Our son took to tennis like a duck takes to water about four years ago. Since then, he and his friends have taken lesson after lesson, clinic after clinic. When the summer temperatures rose to uncomfortable levels in the high eighties, most of the participants scrambled to the swimming pool. This group, however, headed back out to the courts for another couple of hours of grinding a little yellow ball. I admire tenacity and determination. To have a goal and set out to at least try to achieve it, is a worthy aspiration. On the practical and pragmatic side, however, there is a harsh reality one must eventually address whether the goal is in athletics or academics. It is easy for a young dreamer to announce the desire to play in Wimbledon or perform with the New York City Ballet Company or simply compete in an Olympic event. It is quite another to fully comprehend the magnitude of the desire and knowing the cost, continue with the commitment no matter what results will yield. Yesterday, my son received a mere taste of what the future can hold.
High school athletics is rigorous, competitive and an invaluable experience. One year a particular high school will have attained notoriety in a specific sport only to return the next year barely hanging on to the bottom rung having lost the bulk of the team to graduation. I can only liken the rise and fall of any high school’s athletic division to the undulating tides of the ocean – sometimes high, sometimes low. My son chose a high school closer to our home and in doing so, wound up on one of those high school tennis teams climbing up from the bottom rung. There were probably 5 students on the team and only 2 had participated in any formal training, one being our son. For those unfamiliar with tennis lingo, which I wasn’t, Court 1 is considered the best court, the dreaded arena often referred to as the court of annihilation one wants to avoid unless properly prepared. It would be like having a Freshman suited up to play quarterback facing a defensive line made up completely of experienced seniors. Kind of takes the stuffing out of you.
It didn’t take long for the lineup to be formulated. A great, lanky, and talented sophomore played Court 1 and my son, my tall, wonderfully goofy, freshman son moved to Court 2. In one fell swoop, he was thrown into the deep end. The remaining team members fell into place thereafter. Now, this was just our high school. There were approximately six other high schools to compete against. A few were in the same category as ours; limited number of players with equally limited experience. Others were highly regarded with a deep roster, exceptional experience, mostly comprised of seniors and carefully cultivated to dominate the competition. They did so quite well. However, our little team became the thorn in their sides, at first surprising, then annoying. While my son’s high school team didn’t do well overall in the standings, both Court 1 and Court 2 weren’t easily overcome.
The season ended yesterday with District competitions, another level involving another set of high schools, some familiar, some completely unknown. Without being aware of the fact, my son was pushing his commitment into an unknown arena. He was facing competitors of unknown ability in front of friends, parents and other attendees for the opportunity to achieve the same goal as every other high school tennis participant: the chance to play in the finals, a lofty goal for an incoming freshman.
His first match was long and deliberate, controlled and executed. The opponent was no slouch but eventually my son prevailed. Because of a pass, he went straight into the semi finals against a player, a senior, he’d come close to beating twice. My son was chomping at the bit, eagerly ready to play, certain he could win and move to the finals. Previously, their matches had been neck and neck so the opposing team player was rather surprised when my son won the first set handily. I’m sorry to report that’s when things began to go south. This is where the difference in age, the difference in competitive experience and the ability to pull it all together or simply keep it mentally together, is affected by immaturity. When a few of my son’s shots went awry, his frustration grew. Instead of taking a few moments to gather his wits and take a few breaths, he launched immediately into the next point with the same results. It didn’t take long for his opponent to capitalize on my son’s growing self aggravation and win the second set. My heart broke for my son. He wanted the win so much he could taste it but the possibility was rapidly slipping away. It was a journey to a lesson he had to take on his own. A simple hug or thumbs up wasn’t going to make everything better. As parents, we aren’t allowed to coach our children during match play. The only thing I could manage to tell him, handing him a bottle of water was, “Getting angry isn’t going to help your game.” not really believing the statement would help.
As he went back out on to the court, however, a new young man emerged. I can’t readily confess he was no longer frustrated but for the first time, he took charge and began playing with his brain again. For the next ten minutes, emotion did not control his game and I saw a glimpse of the young man he is trying to become. When the tie breaker ended, he was the first man to the net to congratulate the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud. I’m not sure angst is the proper word to describe what teens go through but I’m fairly certain it’s the perfect word to describe what parents of teens go through.
Well done, son. Well done.