| By Lonnie Mitchel

Did you know that you have a better chance of winning the New York State Lottery than gaining a spot in the U.S. Open Draw? That’s right, 17 men and 15 women in the U.S. Open Main Draw were from the United States of America. None of the males entered were from Long Island and only two of the women were from the Metropolitan area. Therefore, you dreamers out there, you better have a backup plan!

Now, before you start saying, “I am not a friend of the game, that I am negative and not a promoter of the sport,” read my article “Tennis: A Parent’s Gift That Lasts a Lifetime” in the July/August 2009 edition of Long Island Tennis Magazine. I am here to help tennis grow and to get as many people playing tennis in the many clubs we have here on Long Island. But for you juniors with high aspirations who play on the USTA Junior Circuit and their parents, you would be wise to have a backup plan! You have a dream, pursue it with laser focus, plan your work and work your plan. However, a good plan must always have a contingency.

We have several excellent junior tennis academies here on Long Island. These academies produce Division I tennis players, as well as all levels of collegiate prospects and even more high school team players. So why go through the trouble to train our children if a lottery ticket gives them a better chance of becoming rich? It is because tennis makes them rich by giving them an education. They can cash in on learning qualities, such as perseverance, concentration, dealing with adversity and humility. The more they play and compete, the “richer” they become. In very small increments, we fill their minds with these qualities. Yes, tennis does a lot of things and works its magic in many ways by advancing these qualities.

Now, to the word “humility.” The dictionary says humility is “the state of quality of being lowly in mind.” Funny thing, when I submit to being humble is when I learn the most. I travel often on the Long Island Junior Tennis Circuit to watch my son and other juniors compete. We have a great deal of young talented tennis players on the Island and it is a joy to watch them compete. In addition to watching our Long Island talent, I also grew up watching Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and my beloved Chris Evert play. They were great champions and besides the fact they won a lot, when they did lose, although not often, is when their talent for humility emerged. Chris Evert dominated Martina Navratilova for years earlier in their careers. Martina reinvented herself (she gave into humility) and Chrissie later found herself on the losing side for an extended period during their two-decade rivalry. Chrissie learned from those experiences and she reinvented herself and then turned the table back on Martina. She was humbled enough to realize she could not beat Martina by doing the same things anymore. In other words, they made each other better by being humble. Although we here on Long Island probably do not have the same level of talent as these two great champions, we can sure learn from it.

A fact which cannot be denied is this, two players walk on the court, compete against each other, and one player wins and the other loses. If my arithmetic is correct, 50 percent of the players lose in the first round of any tournament. Let me put it another way, that after two rounds of any tournament 75 percent of the competitors have been eliminated. That is a lot of humility to go around. It is a war out there, and every player should compete with undeniable determination and then accept the outcome and learn from it. I often witness junior competitors pumping fists, screaming aloud, grunting and then after they lose, walk off the court as a terrible sore loser. A young junior just competed admirably, and to me, the whole effort was wasted, not because of the loss, but because they could not find just one moment to enjoy the experience of competition. Coaches and parents … because humility is such a wonderful trait, the opportunity to learn has just been presented. Of course, losing a match can sting and it does for all competitors, but losing and then behaving horribly is a learned trait as humility is also a learned trait.

Some of my most memorable tournament matches in college were losses, as my opponents would push me to the brink. I can remember walking away from such matches very disappointed as I so wanted to win. I also remember that some of my best tennis was produced in these loses. I did not realize it at the time, but the experience made me better going forward.

The 2009 U.S. Open saw Serena Williams behave foolishly in front of the world. John McEnroe ironically said, “How do you defend the indefensible.” She has and will suffer extensive fines by the USTA. We watched Kim Clijsters come out of retirement, and for two weeks, she was nothing more than a lady, as we admired her for her graciousness as a champion.

We watched Roger Federer lose in an epic Open final. The greatest of all-time just lost on the world stage, and afterwards, conducted himself with humility. To me, this is what helps to make him the champion that he is. He realizes he now has some more details in his game to work on. What an example for all of us!


Lonnie Mitchel

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 lonniemitchel@yahoo.com.