It’s 12:45 on a gorgeous Tuesday afternoon in Coconut Grove. I just returned home after playing 90 minutes of tennis. My mood couldn’t be better. Neither could my appreciation for the game I have played for over 30 years. I love it even more than I did when I first started to get a knack for the game.
Sometime around 1997, I was watching an interview between Oprah and Michael Jordan. His “airness” was at the peak of his basketball and financial prowess. He had just won his 5th NBA championship and was earning 30 million a year on the court, with even more off it. But he made a comment that was particularly worth remembering. He said “All my problems go away when I step on the basketball court”.
I wasn’t surprised that Michael Jordan loved basketball. What surprised me was that arguably the best basketball player in history and perhaps one of the world’s greatest athletes had problems. How could someone so talented, so accomplished, so beloved, so able to get anything he wanted out of life, have “problems”?
I guess in our idolatry like perception of superstars, we forget that they are human too. Everyone has problems. Everyone. They may be good problems to have but they are still problems.
This blog is not intended to focus on the nature of being human. It’s a predicament we are lucky to experience no matter how excruciating the problems may be sometime. This blog is an expression of my continued love for the game of tennis, without which I can’t imagine ever having the chance to really enjoy my life.
I am reminded of Michael Jordan’s comment every time I step on the tennis court. But the good vibes begin even before my feet touch the clay, cement or on a few lucky occasions, grass. It begins with the preparation. The choosing of my tennis clothes, the momentary letting go of all other concerns, the excitement of just getting my occasionally lethargic body to the courts. It’s all part of the healing sequence. It’s all part of the joy.
I could go on for pages about all the valuable lessons tennis has taught me. I will just mention a few that resonate with my heart and soul. Tennis has taught me that many of life’s greatest feats are accomplished alone. Tennis is a lonely sport, even in doubles, you are still out there trying to win points on your end and win the battle against yourself. It also reminds me that solitude can be really empowering.
Tennis has taught me to strike a balance between aggression and self-control. Some shots, some points call for all-out adrenaline charged attack. Others require patience, discipline and retreat. No tennis player gets the balance perfectly, but over time, we learn what strategy is most likely to generate a winning result. A match, as in life, constantly demands rethinking and adjusting our approach.
When you have played as long as I have, you will have lost your fair share of matches. I have actually lost over a thousand. But I have won much more than I have lost. Regardless, that’s really not the point of playing. Life isn’t measured by wins and losses. It’s measured by the effort we bring to each challenge we face. It’s measured by our ability to appreciate and savor our victories but even more importantly, learn from and bounce back from the defeats.
Richard Nixon once said “those who fail and not those who try and fail but those who fail to try”. I believe this motto really applies to the amazing game of tennis. Aside from all the fun that can be had on the tennis court, can we really ever fail in something to which we gave our best? If you are playing a big point, decide to attack the net and lose the point because your opponent hit a terrific passing shot, should you really consider that a mistake?
I now realize that the only matches I have ever regret in my tennis career were the ones I avoided playing when I should have. No match can be won unless I step on the court. But for that matter, no match has ever been lost either that I at least tried to win.
There’s the old saying that one can never get too much of a good thing. That’s the way I feel about tennis. I am already pumped for the next time I get to be on the courts. For one, I know problems will develop before then so I can’t wait for them to go away. Secondly, life is too short not to enjoy the things we love most!