Teaching tennis and teaching more tennis “helping others to improve their tennis game” has been my mission. I will brag for a moment, a very brief moment. My strokes look to the average club level player as an exhibition of textbook tennis. I am so proud of my skills because lots of practices made it happen. That is all very nice, but it entitles me to nothing when it comes to competitive play.
Years of teaching tennis, working in a corporate environment and being married with two children did not allow me the time to work on my tennis as much as I would have liked. I was a student of the game as you should be when you are coaching others. Taking your knowledge and using it in your own practice sessions is a far different thing. During my years of not playing competitive tennis, many other players were working on their game and leaving me in the dust. So my knowledge of the game and my expertise as a tennis instructor never gave me enough of an edge needed to compete on the court against my peers. My tennis background never entitled me to anything other than the ability to go out on the court and rally with any good player. Recently, it was my turn to play after all of these years, and I discovered that I actually can still play tennis, but there was still a void. The lack of regular practice over the years showed. The irony is that I can be quoted almost on a daily basis saying to my students, “Did you practice?” Well, I confess I did not practice enough and just because I am a certified tennis pro, that fact did not entitle me to anything.
I have been working in the past several weeks with a few of my other colleagues at my tennis club and guess what? I am playing and I am improving. I teach my students to be humble, open-minded and until you win Wimbledon, you can improve. I also tell my students that there will be a better player out there ready, willing and capable of beating you. You are entitled to absolutely nothing and you have to work for everything and winning is not always possible.
One of my students this past summer played an opponent whose strokes were not real pretty. My student had his hands full and with this player, but finally eked out a win. Coming off the court, he said to me, “How in the hell did I allow this guy to stay in the match?” My response was, “Where is it written that you are entitled to win just because your strokes look nicer and that you work hard on your game?”
The game of tennis is not a perfect science and you have to compete, no matter who is on the other side of the net! Just ask Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and all of the world-class players. Each player has a coach to help them improve, because without improvement, they cannot win, and even with that perfect recipe of being prepared, they are entitled to nothing. YOU are entitled to nothing!
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.