I have a little Sunday tradition with the girls. We have ice cream and play chess or checkers at a local ice cream shop. I’m not great at either game. I’m sure it won’t be long before P is consistently beating me but I love how much playing these games teaches us about life. A lot of the lessons parallel those learned in sports but on a day like today, when it was 107 degrees outside, I’m grateful to be sitting inside eating ice cream instead of outside baking to death.
Today we had one of those lessons come to light. I was kicking P’s butt. She started out with a couple of bad moves that kept sinking her worse and worse. She wanted to throw the game and start over but I wouldn’t let her. I told her she had to keep fighting and figure it out. In fact, a couple months ago we went through the reverse scenario. She was kicking my butt. I was down to 3 men and she had 9 but I fought my way back and won! After, I talked to her about what happened. I pointed out that I kept thinking my way through it until she made a few mistakes that caused the tide to turn. So, today I reminded her of that past game. She tried to find her way back, but couldn’t. As she was losing I said “Your experience here is not about winning as much as about learning from your mistakes. A loss isn’t a loss if you’ve learned from where you went wrong. However, if you don’t learn anything then you’ve lost big time.” I also pointed out that true winners never stop fighting.
I’m so grateful I have the opportunity to teach her these valuable lessons playing checkers, which will transfer to sports and then translate to real life as they did for me. However, after talking to a few friends who now coach college tennis, teach junior tennis and are involved in other youth sports I’m starting to wonder if sports will continue to teach kids the bigger lessons of life. Or will all the new changes, like handing out trophies to EVERYONE, weaken the kids and teach them to expect big returns for little effort?
For example, college tennis is currently undergoing big changes. For the sake of making the sport more fan friendly and marketable they are shortening the format. When I played, a team match consisted of 6 singles and 3 doubles where you had to win 5 of the matches. Each match was a best of three sets with regular tie-breaker in the 3rd. We usually didn’t play doubles if the match was won in the singles but sometimes, to get practice matches we did play an 8 game pro set. Now all the singles matches are third set 10 point tie-breaker, the doubles are a 6 game pro set and when the team match is won all other matches must stop. I’m going to set aside all the obvious reasons why this is bad like diminished training and that college tennis will no longer be a training ground for pro tennis because the format is completely different. Oh and wait, a truly obvious reason, if you know anything about college sports and their budgets you know that no college sport pays for itself except for football and basketball and that’s only if they’re a winning team. All of a sudden tennis coaches are suppose to be marketing experts to? Ok, so putting all those arguments aside the biggest reason why this change is horrible for young adults is because it is robbing them of the very lesson I just gave P this afternoon playing chess.
I was the kind of player that had total grinder, 3 hour marathon matches. I dreaded some opponents but these matches taught me to train hard. They taught me to gut it out. They taught me that I can survive tough. And therefore when I quit playing and started and excelled in various careers I knew I could work hard, gut it out and survive the tough. I broke into the film industry and worked myself up the ladder in 6 months without one connection into the industry. It’s the toughest business to break into without contacts. I launched a clothing line without knowing the industry and had great sales figures within my first year of launching. I landed a job in graphic design (long story but thanks to tennis) learned photoshop, illustrator and how to code HTML on the job. THAT was hard and a long grinding process! But I had done hard when we played Berkeley and I won in a 3rd set tie breaker. I kept us in the match and took us into doubles. I did hard against UCLA….it’s difficult to think of just one single match because every match was hard and long. One match in particular I remember coming back from was when I was down a set and 0-4 and managed to win and got us into doubles…AGAIN!
Talk about the pressure! You know how much pressure it is to have your ENTIRE team outcome come down to YOUR one match? The pressure of being the last doubles match on the court that decides the final outcome while helping a teammate stay calm and focused? Ah, but I LOVED it! I thrived on it! And guess what I knew about myself when my businesses and career were on the line? I knew I could handle pressure. I knew I could fight to the end. I knew I could figure a way out and I knew I had fight. Without every single one of my college matches I never would have known that. College tennis groomed me to launch my own business, break into the film industry and become an art director.
But NCAA wants to make tennis more marketable….because somehow that’s become the goal instead of molding young adults. They’ve forgotten that tennis in college wasn’t about marketing and making money. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I thought that’s what PROFESSIONAL sports are about. All sports in college were put in place for school spirit and to groom young adults into stronger career minded individuals. There’s a ton of documentation on how competing in sports makes kids more successful in future careers. Colleges should be grateful for the positive message their athletes deliver into the working world. What happened to the college experience being for the benefit of the student-athlete?
I don’t know if this watering down or deletion of the true experience is happening in just tennis or in all sports. Is it happening just in the United States or is this a world wide epidemic? I’m feeling my way around the new landscape of youth sports. It’s changed in many ways. I will put into effect another lesson I learned through tennis as a child. I am going to focus on the things I can control. I can control how I spend my Sundays with my girls. I can control how many lessons I pass on. I can control what great influential coaches become a part of our team. And by team of people, I don’t mean an entourage to make a better ATHLETE but a family to make a better HUMAN.