There are very few times in my life where I have felt completely humbled. The Wesley Tennis social was one of them. Feeling bored with my exercise routine, I went looking for a way to meet people and keep fit. I attended a tennis social not knowing what one was. First mistake. Turns out it was a mixer. Everyone knew the rules but me. The pro quickly assembled people into groups based on their USTA ratings. When it came to my turn, I said with a big smile, “I’m not sure what my rating is, it’s my first time out here.” The groans and sneers were audible and visible. Rarely deterred, I took my place on the court with three other women who were soon to learn patience is a virtue.
We started hitting the ball and warming up. Being athletic, I could connect fairly well with basic ground strokes and was decently quick. A competent tennis player has eight basic shots in his or her repertoire: the serve, forehand, backhand, volley, half-volley, overhead smash, drop shot, and lob. I had none of them. In addition, I had several other issues like; keeping the ball in play, knowing how to keep score, and understanding where to position myself as the points progressed. You get the picture right? I had a lot to work on. As we played for one of the longest hours of my life, there were a number of times that I thought I should just walk off. I was feeling terrible for the other women, who showed up to play rather than witness the hot mess that was my tennis game. It was that embarrassing.
Cowards never start. The weak never finish and winners never quit. I was crazy enough to come out to the Tennis Social knowing next to nothing so why would incompetence get in the way of a good sweat? I persisted and laughed more. I had a handful of good shots which encouraged me to continue. I also had a visualization that maybe with time and practice I could do this. Thankfully, the lades I played with had the patience of Mother Theresa. So we all survived.
If the club doesn’t want you, form your own club. That week my brainstorm was there had to be others like me who wanted to learn how to play tennis, were decently athletic, and who could thrive in a a safe zone away from the judgement of the highly skilled. In that moment, the idea for the Hip and Fabulous Tennis League was born.
We rounded up about 12 of us to start. The only court time available was from 9:30 to 11:00 on Monday nights. No witnesses was a good thing. We had a pretty broad range of talents from women who had played tennis in college to those who joined so they could wear the cute tennis skirts. One thing that everyone had in common was a positive attitude, an openness to learn, and a kinship to the women we had assembled. It was a formula that worked. Seven years later, the league persists. While members have come and go, there is still a bastion of committed players. Additionally, a good section of the girls have joined the club Tennis team. They play with REAL tennis teams weekly. I got to say that is the what really makes my heart swell with pride. That this band of well meaning, good timing , tennis misfits grew into a legitimate tennis team. I can say with confidence that all of our girls are at least 3.5 players or better. I have smiled to myself many times amazed at the rallies and how far the group has come.
A couple of quick tips to summarize, if you have designs on starting something locally:
- Find a group of willing women. If you are planning to make is social and run two courts, I would recommend finding 12-16 women to accommodate for subs. Sense of humor is equally important to athletic capability.
- Take a few clinics together. It’s pretty inexpensive to drop into a clinic where there are 6 or so players. It’s a good way to practice and get tips from the experts.
- Join the US Tennis Association – For just 44/year, you have access to a number of benefits and can drop in on local leagues if you want more playing time. This also gives you a good guide of what your self rating is so you can readily drop into a tennis social and not humiliate yourself.
- Take the scheduling burden off the organizer. We use the doodle app to have people self schedule their availability. This way our scheduler can quickly assemble who can play and rotate individuals to bring a fresh can of balls.
- Make it fun. We have outings and get togethers in the beginning and end of seasons. We did corny awards where people voted for the best legs, the most likely to take a ball to head, the most competitive, and the most likely to need a sub among others. All in fun, all in jest. It gave some of us a much needed hall pass away from kids and husbands when it was time for the end of season “Tennis Banquet.”
- Keep it casual. As we were learning, we did not tie off and have permanent tennis partners. This enabled you to play with different people each week and kept the league social rather than competitive.
- Play to Win – While it wasn’t an uber competitive league, we all still liked to win. We would start our matches “Love, Love, and an added Good Luck Ladies.”. The last part being a little tongue and cheek meaning “good luck you are going to need it. ” End of Season tournaments were organized in a round robin fashion where the number of games out of 5 that you won accrued points. We had a big trophy for the Hip and Fab tourney winner for the person who won the most games. I’m not sure who was prouder, the winner or their family members who got to look at the trophy on the mantle all year until the next season. We di have one husband hold the trophy outside his SUV Sunroof for a victory lap around the neighborhood. Hilarious.
So to sum it up. Tennis is a game you can easily play from 8 years old to your 80’s. If you are thinking about starting, grab some friends and use some of the tips above. It’s been a nice way to keep connected throughout the year. Many friendships have deepened as a result of a core group coming together. This has also led to many first time and fun experiences outside of tennis. Martina Navratilova approached life learning head on and is a great example of how determination can add new dimensions to your life. I hope it leaves you with a little inspiration to try something new.
“I like to conquer my phobia. I was afraid of heights; I got a pilot’s license. My biggest fear was to drown, so I got a scuba-diving license. I get embarrassed dancing by myself, so I figured, why not do it in front of millions of people.”
—All-time tennis great Martina Navratilova, on why she is one of 12 well-known hopefuls competing in Season 14 of Dancing with the Stars