About two weeks ago, I reached a climax of sorts while playing a “friendly” tennis match. Now for those of you who know me personally, reading the title of this article might lead you to say, “Seriously Matt?? Another broken racquet??” Well, not this time. Though I came close, I resigned myself to tossing my Prince Response 97 safely over the fence and onto the grass. As the tennis season has wound down to the end, my last pickup match (doubles) left me feeling a bit frustrated and unfulfilled. As I watched one powerful and carefully-placed serve after another leave my racquet and land inside the opposite service box, resulting in weak or neutral returns from my opponents, I also watched helplessly as my partner, rather than putting away the ball and ending the point, hit the ball back into the court in such a way that we were immediately put on the defensive. For only the second time in the 13 years that I’ve been playing, I temporarily lost my love for tennis, and questioned why I was even on the court holding a racquet to begin with.
After going down 5-0 and having our opponents serve for the set, I had no desire to fight to try to get back into the match, convincing myself that it would only further frustrate me. I thought to myself, “okay, just four points and I can sit down.” (We had five players total, so we were rotating after playing one set). However, the warrior in me refused to give up, so I pulled myself together and fought… for all of one point. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gave absolutely no effort, other than just swinging to put the ball back across the net, and only if it came right to me. Not only was I frustrated that we lost the set 6-0, I found myself swept up in a whirlwind of negative emotions.
As I reflected upon a season where in so many matches, I was paired with players who made me feel as if I had to play mistake-free for us to have a chance to win, I was more frustrated with the fact that I’d bailed out on my partner in the 6th game of our one-set pickup match. I blew up, shouting expletives under my breath (though probably loud enough to be heard – sorry Mommy). “I’m tired of having to try to serve aces just to have a chance of holding my serve!” “I’m tired of playing out of position and leaving the court open, just to have a chance to hit the ball and try to help my partner who is obviously being picked on by our opponents!” “[Blank] THIS!!!” I screamed as I threw my racquet over the fence. My wife walked toward me… “Matthew, Matthew…” she said. “DON’T TALK TO ME!!!” I admonished. “Just please leave me alone!”
It was nighttime, so I slowly walked over to an adjacent court and found a dark spot where one of the lights was out and sat on the bench. I watched my friends try to salvage an evening that started out as fun, that was now clouded by my anger and negative energy. Then I began to think about my behavior and started feeling like a spoiled kid who knocked his cereal and milk on the floor, leaving a mess for someone else to clean up. “That wasn’t cool Matt,” I told myself. At that moment, I could no longer bear to watch my wife and friends playing tennis (and they quickly resumed having fun, thankfully). Feeling like I didn’t deserve their friendship, I picked up my cell phone and started browsing through my Facebook timeline. It was then that I felt like the calm voice of God had started speaking to my heart.
I read two posts by two different friends that talked about having gratitude. It was the picture and caption of the second one that got me…
Seeing the above image and caption combined to hit me like a cold slap in the face. I began reflecting on how awful I had been to my friends (wife included) about something as silly as having to work so hard to win a point. After a quick inventory of my blessings, I realized how much I have to be thankful for. Forget about the fact that I live in arguably the greatest country on Earth and get to play tennis whenever I want. Here was an image of a boy, half a world away, who appeared grateful to have found a dirty puddle by which he could quench his thirst.
It was at that moment that I decided to never again take the sport of tennis (or anything else for that matter) so seriously. I made a pledge to myself to, from that day forward, play like the outcome of the match didn’t matter; because in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t.
I had a singles match the following night and realized that I truly had changed as a person. I played with gratitude for the blessing to have all my faculties, to be able to enjoy a game that is a privilege, not a birthright, remembering that just five short years ago, I was in the midst of a very serious physical condition that made playing one point a struggle, let alone a match. I won my singles match pretty easily that night, but it honestly would not have mattered to me if I didn’t. I was just happy to be playing.
Looking ahead, I can’t say what tomorrow might bring, but I don’t think I’ll be breaking any more racquets out of frustration for how a match is going. We all have the power to choose our actions. I choose to just be happy that someone thought enough to ask me to play. I choose to be the best player that I can be, all while not taking it so seriously. I choose to be a gracious partner to whomever I play doubles with. I choose to simply have fun while playing: win or lose. And though a close friend once told me, “losing isn’t fun,” I can now counter such comments with, “no, but playing is!” I’ll suggest that they focus not on the result, but on the excitement of playing each point and the joy of hitting the ball. If you don’t hit the ball the way you want to, it’s okay, you’ll get another ball. And if it’s the last point of the match, win or lose, you still have the freedom to play again another day.
Finally, I would like to say “thank you” to any and everyone who posts positive and encouraging words on social media and encourage you to keep it up, because you never know who you’re reaching and how your positivity affects them. (Thanks for posting that pic JoAnn; it was so timely)!