A few years ago I wrote a column in which I told you about my two children, Mike and Katie. I talked about how, when they were born, my wife and I were excited to get them started in tennis only find that they didn't want to play the game that has meant so much to us. At the time I discussed the decision Kelley and I were faced with. I wrote:
"Should we allow our children to pass up what would undoubtedly be a tremendous opportunity to learn, enjoy and perhaps excel at a game they could play for their entire lives, or should we FORCE them to play tennis?
There really was no decision to make. After having seen so many parents, not only in tennis but in other activities, push their kids towards places they really did not want to go, we knew that to insist that our kids play tennis would only accomplish two things. First, it would undoubtedly turn them off to the sport forever, and second, and far more important, it would damage the relationship that we were trying to build with our children."
So, even though they had three tennis pros (Mom, Dad and Granpa) and a tennis club in the family, Mike and Katie did not grow up playing tennis. How many times over the years did we hear "Boy, your kids must be great players?" and "What do you mean they don't play tennis?" Hundreds but it didn't matter. As much as we wanted them to play tennis we knew we did the right thing by not forcing them to play the game.
Well, the years flew by. My kids grew older and found their own interests. Mike started college and dreams of a career in the film industry. Katie's a junior in High School and plays field hockey, basketball and softball for the school. They're both great kids that Kelley and I are very proud of. We always felt comfortable in our decision regarding our children and tennis yet, in the back of our minds, still held out the hope that they would someday pick up the game.
Well, Christmas came early for us this year. On a recent vacation Mike asked me to hit some tennis balls with him. We took the court, I showed him a few basics and away we went. An hour later, we walked off the court and Mike spoke the words I've waited 19 years to hear, "Dad, do you want to play tomorrow?" We played every day that week and I've got to tell you, I loved every minute of it.
Now, you're probably expecting me to tell you that Mike became obsessed with the game. He practiced every day, began playing tournaments and is now one of the top players in the area. Not quite. Mike isn't obsessed with tennis and, in all probability will never be a high ranking tournament player. But you know what: who cares?
It doesn't matter how good he becomes or doesn't become, the fact that he's developing an interest in tennis that (hopefully) will stay with him for the rest of his life is something I've always dreamed of.
Recently, I was at the gym when I struck up a conversation with a fellow exerciser. One thing led to another and our professions came up in the conversation. When the fellow learned I was a tennis pro he made the usual "Your kids must be great players" comment. For the first time in my life I was actually able to say that one of my kids did play tennis. I told him that my son, who's 19, had recently developed an interest in the game.
His reaction was quite strange and to be honest somewhat disturbing. I don't remember his exact words but his message was basically that, since Mike was starting tennis at 19 years of age, it was too late.
I wanted to grab a dumbbell and smack the idiot over the head with it. Too late for what? Too late to make it to Wimbledon: who cares? Too late to become a great player: who knows? Too late to get a great workout, meet new people and have fun for the rest of his life? NEVER.
I wonder how many people shy away from trying something new for fear that they'll never ever become "good" at it. It's never too late to try new things and how "good" you become at them is, in the overall scheme of things, irrelevant.
Be it tennis, learning a new language, skydiving or chess, developing new interests and pursuing them is what keeps our minds and bodies active and young. If my son plays tennis just once a week for the next 60 years and never advances beyond a 3.0 level is it worth it for him to play? You bet it is and that's "good" enough for me!