Master’s degree and then I had children. Now that I have been able to get back into watching tennis again, I am so glad that Serena is back on top at number one. Serena is chasing Martina’s record, but she is getting closer. Serena has been number one for 231 weeks. She has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles, 22 doubles titles, and 4 Olympic gold medals. Besides her tennis career, I find Serena inspirational because she does not have the traditional tennis body. At 33, she is in the best shape she has ever been in. Also, as an African American, she has faced discrimination and has been booed at several venues. She is tough and yet she is considered to be one of the most gracious tennis players on tour.

Then, we have the top four men (in order by current rankings): Novak DjokovicRoger FedererRaphael Nadal, and Andy Murray. These men have been the top 4 players in the world every season from 2008 – 2012, as they are right now. In fact, they are known as the “Big Four”. These four are inspirational to me in many ways, but perseverance has to be the biggest one. In most of the open tournaments, men have to win the best of 5 to win the match and move to the next round. This amounts to an average of 3.5 hours, but can go up to 5 hours with the longest recorded match being just over 11 hours. This not only takes physical endurance, but also mental endurance. Many players who play the Big Four have stated that they play at such a high level of play throughout the match that you just get worn down, mentally and physically.

Tennis and these players inspire me to:

  • Do what I can with the body I have
  • Don’t give up in the face of adversity
  • Strive to be the best that I can be
  • Forget the mistakes and losses, just move on
  • Do it the way it works for me, don’t try to be someone else

And NEVER GIVE UP!!!!!

References

Martina Navratilova. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 07:17, Mar 13, 2015.

Serena Williams. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 07:15, Mar 13, 2015. 

Novak Djokovic. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 07:16, Mar 13, 2015. 

Roger Federer. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 07:16, Mar 13, 2015.

Rafael Nadal. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 07:16, Mar 13, 2015.

Andy Murray. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 07:16, Mar 13, 2015.