Tennis is a sport everyone can play at some level. You just hit the neon ball over the net with a racket. It’s a concept that’s so simple but that, when put into practice, can be so difficult. In tennis, someone’s always better than you, and training hard isn’t going to change that. But tennis isn’t just about beating your opponent or becoming the best in the world, which isn’t always realistic. Tennis is about becoming the best you can be, which isn’t always as good as someone else’s best. It’s about setting goals, and working hard to achieve them.
In tennis, working hard is important, even though most of the effort you put in is silent, and sometimes unseen. No one will really care if you’re moving your feet the whole time, or taking split steps, as you should before hitting the ball. A lot of the time when you put in 110 percent at practice, it seems like no one notices. But you have to put in the effort, not to be praised for it, but to become the best player you can be, and to win. That’s what keeps you going, even when you’re doing “suicides”—training runs from one line of the court to the next and back again—in the blazing sun. And when your shoulder’s sore from serving, knowing you’ve put in that effort is what makes you wince with pride.
A lot of tennis is mental, which sometimes makes your mind a bigger competitor than your opponent. Keeping a positive attitude, even when you’re losing, is crucial. You have to silence the voice that tells you you’re failing and scream and cheer for yourself, and instead of being your biggest critic, become your biggest fan. You have to recognize your talents and strengths on the court and play your game, and be honorable and fair all the while.
Tennis is a way of life because it’s about accepting what you’ve been given. It’s about accepting your talents and using them, and accepting that you have weaknesses. It’s about accepting that you’re no Venus Williams and probably never will be, but knowing you can be great anyway. Accepting that you’ll lose, that people will make bad calls, that some days you’ll stink, and that sometimes you just have to backpedal. It’s accepting the laps, the endless shuffling and the karaoke steps. Tennis is about accepting the bad, but still fighting to retain the hope that eventually you’ll win. And it’s about knowing that even when it seems like you have nothing, you’ll always have love.
Kailyn Gaines lives in Rockville and will be a sophomore at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington this fall. She has played tennis for eight years, and as a freshman played for her school’s varsity team. She looks forward to playing with her team again, and to writing more in the future.