I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Sudden Realization

The decision making process has always fascinated me. It involves weighing all of your options, getting advice from trusted friends, prayer, and when it all clicks, a knowing sweeps through your gut. That’s what happened to me in 1986.

I quit college in 1985 without any real plans for the long term future. Sounds like a kid, doesn’t it? But in the short term, I wanted to see how far I could go in the game of tennis. I wasn’t the best player on my high school team and in college we played on the fastest surface known to man—which didn’t help me since I’ve never been a speedster—so I was never able to get my ranking high enough to amount to anything, but I still couldn’t quench my desire to see what I could do. And I always believed that I could out work most people.

So, in 1986 I got into the best shape of my life by playing tennis for three or four hours every day and then I signed up to compete in several tournaments in the Midwest. I played okay in most of them, but I don’t think I ever advanced past the second round.

I signed up to play a tournament in St. Louis, which worked out well since my dad lived there. It was indoors and my dad watched the match from up above, snapping photos (including the one below—check out those Bike shorts!). If felt both odd and exhilarating to be chasing a dream in front of my dad.

The guy I was playing against in the first round was striking the ball well. His shots were flat and hard and didn’t give me a lot of time to get into good position for my shots. I knew that my only chance was to step inside the court (as seen in the photo) against his serve and become the aggressor. I even started doing that on my own serve, trying to use the pace of his shots against him. The strategy worked pretty well and it slowed him down. The first set went into a tie breaker and I lost it. But I still felt like I could pull it out in three sets.

The second set progressed much like the first—lots of good rallies and lots of winners on both sides. We ended up in another tie breaker and he won. The match was over. I felt good about the way I’d played. In fact, I didn’t think I could have played any better. He was just better on a couple of the big points in each tie breaker, but when you are already playing your best tennis, it’s hard to imagine playing at an even higher level.

After the match, a knowing swept over me. I was a good tennis player who would never be great. I won a tournament in college, but the reality was, I wasn’t good enough to go deep enough in any tournament after that. Tennis was going to become something I loved to play, but nothing more.

My story is similar to what happens to most people who pursue something they love. Most of us aren’t good enough to take it to the next level. But that doesn’t mean we should walk away. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I played in a few more tournaments. I continued to play recreationally. I read books and magazines about the game. And I studied it on television.

Now I’m 42 and very little has changed, except my waistline. I still love the game. I love everything about it, from the cordial spirit of competition to the way I feel when I hit a good shot. But more than anything, the tennis court has always been an equalizer for me. I have instincts on the court that I don’t have anywhere else, which allows me to overcome my size and slow-footedness.

Even though my dream died on a tennis court in St. Louis some 24 years ago, a new dream was birthed when I stayed involved in the game anyway. The new dream was to play the game for the simple joy it gives me. And that dream will never die because even when my body will no longer allow me to play, I’ll watch others play and the joy will return.


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