I have become the woman I hated five years ago. You know her, she runs around all day in her tennis clothes, with nothing but time on her hands to play tennis.
It started slowly, innocently. My neighbors and I decided to start playing over three years ago. We were beginners, and when I say beginners, I mean we wore running shorts, t-shirts and running shoes to our first fast feed clinic. To the next one, we wore yoga pants. Then, we bought skirts. And then, tanks that matched. It took a couple months before I would buckle down and buy tennis shoes. Our Friday fast feeds continued. We all bought new rackets. We were asked to join a team. Oh my goodness, we made it, WE WERE ASKED TO JOIN A TEAM!
Most all the rumors about tennis teams are true. Any time you put that many women in a competitive situation together, you are bound to have drama. I always enjoy watching all the women realtors and women in sales play tennis; it’s like jumping from the frying pan into the fire for them. Compete at work, then compete at sports.
Why are women waiting until the age of 35 to start their sports careers? For me, and many around me, this is the rising of the phoenix of all of our old athletic abilities. I played sports all through school, but stopped in my 20’s. Why? I was busy working, going out, living the high life, oh, then that sidebar of getting married and having kids put a damper on the sports career.
So are you thinking about playing? Here’s some basics you need to know before you start. This is full disclosure time of what to expect.
It’s all about the outfits, and the right outfits are key. Match without looking too matchy. No sport has better clothing choices, hands down. A close second might be yoga, but it doesn’t really hold a candle. We recently changed our uniforms, only to arrive at our first match to find that the opposing team had the same uniforms. The devastation was worse than arriving at prom wearing the same dress as someone else.
It’s all about the gear, too. Get a good tennis racket, but be constantly shopping for a new one, or “trying one out.” It’s good to very publicly announce that you are “taking it out for a spin,” so that if you are making lots of errors, you can blame it on the loaner racket. And for goodness sakes, get a cute tennis bag to give your treasure a home.
This is a touchy subject. I love my team, and I think we get along so well because we are not all best friends. Teams comprised of best friends turn into soap opera material fast. Lots of feelings are involved in this game, and most them are hurt ones. When you play your friends competitively, please act like you are not good friends on the court. Be silent. You’ll never beat her if you let your guard down. You’ll apologize later.
Tennis is a sport you can play your entire life. I know this much is true: the older and more seasoned a player, the worse she is going to beat you. They may have wheeled her off the retirement home van to your court, but she has more strategy and ball placement skills in her left pinky than you do in your whole body. Get ready to make a fool of yourself.
Beware of the competitors who say they are “laid back” or “don’t care.” They are actually the complete opposite. Their casual attitude is all part of the Oscar-winning performance in a tennis drama. Also, beware of the competitor who says she’s “clueless” or “doesn’t know the rules” and tries to engage in conversation the entire time, making friendly chatter. She is wearing down your guard so that she can eat you for lunch, as well.
Eating after the match is the part you will look forward to the most. General rule of thumb: the lunch that the other team brings is a direct indicator of the kind of people they are. The better the lunch, the better the people. If they serve you cheese and crackers, store-bought cookies and an old, 2-liter of Fanta, never, never socialize or befriend these people. We look forward to playing the teams who always bring good food. You know the food is going to be good when the cook provides copies of the recipe next to her selection. (True story).
Tennis is a great vehicle for drinking, but unlike golf, you cannot drink while you play. Well, at least not openly. But many a match player has warmed up with a cocktail. Some teams hit the Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s after the daytime match. Even tennis meetings seem to always involve alcohol and have been known to have only a 10-minute agenda followed by a five-hour drinking party.
You will get injured. I’ve been injured more in the three years I’ve played tennis than with any other sport in my life. Sprained ankle, plantar fasciitis, sprained wrist, torn calf muscle, torn quad muscle, the list is endless. Name a muscle or a joint, and every member of my team has hurt one of them. One of my team members wears a brace on just about every joint (she says it’s lucky). The direct correlation is, the more braces you wear, the better player you are. You are a seasoned veteran, battle scars and all.
Gods, higher powers and other superstitions
My tennis partner is Jewish and I am Catholic. In times of severe anxiety (i.e., tiebreakers or match points), I bust out the rosary and have been known to do the sign of the cross before my serve. (It’s subtle; I’m not looking like Pope Francis or something). Or as my partner says, “Just do your praying thing.” I’m also VERY superstitious, only playing with certain balls, making sure my feet are in the same place on the line. Some teams do a group hug or prayer before the match. They probably all rode together to the match, too. That’s a cult-like performance and there are possibly voodoo dolls involved off court. But you know the saying, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”
It’s your money or your time
And you’re going to need a lot of both if you get sucked in to this sport, like me. People spend entire summers in private lessons perfecting a serve or a shot. Last fall, I blinked and all of a sudden I was playing tennis four times a week, on two teams. It happens fast ladies, and it’s a slippery slide into the abyss of lessons, practice, court time … otherwise known as sheer heaven for a tennis player.
Like a cult, you get lured in. A practice here, a game there, a lesson here, a new tennis dress there. Then you look up and you devoting more time to the tennis gods than you are to your own family.
So why do we play? Simple: it’s the most addicting sport, ever. You get a workout, use your brain and get to exert all of your pent up aggression. It’s a different game every time. I learn a lot about myself playing tennis, some good things and some bad.
Are you ready to join us? Come on in, the water’s warm!
Thank you to fellow tennis addict, Christian Owen, for collaborating with me on this story. She feels my pain.
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