Question of the Day: Competitive Ambivalence
TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I regularly read your posts, and enjoy them, especially your advice column. However, my question today isn’t of a technical nature but rather a personal one. When did you start playing tennis? It’d be great if you could provide a little more information about your own tennis self.—Travis T.
I’ll give it a shot, Travis.
I started playing tennis at a very young age—so young, honestly, that I don’t remember first picking up a racquet. My father, a tennis pro at a resort in southwest Georgia, taught me growing up, and by the time I was about 14 I had begun playing in-state junior tournaments fairly regularly. Lukewarm would be how I’d generalize my junior tennis self: Competent but not spectacular; not a tantrum thrower but never really excited on-court, either; a fast player with slow footwork.
In short, I was—and remain—ambivalent about the value of competition. As a preteen, I’d spend my weekends playing these tournaments. And while waiting for my match, or watching another, I’d be able to feel this anxiety of the parents and kids around me. It was thinly veiled, but detectable in ways that I still don’t understand. Deep breaths because Jimmy’s college prospects are riding on this match, were its perceivable contours. At the time, it struck me as earnest but a bit unhealthy.
(And obviously, thinking about whether competitive tennis was really worth the psychic and social costs—and really provided the right circumstances and motivations to flourish—well, this wasn’t exactly the most fruitful mindset to entertain…during a competition.)
That’s not to say, however, that I didn’t work hard to be a good player, or that I didn’t desire to win. Of course, like any other serious junior, I dreamed of climbing the ladder all the way to the top. Just, when I was training, these momentary doubts would surface in my mind. Is beating Carl really the best motivation? I’d ask myself while, say, running sprints. Probably not, I felt. But then again, that desire to become better than so and so always seemed to motivate best.