| By Lonnie Mitchel

Tennis starts with commitment.

Let's use the collegiate level as a starting point and provide you an idea as to what it is that makes commitment a challenging endeavor. The human spirit/intestinal fortitude is the root and the decision to make commitment … not just to make a commitment, but to make that decision to run through a wall to hit a tennis ball.

When my players come back to college in upstate Oneonta, N.Y. and we begin training camp, each player will arrive with their own agenda. Some will work harder than others. Some players come in with the attitude of "I am here, I am ready, I will make it happen in the classroom and make it great on the tennis court.” The ones who are single-minded and focused on gaining success and willing to do what it takes to flourish are generally the ones who get back what they put into it. That means working hard, but not on a macro level, but in everything you do … arriving early to practice, giving 100 percent effort with each shot and going to class and making sure the professor knows they are there and ready to work.

Then, there are the students who simply mail it in. You know the ones who are good at being mediocre in their studies and giving a middle-of-the-road approach to tennis. So what are the results in that case? Use your imagination. They can get by on the tennis court because there is some talent, but what is left behind is the question mark.

This past May, I went to my school’s commencement ceremony and watched four student/athletes graduate with outstanding grades after spending four years toiling on the tennis court, never missing practice, never getting subpar grades, but truly being laser-focused success. There is no U.S. Open for these collegians, but just the real world that lies ahead. However, they were better prepared you can be sure. They will all go onto grad school and/or be gainfully employed. When a student makes a commitment to being the very best they can be, the dividends will be sure to follow.

Why does one student/tennis player mail it in, while other students come prepared to lay it on the line each and every day? It's a simple answer … commitment and the willingness to sacrifice! Talent has little to do it with it. I have had players on my team who spend years coming to practice, work their butts off and just cannot seem to make the starting lineup. Yet, there is something inside of them that says "Keep going, I can stay on this team and call myself a four-year varsity player when my career is complete.” Others whine about the entitlement to be a starter and yet miss practice, get lazy and slip in the classroom and feel they have a prerogative being a member of a collegiate team and yet are not willing to sacrifice. Talent says they are a starter, the intra-team match results say they are a starter, but are they successful? To me, success goes well beyond the tennis court. The conclusion I always arrive at is: "If you rely on talent alone, you eventually fail;” no grey area … that is a fact.

When student/athletes arrive at the college and prepare for the academic/tennis rigors ahead, I believe they are getting the keys to the kingdom. The kingdom is a metaphor for life. The student comes with enough talent to make a tennis team, comes with enough smarts to get into college and possesses the tools to be successful. If you need my help, ask for it. If you need a tutor, ask! The student is either proactive or gives excuses. There are no excuses! You must use the tools available to you and the human spirit that lies beneath is a tool as well. Some students have to dig harder to find it, but it's there.

Let me give you an example of a student I recently coached. This student was recruited, came to practice each day, was met with some challenges and did not make the starting lineup. Twenty-one days left to go in the season, he decides to resign from the team, but I refused his request to his astonishment. “You finish what you start” was my rebuttal. I developed a plan for the remainder of the season where he was able to leave practice early to meet with tutors. I would then monitor his progress just so that he can celebrate that he completed one full year of collegiate tennis. I wondered whether I did the right thing because with 19 days completed and just two days left in the season and our playing schedule complete, the final requirements are only to attend two meetings, he then goes AWOL. With the two days left and repeated efforts as a collegiate head coach, I was laser-focused to get him to complete his obligations and I held up my bargain, but he says "I should contact his lawyer and not contact him.” A spoiled young man with erroneous advice from his parents (parents are not always right) was the culprit, along with a coach who simply wanted him to succeed. A level of commitment with one more yard to the finish line is recorded as incomplete. A lack of a full commitment, and a flaw in a student's character was revealed. So I am left to wonder … what is the imperfection in this student that he sees the value in quitting with victory so close and within reach. I was hoping the summer would arrive and the student/athlete would have been proud of his completion of effort. I ponder when that student goes to work and encounters a difficult task, what lesson will he draw upon to get him to complete a challenging chore? It certainly will not be a lesson from a collegiate tennis team, there may be some other experience that he can draw upon, but cross a full tennis/collegiate athletics experience off his list and his resume. One more shot, one more step, one more effort and I believe a student can succeed if they just commit to it.

I want to thank that student because I enrolled in post-graduate studies this summer and contemplated having to complete five papers and three large projects in the span of just five weeks. I had thoughts of dropping the class, but exercised my own lessons and commitment, I will not succumb to those thoughts and will complete what I started. Staring at myself in the mirror after five weeks and having that guy stare back at me and say “Yes I can! I will and must commit to being the best I can be!”

So with five weeks left in the summer, students are preparing for their collegiate and high school tennis teams. All players with this opportunity should give 100 percent commitment or not at all. The professional tennis warfare taking place in 100 degree heat on the courts of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows are a testament to commitment. Being a professional may have something to do with it, but the commitment to chasing a needle in the haystack dream is at play here. I want to be clear, 100 percent commitment to everything you do leads you down a path of where you cannot lose ... victory will present itself in ways you would not expect. Another one of my players started only a handful of matches during her four-year collegiate tennis career, but got to the finish line and cried tears of joy as she completed her goal. I promise you, in her first professional interview, she will stand out from her peers … dividend earned and paid—game, set and match!

Lonnie Mitchel

<p>Lonnie Mitchel is head men&rsquo;s and women&rsquo;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 <a href="mailto:lonniemitchel@yahoo.com">lonniemitchel@yahoo.com</a>.</p>