This past weekend, I played in my first ever USTA district tennis tournament. On the heels of consoling Luke for his pre-race jitters, I couldn’t believe how dang nervous I got! I kept telling myself, “This is 3.5 ladies tennis, not the US Open.” As someone eloquently stated, this is a sport I’ll always pay money to play, not the other way around.
Despite the tips I offered Luke a few weeks ago, I was still nervous. And it didn’t help that my first match was played at 4 p.m. on a 100 degree day. Apparently, it’s 15-20 degrees higher on courts than in the open air, so conditions were particularly challenging for the 40+. Throw in an opponent half my age (who, as my husband described, was a much better player than I), then I have recipe for a loss. Not so fast.
Take it from a pro.
To help boost my confidence prior to the match, I had asked one of the pros at our tennis club, Coach Pete, “Got any last minute advice on how to beat my opponent(s) at districts?” His response: “You’re not going to change who you are as player at this stage in the game. So be yourself and hopefully that’ll be good enough to win. If not, at least you did your best.” I thought to myself, that’s good advice to apply to life. Stay true to who you are as a person, and if that doesn’t get you a job, a date, a spouse or something else you might want, then you can walk away with a sense of pride, knowing you didn’t try to be someone you weren’t.
To fight the heat, I brought everything under the sun to cool me down, including white clothes, wrist bands, visor, sunscreen, water (to dump on my head and to drink), Gatorade, chair and umbrella. Pete’s advice helped console my nervousness, while also laying the groundwork for a game-time strategy:
- Stay true to who you are as a player.
- Stick with the game plan (or at least with my boring, unaggressive and defensive style of play).
- Make minor adjustments based on my opponents’ strengths/weaknesses.
- Stay mentally tough and try to focus (my biggest weakness).
- Hope like hell she’ll make some mistakes out of frustration (after all, even I hate playing opponents like me).
I won the match 6-4, 6-3, even though I almost melted in the process. Fortunately, my team won as well. (Note: In ladies league, there are 3 doubles teams and 2 persons playing singles. I played #2 singles).
So the next day of the tourney, I didn’t get quite as nervous. I played another great opponent, young and beautiful – and one who would not wear out despite how much I ran her around the court. Though I won the first set, I blew a 4-1 second set lead and ended up in a match tie-break (played in lieu of a third set to save time). I had played a number of tie-breaks in the regular season, two of which I lost 11-9 after being ahead. Not that I’m a head case or anything, but my affection for tie-breaks wasn’t at an all-time high. So again, I harkened back to advice from Coach Pete. When I had told him I get nervous in tie-breaks, he said emphatically, “You need to figure out some way not to get nervous.” Easier said than done, I thought to myself, so I asked, “Like what?” And he responded, “I don’t know, pretend you’re losing or try singing.” Well, the latter strategy resonated with me, as I often fight pain in the last miles of marathons and long runs by singing out loud.
So I tried it. I was up 9-7 in a 10-poing tie-break and was determined not to choke. As I awaited my opponents serve, I started singing aloud, doing my best Gotye impression, “You didn’t have to cut me off….” Though I was concerned that one of the many spectators might hear me and think I’d completely lost my mind, I didn’t care. I blew my first chance at winning the match, but I got the next point. After nearly three hours of chasing down balls and pouring water on my head to stay cool, I won the match 6-4, 4-6, 1-0 (10-8).
Unfortunately, our team lost 3-2 to the eventual district champions, and our hopes for advancing to sectionals were squashed.
Regardless of controlling nerves, creating game-day strategies, finding ways to stay cool in the heat, and singing songs to avoid choking, I can honestly say that good, old-fashioned competition is fun at any age. Hanging out with other neat ladies, having fun and being yourself – on the court and off – is a great way to be.