ARTICLE FOR TENNIS INDIA by Ted Murray July, 2012
Every parent who enrolls their child in a tennis academy has dreams of their offspring becoming the next Roger Federer, Sania Mirza, or Leander Paes. This is a wonderful dream. However, it is only a beautiful dream if it is coming from the heart of the child themselves, not just from a self-motivated desire of the parent. Every child should be encouraged to dream, and parents and coaches who strive to provide every opportunity for a child to pursue their true passion in life are doing a wonderful service to the child and to society.
It is not healthy when parents allow the dream of becoming a world class tennis player to be the only reason for playing tennis. Too often children who love the sport are forced to give it up in order to focus their complete attention on their academic pursuits. This is very understandable, as realistic parents are rightly concerned about the need for a quality education and should not risk that to put all of their hopes on making a career in tennis.
Let’s face it. Being a playing professional is a very challenging proposition. Very few players are able to make the transition from being a top junior to making a solid living on the professional circuit. There are certainly no guarantees, as an injury can easily derail even the most promising career. There are so many factors besides having a great game that must come together to simply survive on the circuit, let alone thrive. Here are some of these.
A great example of these challenges is Leander Paes. Even though he had been the number one junior in the world and had won Junior Wimbledon and US Open, he still struggled to make it in the professional ranks. He went through a period of losing first round for months. His father had to convince his friends to sponsor Leander to cover his expenses. He went through depression and loss of confidence. Fortunately, he had both the game and the intelligence to persist as well as a strong family and support of friends. His is an example of a success story, but there are hundreds of others who have not been able to make a living on the circuit.
Does that mean that those who pursued their dream and didn’t make it as a pro career are failures and were wasting their time playing tennis when they should have been studying?
I don’t think so. I believe that putting your heart and soul into the pursuit of excellence in a sport like tennis can provide the best education possible for true success in life. That’s because sports, and tennis in particular, can teach life skills that translate into success in any area of endeavor that are difficult to learn in any other arena, especially the classroom. Let’s take a look at some of these.
TAKING PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY – Tennis is a wonderful mix of being an individual sport with also a team aspect. It teaches you not to make excuses and not to allow external circumstances to prevent you from doing your best. If you lose a match you need to look at yourself and your game and determine in what areas you fell short and what you need to work on in the future to achieve better results. These are the qualities than any leader must have.
PERSEVERANCE (NEVER GIVING UP) – The unique scoring system creates a fantastic forum for taking risks, making mistakes, learning from them, and coming back to triumph over all odds. It is such a forgiving sport because it is always possible to come back and win a match no matter how far behind you have gotten. Children who develop this never say die attitude are always going to be successful in life, as they will be prepared to handle the failures that inevitably will occur during a lifetime.
CONSTANT EVALUATION AND IMPROVEMENT – There are no shortcuts to success in a sport like tennis. Hours and hours of practice are required. A player must constantly be aware of their performance and their training routine and are always seeking ways to improve. They must be open to learning through many avenues, from coaches, parents, internet, other players, books, videos. This quest for continuous learning can be applied not just to tennis but often carries over to other areas of life.
SELF-DISCIPLINE – One of the keys to success in life is being able to sacrifice immediate pleasure in order to pursue a more meaningful goal in the future. Children who are dedicated to tennis are willing to give up many of the so-called pleasures of childhood in order to pursue their goals. This ensures that they will not become obese, will not get into drugs, or will not waste their time on pursuits like video games, TV or other habits that can be so alluring to kids who lack a clear focus in their life.
WORLDLY SOCIAL SKILLS – Just because they might give up parties and certain aspects of what is considered a normal social life, most tennis players actually develop a higher level of social skills. They normally interact very well with adults, such as coaches, tournament directors and parents of other players. When they begin to travel to play tournaments they interact with people of other cultures and often languages. This expands their knowledge of the world and their acceptance of people of differing backgrounds. Tennis players are usually very open-minded and tolerant and make friends with just about anyone they meet. It is such an international sport that almost automatically their awareness of the world increases.
EARN A COLLEGE EDUCATION – A goal that is much more feasible for players than a professional career is the prospect of earning a scholarship to a university in the United States. This is certainly feasible for highly ranked players. There are many reasons why a college scholarship is a better goal for most than a pro career. Not only does it provide an education, but it provides free coaching, travel, and equipment, all things that a professional has to pay for themselves. It also gives them a chance to develop a winning attitude. A great example is Somdev Devvarman who had a wonderful collegiate career and is now successful on the pro circuit. He is a very solid and secure young man who is extremely well-rounded.
NETWORKING AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT – Because highly educated and successful people play tennis, the ability to network with this level of individual can open doorways to opportunities that would never be available to even the most brilliant student. This ability to meet, play, and socialize with people from all parts of the world through tennis creates a much more well-rounded individual than one whose entire focus has been on academic studies. One of the BAT boys who was not a particularly good student has had a wonderful life as the personal hitting partner of a wealthy gentleman whom he met through tennis. He lives in the gentleman’s mansion in Connecticut and flies with him all over the world to play tennis with him. Amazing lifestyle that is perfect for him.
AWARENESS OF THE VALUE OF PHYSICAL FITNESS – When a child develops a love of a sport like tennis they must become aware of their body and what is required to maintain it at a high level of performance. This will prevent them from becoming part of the tragic epidemic of childhood obesity. It will generally lead to a habit of healthy living and exercise that will make a tremendous difference in their overall health and productivity over their entire lifetime.
DEVELOPING A PASSION FOR LIFE – When a child discovers a true passion in life and is willing to give up many other so-called pleasures in order to pursue their passion they learn what it means to be completely engaged in life. Very few children are truly passionate about school and academics, but since that is all they are exposed to they often settle for uninspiring careers and therefore unfulfilling lives. When a child is encouraged to pursue their passion they discover the true joy of working hard to achieve something meaningful. Even if they don’t make a career of tennis they will often find another avenue in which they can direct their passion to achieve a truly meaningful life.
These are all valid reasons why children should be encouraged to play tennis, but in the end there is only one reason that truly matters. The child should see tennis as something that is fun and exciting. If they truly enjoy the game they should be encouraged to pursue it as far as their ability will allow them. If they don’t enjoy it they should not be pushed. It is better to take some time off from the sport or search for a different environment in which to play than to feel forced to do something they begin to hate. Tennis should be a joy, and the hard work and dedication required to become excellent should be something that comes from the heart of the child. Those who truly love the sport and are allowed to pursue it wholeheartedly will almost certainly be successful in their endeavors throughout life.