"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around it or through it."—Bruce Lee
This last weekend inspired me to remember that the heart of a champion refuses to quit with the adamant belief they will succeed. Now I'm no fan of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, but I cannot help to respect fighting to the end to achieve team and individual glory which leads me to a small, personal story about finding a way and refusing to quit.
My 15-year-old student, Alexa Goetz, from Greenlawn, N.Y., complained last Tuesday that her shoulder was hurting from a silly accident at home and she could couldn't hit serves or forehands without pain. With the Eastern Empire Cup National Doubles just several days away, a default looked unavoidable, but Alexa was having none of that idea because she "really wants the points" and she loves to play. But mostly, as Alexa explained, because "I'm just not going to let my partner down."
"How are you going to play if you can't hit serves or forehands," I asked?
"Well underhand serves and forehand chips don't hurt, so why don't we work on that" Alexa replied.
It was an inspired idea and Alexa worked for two hours developing a very low boomerang-like underhand forehand serve (the key is to "toss the ball forcefully backward to your strings," I instructed) and she executed it masterfully, giving fits to some very strong opponents. Together with the great play of her partner, Nadejda Maslova of Brooklyn, they made it all the way to the finals, losing in a very close match.
Alexa could have given up before she started and her partner could have doubted her, but instead, they both choose to compete and solve problems. They didn't win like Tom Brady (but then again they didn't win like Tom Brady).
They battled and they are true winners.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.