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When Tennis Becomes a Habit Not a Passion

Another Sunday afternoon finds us driving home from yet another tennis tournament.  Overall, a good weekend.  He didn’t win the tournament but had a respectable finish.  Typically, these kind of results would please my son but I’ve noticed over the last couple of tournaments his attitude has been less than enthusiastic.  His mood is negative and he appears almost bored on the court.  I would like to see some celebration from the big win earlier in the tournament or even a little anger or frustration over the final loss, but I am seeing no real emotion at all.  I know we are always complaining about our kids being “head cases” on the court and wishing they could control their emotions, but this appears to be more of a lack of emotion.  It strikes me that his passion for tennis has gone, instead of playing because he loves it he seems to be playing out of habit.

I suggest to him that perhaps he should take a break from tennis, and that I noticed he doesn’t seem to be enjoying it as much as he used to.  He looks at me with a puzzled look.  I ask him if he still likes playing tennis and he answers “I am a tennis player, that’s what I do.”  It really wasn’t the answer I was looking for but it reinforced what I already believed to be true.  He stopped wanting to play tennis and was just playing tennis because that is “what he did“, like waking-up in the morning or doing your homework.  You don’t necessarily do it because you want to, it just something that you have to do.  I talked with his coach and had been seeing the same lack of enthusiasm during practice.  The decision was made, I was taking hanging up the tennis rackets and forcing him to stop playing for a while.

I don’t think I need to explain how unhappy he was with my decision to any parents of a junior tennis player.  When he heard that he was not allowed to touch a tennis racket for the next three weeks he was not happy.  As a matter of fact he cried and asked my why, what had he done wrong?  I wavered slightly in my decision at this point but held strong.  I explained that I felt playing tennis had become more of a habit than a passion for him.  It is just what he did and who he was but he wasn’t filled with the same passion he used to be.  “But what will I do?”  he asked.  “Whatever, you want,” I replied.  “Spend your weekends with your friends, go to the movies, hang out with the guys, sit on the couch and watch TV, do nothing if you want or do everything.  Take time to see if there is something else you are missing while you are on the court. Take time to see if you really miss being on the court.”

I must admit, I was very nervous about the gamble  I was taking.  If he decided that he really didn’t want to play tennis at the competitive level he was playing at I wasn’t sure I was ready to give it up.  I was praying he would choose tennis, but I knew it had to be his decision and not mine.  The last thing I wanted was for my son to have regrets later in life about what he gave up or missed because I had him on the tennis court.

The first week of our hiatus was rough.  There was a lot of complaining and he was very angry with me.  Again, I almost gave in thinking that surely this proved he still wanted to play tennis, but I held strong.  The second week he began to relax a little and accepted my decision and decided to stop fighting it and explore some other options to entertain himself.  By the third week he was having fun with his friends, finding a social life, going to the movies and basketball games.  Overall, becoming a regular teenaged boy.

At the end of week three I asked him if he was ready to go back to the tennis court.  “Sure” he says, but the response still sounded like more of a habit than a true desire.  I booked his practice time and took him back to the court.  Watching practice I was once again disappointed.  My experiment hadn’t worked.  I still did not see the passion he once had.  He still just went through the motions, and for someone who had not played in three weeks against his will, he didn’t appear to be happy being back on the court.  I said nothing.

On the car ride home he turned to me and said, “mom, do you mind if I take another couple of weeks off?  You were right, I wasn’t excited to be on the court, I was thinking about what else I could be doing instead of playing tennis.”  My heart stopped, this is not what I wanted to hear.  I wanted him to beg me to get him back on the court, what had I done?  “Sure, I replied, it’s your life and your decision.”  Everything inside of me was screaming NO!

Another two weeks passed before he approached me again.  “Mom, I’m ready to go back.  There is nothing else I can think of doing besides playing tennis.  When I’m out with the guys I think I’d rather be on the tennis court.  Hanging around the house on the week-end I’m thinking about how much I’d rather be at a tournament.  I really WANT to play tennis again.”  I don’t think I even stopped to take a breath before I pressed speed dial to call the coach and book a lesson.

There was a new Alex on the tennis court.  He was passionate and engaged.  He was the sponge soaking up all he could learn from the coach and focused on transferring it to his matches.  He went into a tournament with a renewed passion, excited to be there and enjoying the game.  It truly was a turning point in his tennis.  Yes, he decided, he was a tennis player.  He was a tennis player because he wanted to be a tennis player, not because someone told him had a natural talent and should be a tennis player.

That was four years ago.  He now recognizes when he starts to become a little habitual in his tennis routine.  He self imposes a “time out” when he feels like his passion is wavering.  He tries to balance his tennis with some of his other passions like basketball and highschool friendships.  Senior year has been the most difficult because he doesn’t want to miss out on anything at school, but he seems to have a balance.  He will have to pay for some of his decisions by putting more time in on the court over the summer to prepare for the college season, but they are his decisions and he has to live with them, not me and not the coach.

No regrets, that is the mantra we use.  No regrets for what you missed out on and no regrets for not pushing yourself hard enough to achieve your tennis dreams.  Find the balance and you have found happiness.  There is a consequence to your decisions and you have to be willing to live with them.  You may not be as good as you could have been or you may have to miss out on one or two social events, that is the price you pay.  That is life; a balance of give and take, risk and reward!

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5 comments on “When Tennis Becomes a Habit Not a Passion

  1. great post, sandra! and good for you for sticking to your guns!!!!

    • It was sooo hard because I didn’t want him to stop playing tennis. I’m sure you would understand this. We as tennis parents are very invested in their tennis and it also becomes our life. So if they give it up what do we do? Thankfully, it helped me learn to get a more balanced life too.

  2. A great post and I agree, it is hard. My son went on a medically imposed hiatus for several months, his passion came back, he re-injured his shoulder took another break. Finally, he’s feeling whole and you can see it in the game. He has also enjoyed having time to be a teen but is now chomping to get back on court. Glad your son was able to learn some things about himself.

    • I hope your son is doing well. We have done the medically imposed break as well. The come back can be tough but it does make them more passionate about the game. They have a greater investment in it when they have had to go through the pain, and hard work of physical therapy to get back. I think it also leaves them with a new motivation to prove that they can still do it, to themselves and others.
      I am so proud of the man my son has become and I can say that tennis has had a great deal to do with that.
      Again good luck to your son, I’ll be saying a prayer!

  3. Wonderful post and don’t give up!
    By the way, thank you for the following
    I will try to stop by from time to time to say hello
    All the best, Jenny

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