There was not a single tennis court in the town where I grew up.
So, the thought of playing tennis never crossed my mind. At least, it didn’t until I came to Murray State.
That’s where I met Howl Deese Bean, II, one of my best friends to this day. An avid tennis fan, Howl invited me to play, during which time he explained all the rules. I could instantly tell why he loved playing.
Tennis at first seemed to be a very individualized sport, as I relied only on my own reactions and skills.
It was one-on-one, Howl against me. I had only myself to blame for each loss or congratulate for every victory.
While having a team is great, there is something special about playing as an individual. Maybe it is the sense of pride that comes with each win, or maybe it is the adrenaline that comes when you realize you have to put everything on the line to prove yourself.
Whatever the reason, I pushed myself to become better. I hated losing match after match, so I focused on the weak parts of my game.
I changed my grip, changed my serving motion and played farther back on the court.
I did all this on my own, because I thought I was playing as an individual.
It was just recently that I decided tennis is actually a team sport, and not just because players can compete as doubles.
Sure, Howl and I have played more than one hundred singles matches in the past three years, but that does not mean we don’t have a team.
We are on each other’s team. My definition of a team may not adhere to the most traditional interpretation of the word, but a tennis player cannot develop his skills without the help of at least one other person.
Take Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 tennis player in the world. I’m sure he has spent countless hours practicing on his own, but he could never have made it to the top without help.
Aside from his coaches and trainers, his opponents are the most important team members he has.
They exploit his weaknesses, build his stamina and help him develop the techniques to defeat even the most formidable competitors.
Though they play on the opposite side of the net, they make him a better player.
That is how Howl and I are. He beat me with ease in the beginning matches, but he gave me advice on what to change. That, along with my own observations during matches, eventually helped me win.
I soon started winning most of the matches, so it was my turn to help him. After all, that’s what teammates are for.
Now when we play, we often have long rallies and multiple tiebreakers.
Our career record against each other hovers around .500, so it truly is tough to win a match these days. Still, though, we help each other. We point out weaknesses and compliment strengths.
While it is true that we play against each other and winning is still important, the most important thing is having someone who can help make you better.
We do compete as individuals, but we get better as a team. Each day, after all the broken rackets and injured body parts, we leave the court just a little bit better than we came.
Column by Ryan Richardson, Online Editor.