The holiday season is upon us. Every year, it seems to sneak up earlier and earlier, catching me completely off guard. This year is no different. Beginning with the convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukkah last week, I have a feeling I’m going to be playing a mad game of catch-up for the next several weeks, so please bear with me as I try to continue writing and sharing all-things-junior-tennis-parent-related albeit a little more slowly than usual.
For Thanksgiving/Chanukkah/Thanksgivukkah last week, my parents, younger brother, and sis-in-law came to stay with us. As y’all know, I grew up in a tennis house – my dad, both brothers, and I all played while my mom cheered us on. Whenever my family comes to Atlanta, tennis racquets and gear are part of the packing process. Last week was no different. My dad was excited to hit with my son and see how his game had developed since being in Mallorca. My brother was looking forward to seeing how his now-40-year-old self could compete against a 17-year-old. And I was looking forward to hitting with whoever was up for it. Oh, and did I mention the intense ping pong matches that went on several times a day?
The tide has definitely turned in terms of the competition between my son and my brother. I remember the days when my son would be happy just to win a game against his uncle. Now, it’s my brother who fears getting bageled (6-0, 6-0) though the matches haven’t quite reached that point yet. Watching my son and my brother go at it on the court reminds me once again why I love this sport so much. They compete hard – of course they do – but they also compete fair, and they both always remember their relationship with each other is more important than the outcome of any tennis match. I have no idea what they talk about during the side changes or on the ride home from their matches, but I do know that my son looks up to his uncle and listens intently to any and all advice coming from him, whether it relates to tennis, school, girls, or just life in general. Those two have always had a special bond. Tennis has strengthened it. Now that the whole college tennis thing is on our family radar, and because my brother played tennis at Washington University then pursued his passion making films and is now working in the Business World, any and all time my son can spend with his uncle – picking his brain, listening, learning – is so so so valuable.
Which brings me to this week’s radio show with Pepperdine Men’s Coach Adam Steinberg and his involvement with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. A bizarre segue, I know, but it has to do with the fact that college tennis – college sports in general – can and should be about so much more than what happens on the court or in the gym. Given that my son is putting together his list of potential colleges, and given that I have had the opportunity to meet and talk to so many college coaches for ParentingAces, we are both realizing that choosing the right school can’t be based solely on wins and losses. It can’t be based solely on academics. Other factors must come into play. When you hear Coach Steinberg talk about how “adopting” Sully, a little boy suffering from brain cancer, has impacted the young men on his tennis team, you realize how many opportunities there are for our junior players to continue to grow as human beings through their involvement in tennis at the collegiate level. And you realize what a key role the college coaches play in terms of creating those opportunities for student-athletes to expand their worlds beyond sport.
For many juniors in this individual sport, their world stays very insular. It’s rare for them to venture outside that little world and to understand that not everyone has it as good as they do. When I listen to Coach Steinberg talk about the effect Sully has had on his team, I realize that’s what I want for my son’s college experience. I want him to be with a coach who sees the bigger picture and who is committed not only to helping my son become a better tennis player but also to helping him become a better person. Believe me, there are many, many college coaches out there who are doing just that for their players.
So, as I reflect on our family’s Thanksgivukkah celebration and related activities, I realize once again how lucky we are to have tennis in our lives. Sometimes I curse my decision to ever give my son that first tennis lesson, especially when I’m sitting in Friday afternoon freeway traffic driving to yet another junior tournament. But, more often than not, I am so grateful for the many gifts tennis provides my dad, my brothers, me, and now, my son. It brings our extended family together, and it expands our world.