My son to his high school tennis coach (after not being in the lineup for 3 consecutive matches): “Coach, when you put me in the lineup last week, did I do what you asked and expected of me?” Coach’s response: “Yep.” Son’s next question: “What do I need to do for you to put me in the lineup again?”
That conversation happened about 2 1/2 weeks ago. Since then, my son has been in the lineup for each subsequent match. What changed? The same 13 boys are still on the team. They all show up for practices and matches. So, why has my son had the opportunity to play these last few matches?
When my son met with his coach, the coach thanked him for taking the time to talk then told him what to do to get back into the starting lineup. My son no longer needed to worry about why he wasn’t playing – he knew the answer, and he knew the fix. He needed to continue to work hard at practice. But, beyond that, he needed to show the coach that he could WIN MATCHES in practice, even if that meant beating boys who are a year or two or three older than him.
My son played Line 3 singles for the next two matches. (For those new to high school tennis, the team plays 3 lines of singles and 2 lines of doubles against each opposing team. Whichever team wins 3 total lines out of the 5, wins the match.) He won both matches pretty handily, even when he had to play against Seniors.
He could’ve let those wins go to his head, but he didn’t. He kept working hard in practice, showing his coach that he was committed to the team and committed to winning. Then, in yesterday’s match against a local rival school, he got the opportunity to move up in the lineup and play Line 2 singles. As luck would have it, his opponent was another freshman boy who my son had been playing in tournaments since the 10-and-unders and whom he had never beaten. I was a nervous wreck! I walked over to the coach during the warm-up and let him know about the boys’ playing history. I figured that knowledge might come in handy if/when the coach needed to do a little on-court therapy during the match! (Again, for those of you new to high school tennis, coaching – and cheering – is allowed.)
The match started off pretty evenly with both boys holding serve. But, the 5th game of the match – with the opponent serving – turned into a marathon. Deuce, ad in. Deuce, ad out. Deuce, ad out. Deuce, ad in. That went on for more than 30 minutes until, finally, my son won the deuce point AND the ad point to take the game and go up 3-2. But, as so often happens in this type of match, the opponent broke my son’s serve quickly in the next game to tie it back up at 3 a piece, a huge disappointment for my son and his team-mates! That’s when the coach worked his magic, talking my son off the ledge, helping him calm back down and focus on the task at hand.
It worked. My son went on a rampage, winning the next 8 games. He was blasting serves, moving his opponent up and down and side to side, and hitting winners off both the forehand and backhand to go up 6-3, 5-0. The end was in sight.
His opponent was serving. My son had a match point. He lost it and lost that game. Then, my son was serving. He had another match point. He lost it and lost that game. It was now 5-2 with the opponent set to serve again. My son had 2 more match points but, again, lost them and lost the game. 5-3. Time for the coach to do another side-line visit. Time for my son to find something inside himself in order to close out this match and show his coach that he deserved the opportunity that he had been given.
My son dug deep. He bombed a serve that his opponent just couldn’t return. 15-love. He bombed another serve that came back but just barely. My son hit a winner. 30-love. He double-faulted. 30-15. The boys had a long rally that ended with my son netting a forehand. 30-all. Big first serve by my son – unreturnable. 40-30 and match point. First serve in the net. Second serve with a big kick that earned a weak return. Forehand winner up the line. Game, set, and match!
My son’s team wound up winning all 5 lines, finishing the season undefeated (though they do still have one more out-of-division match to play next week). After the matches were complete, I was talking to one of the dads on my son’s team who knew both my son and his opponent pretty well. He confirmed what I had seen. He told me that my son’s tennis had moved well beyond his opponent, that all the hard work was really showing out there. How lucky!