Yesterday I watched the high school tennis team that my daughter coaches get creamed. I have never felt so proud of a group of losers.
This girls tennis team, from the heart of the St. Paul Public School district, has struggled to have the numbers, only a dozen, to constitute a team. The coaches are three young women–the only female tennis coaches in their section. Most of the players come from ethnic communities where it is day one with Title XIV. Many of the girls skip practice and games because they have duties at home or at a job which is essential to the family income. For them, the tennis team is fun but comes second to family duties.
Some of players don’t take themselves seriously as athletes because they have not spent the last 15 years of their lives having tennis lessons with parents at the sidelines encouraging them. Whatever they bring to the game is self-taught and absorbed during a brief season of coaching at school. They play with donated rackets, inexpensive tennis shoes and some of them play in hijabs pinned tightly for the gusty autumn weather on the courts. Harder yet, is to compete against other teams where the opponents have so much more training and a well developed understanding of the of the game. It’s a culture clash.
What I noticed yesterday was that even in the face of a very strong team, the girls played their best. One match I was watching went on for a very long time, even though our player was behind in the score, she played long points, refusing to give up a single rally until she had chased the ball down to every corner of the court. Her opponent made it clear that she was exasperated. She had expected to win quickly and easily. Whenever they hit a deuce score, she would roll her eyes, slump her shoulders, and mutter self-reproaches, “That was a stupid shot!” and so on.
Our player never once made a negative remark or expressed disappointment in herself or implied that her opponent was being a problem. She just played hard. At the end of the game, she shook hands with her opponent with a genuine smile. She knew that, win or lose, she had played some of the best tennis she had ever played.
There were not many parents there to watch these beautiful girls. (I am there to support my own former high school player, now coach, do her thing.) I’m glad that I was. Winning isn’t everything.
This version of Creep by the Belgian women’s choir Scala and the Kolacny Brothers takes on new meaning when these women’s voices (ages 16 to 62) join together–it’s quite moving.