Growing up my parents were constantly trying to find ways to keep me busy. I didn’t realize it at the time but I’m sure my energy level was nothing short of exhausting. In the summer’s they were always trying to find things to keep me busy. I went to day camps and summer school. I would hang out at their office and go to friends’ houses. Finally, they decided to send me down the street from their office to the Fairhaven Tennis Club. I knew nothing about tennis except that it was fun. I showed up in my jean shorts and worn out shoes, I’m sure looking exactly like the country kid that I was. Through the years I got a little bit better and I had a great coach named Ray that didn’t mind my antics on the court, or my energy level, and he started taking me to tournaments.
I had realized a little success, so he signed me up for a tournament by Seattle. I was fourteen at the time and let’s just say I was feeling pretty confident, some may say cocky, but I won’t. Ray, being the great coach that he was decided to give me a reality check. I walked into the tournament and looked for my name in my age group to find out what court I was on. Not finding my name I checked in with Ray who let me know he had signed me up for the next age group up.
Now I wasn’t playing fourteen-year old’s or even fifteen-year old’s, but I ended up playing an eighteen-year old in the first round. It was clear from the moment I stepped on the court that I was in trouble. His serve, when I touch it, almost knocked the racket out of my hand and my fourteen-year old power was not giving him much trouble. After a few more matches which entailed me getting thoroughly throttled I walked over to Ray upset and asked why he had signed me up in that division when I could have possibly won my age group. I’m not sure where Ray is at these days, but his answer simple has stuck with me for 24 years.
“You have to play someone better then you to improve”
At fourteen I didn’t realize the wisdom; I was just bitter that I wasn’t getting a medal. Years later once I became the coach, I found myself repeating this over and over when my players faced a stronger opponent. I’m sure the kids that I coach walk away shaking their head bitter that they have had to taste defeat just like I was. My hope is that in the future it will dawn on them that the challenge was actually good for them.
Once it dawned on me that he was just trying to make me better I have tried to implement this idea into all aspects of my life. As frustrating as losing is I always see it as an opportunity to get better. No matter the situation there is always someone better than you so go out and find them and improve!