Tennis Ball on CourtThis does not look like fertile ground for an emerging real girl, but this is where I am: on the tennis court. I dismissed tennis for years as elitist or exclusive. The truth is I am scared of it. Tennis is hard. When one isn’t naturally gifted at sports, one develops a sports philosophy that is anti-competition. This philosophy leads to yoga classes, leisurely bike rides, or relaxing (slow) jogs. Tennis, unlike these solo sports, is about winning, and therefore another person loosing. I am a progressive educator that usually doesn’t embrace this kind of set-up, but let me tell you, I am going for this.

It started this summer while attempting to play doubles. Even though we couldn’t get close to what I would call a rally, there was something energizing about being out on the court. As we walked off the court GLI Assistant Director, Julia Loonin, said to me, “That was fun!” “Yea,” I casually replied, not realizing that Julia was already thinking ahead to taking lessons.

Julia was born with a ball in her hand. Instead of a stay-at-home mom, she had a NYC stay-at-home dad. It’s okay, let the gender stereotypes flow; because instead of baking cookies, Julia spent her after-school time playing catch, basketball, and doing arithmetic puzzles. It may not be a surprise to learn that Julia grew up to play college ball, and win athletic awards.

Now I find myself, once a week facing not only my own challenges of learning a new sport over the age of eight, but learning it next to Julia. Every week during our tennis lesson I revert to feeling 15, insecure and embarrassed.

While swatting my racket toward the ball my internal voice becomes a runaway train, “The teacher can’t even figure out how to teach two people of such different levels… He just wants to teach her because she actually has potential to get somewhere… I’m not terrible, he’s a terrible teacher… why don’t I just leave the teacher and Julia to play a real game… that is what everyone wants…”

If this voice wins, then I stop, and I go back to saying that I don’t play tennis. The world suffers no great loss here, but I might. On Mondays I will work late again and miss getting outside into the afternoon air. I could, of course, embrace some GLI skills in this situation: BFF voice (positive self talk), risk taking, and healthy competition (think GLI kick ball and water fights). But let me embrace the voice of the teenagers I teach and ask, “Why should I?”

Because it is fun, and the only reason not to is fear. If I believe in my fear it will be my truth because I will stop playing. If I push past my fear, then there is a chance that I may win a set someday. Only a Good Girl worries about what the teacher thinks. So I think that I will listen to my Real Girl. She reminds me that I’m paying him and it’s what I feel, not what he feels that matters. And Julia is a friend. She’s stuck with me and my moonballs for now.

Simone plays tennis and jogs slowly from her home in Berkeley.

Leave a Reply