Friday, October 17, 2008

Tennis is Life, Life is Tennis

This is an article written by Goshen College tennis player Sheldon Good. It looks at how tennis mimics life, specifically in the area of conflict resolution. I think it is a good reminder that the skills we learn on the tennis court translate to such larger life situations.

Sports have the ability to bring out the best and worst in people. I’ve played tennis since I was five years old but only really got into it around the fifth and sixth grades. When I was in high school, my coach shared with me a saying that will forever be etched in my mind: tennis is life; life is tennis. What this means is that how you act on the court is congruent with how you live life. In other words, tennis is a microcosm of life and how we deal with life’s successes and disappointments.

In many ways, tennis shows how I deal with conflict. Athletics tend to do this, but I think tennis does this in a special way. You’re out there all alone – no coach, no one to tell you what you’re doing wrong, no one to encourage you (unless, on the rare occasion, there are fans present!), nobody to get you water when you need it. It is just you, the ball, and your opponent. You must figure out and exploit your opponent’s weaknesses while disguising your own. You must avoid your opponent’s strengths while playing to your own.

Dealing with conflict comes into play most often when you’re losing. How will I react? Will I deal with the situation or avoid it? Will I challenge my opponent by playing aggressively or play cautiously and allow my opponent to make a mistake? You must develop a high level of self-awareness in order to call on the right attitude and abilities in times of struggle. You must be able to use the tension of a crucial point in the match to your success. All the while, you must display utmost respect for yourself and your opponent (and your equipment!).

Tennis is a simple game. But it provides context for how to deal with conflict and transform problems into successes. Ultimately, you can only control your shots, not your opponents. You win in tennis by hitting better shots. In life, we must learn how to transform conflict better.

--Sheldon Good, Goshen tennis team, September, 2008

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