“From the ages of 8 to 15, I trained competitively in tennis. If “trained competitively” sounds a little intense, it’s because it should. Most of my life during those seven years revolved around playing tennis—I trained at a provincial level and played tournaments every other week. Although I stopped training 3 years ago, the lessons I learned have stuck with me to this day. Here are a few of them.
1. Not taking care of your body is bad.
I know, I know, it seems like a given. Obviously, you need to take care of your body. But if you’re doing intense physical activity multiple times a week, that obligation to take care of your body triples. You can’t do large amounts of physical activity without eating well, resting, and tending to anything that may resemble an injury. Plus, future-you will give current-you a big high five for creating good habits.
2. Overworking your body is worse.
At the ripe age of 11, a tennis academy I attended in New York required everyone to run 2 miles a day in 10 minutes (doubled on Fridays) after a long day of gruesome tennis. The result of these runs is lifelong knee pains and a general avoidance of treadmills. If something feels like it’s too much, it’s probably because it is. Find your limit, and obey it.
3. Breaks are necessary.
After playing tennis for 4 months straight, winter break seemed like a fantasy dreamland. I couldn’t have been more excited to step outside of the sport I called home, even just for two weeks. Yet somehow, I always without fail found myself missing tennis in those 14 days of nothing. Breaks are a great opportunity to recharge, but also allow you to have something look forward to when they end.
4. Don’t try to force a passion.
Most people are inclined to stick with whatever they naturally excel at—since most people also enjoy being good at things. However, nothing—not even natural talent—can ever be able to substitute passion. If you don’t absolutely love something, don’t try to pursue it in a serious manner. It’ll just sting more when you realize you want to stop.
5. Try not to stress out about what you don’t have.
I didn’t start seriously growing until around the 11th grade. While that wouldn’t be great for any small pre-pubescent child’s self-confidence, it was made exponentially worse when I had to face a 6-foot-monster of a pre-teen on the tennis court. In retrospect, I could have saved a lot of time trying to zero in on my strengths instead of stressing about my inability to sprout chest hair. Turn what makes you different into an advantage rather than an insecurity.
6. Competition is not for everyone.
I’m sure you’ve heard how “competition brings out the best in everyone”. “Everyone” is a very subjective term. Competition can inspire some people to work hard, but it can also inspire some people to hate everything. Try to figure out early on which one you are.
7. Listen to your coach.
If you have a coach of any kind, please listen to them. They’re (generally) smart, experienced, and can see things that you often can’t—such as if the sport is meant for you. Don’t take their presence for granted.
8. Making a sport social will make it 100 times more fun.
Competition can be very intense, and it’s easy to feel very alone when you view everyone as an opponent. Friends can be a much-needed relief to that intensity, and are an easy way to infuse fun into the more mundane aspects of your sport.
If you take away anything from this list, please let it be that you should be playing sports because it’s fun—not because it looks cool, or your parents want you to. Also, don’t run two miles in ten minutes every day. It doesn’t end well.”