You could have fit my confidence into a thimble at 15. I was 60 pounds overweight, shy, and the only time I sweat was when the Chargers were losing on Sunday. If you’ve ever been overweight, you know how this feels. My idea of exercise was curling a Twinkie to my mouth while using my thumbs to defeat my friends in Street Fighter.
I had strong thumbs!
Then one day, I got a call from a friend that changed my life.
“Hey, want to go play some tennis?”
I had always loved watching sports because my dad did, and that’s how we bonded. At 16, I remember watching a match on tv between Pete Sampras (one of my heroes) and Andre Agassi. The power and incredible precision that Pete had on his serve was poetry in motion, and Andre’s ability to dictate points from the baseline was incredible. These two were fearless competitors. Besides that, watching the hypnotic exchange of beautfiful strokes put me in a trance that I wanted to stay in. However, all of my negative self talk and limiting beliefs about myself discouraged me from going out that day. I was worried what others would think about me, and if I would be able to hit more than two balls without passing out.
When Josh called the next day, I realized that I had to do it. When I went out to the courts that day, I discovered an activity that was not only fun, but it was something I could see myself loving for a long time.
I loved playing tennis with my best friends every day. Besides the camaraderie, I slowly began to feel stronger mentally and physically (and it was fun). I became obsessed with tennis and played every single day that summer. It was so cathartic to whack that green ball of fuzz across the court over and over again. Every time I hit the ball, I gained confidence. Of course, being with a bunch of teenagers, we were constantly dousing each other with cups of water at changeovers. I still owe John one or two dousings. There’s no better way to bond with friends than through sports, especially since I knew I was going to whip them that day. Three hours would go by, I’d be drenched in sweat and high on endorphins and all I could think about was when we would meet to play tomorrow.
After a summer of this, I could hit the ball well, and compete. So the next spring, I went out for my high school tennis team thinking it would be fun to play in a group. I had been practicing all summer with my friends, so I made varsity. On top of that, our number one doubles team was split into singles for the county championships tournament, and my partner and I won the entire league.
I had my first taste of an athletic accolade, and it was delicious! I wanted to go back for seconds.
As I stood looking in the mirror that afternoon, it dawned on me. Since that last twinkie before Josh called, I had lost 40 pounds. I no longer wanted to eat junk food because I had discovered that I didn’t have the same energy level that I did when I ate healthy, whole foods. I carried myself much differently because I had authentic confidence in myself as a person, and as an athlete. I even had a few girls checking me out which NEVER happened before. But maybe most importantly, I had discovered a burning passion that had been missing for the first 15 years of my life!
I went to UCSD and got my B.A. in violin performance. I guess I had a way with strings. Then I went on to Cal State Northridge for my M.A. I still played tennis regularly with friends and in a few leagues. Interestingly, people began to ask if I taught tennis lessons. As I started to coach them, I fell in love with teaching. It was awesome to see people improving their games, and expanding their views of what was possible for them day after day. I knew I had found my calling.
Today I’m a professional tennis coach. And after coaching everyone from age four to 84, I realize that the day I stepped on to the tennis courts that summer, I had accidentally discovered a fun, sociable way to stay fit for the rest of my life.
It’s easy to guarantee you get exercise for the rest of your life and have a great time doing it. All you have to do is find a fun sport that you can play with your friends until OMG means “ouch, my groin!” to you.