Finding Purpose From a Fuzzy Yellow Ball
I had finally gotten a breakthrough match win but then proceeded to have one of the worst anxiety attacks I had experienced. I had to play my second round in about 15 minutes, and I couldn't catch my breath no matter what I tried. I had gotten sick in the bathroom but told myself I wouldn't withdraw because I deserved to play another match. After the game started, my vision became blurry, I had trouble running, I could barely breathe, and I wanted to quit. I decided to tank the rest of the match regardless of the college coaches standing behind the fence watching me get crushed.
I started playing tennis in 6th grade, right after I had decided to quit basketball. I wasn't really a fan of the team aspect, and I tended to get bored in team sports. In addition, I felt as though I wasn't a defining factor for the game's outcome, so I wanted to try out a sport that is considered more solo. I have been playing tennis for about 7 years, with 5 of those years competitively. I play at a 6.5 UTR level or a 4.5 USTA level. I tend to lean towards doubles more than singles now because I feel more relaxed and can have fun with points rather than being serious all the time.
When you start to watch tennis from a different angle, you can really learn to appreciate the art it takes to be good at the sport. Once I began stringing and coaching, that's when I really decided that I wanted to make tennis be a big part of my life. Any good coach knows that there are 10,000 different ways to hit each shot in tennis, and every player is unique in their own way. From the coaching side, I grew fascinated with watching or teaching others how to play the game THEIR way regardless of what people may think is the "right" way to play. When you look at the top 100 players in the world (more so on the men's side), every player hits their serve, forehand, backhand differently. I just love watching the two best players in the world battle it out with completely different styles.
The same goes for the stringing perspective. If anyone reading this knows me, you know that I have an addiction to stringing and try to learn everything I can about racket, string, and stringing machine technology. The beauty in tennis equipment is its uniqueness. An unlimited amount of racket and string options exist on the market, yet not one racket, not one string, and not one tension dominate the tennis world (don’t even get me started on customization). I am completely fascinated by the idea that every player likes something different from another regardless of ability. This continued motivation to constantly grow my knowledge of both the sport and the equipment used drives me to continue playing. Before picking up tennis, I was on a path to finding where I belong. I had always struggled with an anxiety problem, whether in school, social situations, or just throughout my daily life. It had become a part of who I was, and I was/am constantly fighting that battle. However, when I started taking lessons, playing in drill sessions, and competing in tournaments, I would not feel that anxiety as strongly. I would love to walk out to the court just to hit some tennis balls around or to travel around the Fort Worth metroplex meeting kids just like me.
The turning point for me was once I started to travel for tennis. I am by no means a high-level tennis player, but I was definitely above "average." I vividly remember playing a tournament at my local tennis center for the district finals against our number one player. This was the first time I had experienced a panic attack on the court. I was playing against someone who was way beyond my level, but I was holding my own. Roughly 100 people were watching us, which was more than I had ever experienced. Since I had spent so much time playing at that tennis center, almost everyone was rooting for me... the underdog. I was playing the best tennis of my life and felt so free in how I moved and swung. Then on a breakpoint, I completely shanked a ball, blowing my lead and then breaking my first racket in front of all those people. I felt like the stadium court walls were closing in on me, and I was struggling to breathe. "Did anybody notice?" "Do people care?" "Can I still win this match?" "What happens if I lose?". Thoughts like that ran through my head at lightspeed, and I could feel myself struggling to breathe. I went to grab another racket and then finished the rest of the match without winning another game. That match was the turning point in my tennis career.
I continued to play tennis even with my anxiety problem. While it tended to stay pretty tame, I did have a couple of mild panic attacks, but they rarely happened during matches but instead during warmups or after matches. The summer of my Junior year of high school, I had started to look at different potential D3 or D2 colleges I would want to compete for. I had put a lot of pressure on myself for that summer and planned on playing a tournament every weekend. I then proceeded to lose many matches in a row, weekend after weekend. That was a sudden and frustrating blow to take to both my ranking and my mental health. However, I still kept training hard and decided to play one more tournament before the end of the summer. I had contemplated quitting tennis, but I could not keep myself off the court.
At that last tournament, I had finally gotten a breakthrough match win but then proceeded to have one of the worst anxiety attacks I had experienced. I had to play my second round in about 15 minutes, and I couldn't catch my breath no matter what I tried. I had gotten sick in the bathroom but told myself I wouldn't withdraw because I deserved to play another match. After the match started, my vision became blurry, I had trouble running, I could barely breathe, and I wanted to quit. I decided to tank the rest of the match regardless of the college coaches standing behind the fence watching me get crushed.
When I made it home that day, I made a promise to consistently work on my ability to handle stress and pressure in matches. While I still struggle with this daily, I try to remind myself why I first started playing the sport... because I enjoy it.
Tennis has opened my eyes to what I genuinely love, teaching others about things I love. Coaching tennis allows me to walk a kid through the same journey I have gone through and prepare them for what struggles and trials might lay ahead for them. I also have fallen in love with stringing, which allows me to meet some fantastic people and have loads of fun trying out different techniques and technology from the industry. Tennis has allowed me to take my previous interests and amplify them. While tennis has brought me competition, friends, and anxiety. It also provided a platform for me to pursue a passion for working with people seeking help in both life and the sport. With this 10sJunkies project, I hope to coach many aspiring players, string tons of rackets, and help tell YOUR stories to people just like you.