A League of My Own

When I moved to San Diego from Northern Illinois, the great weather here almost compelled me to start doing things outside.

One of the things that I started doing was playing tennis.  I had played a little when I was in high school and college, though during college and grad school I played a lot more racquetball.  Still, I had a couple of friends that seemed willing to also start playing and so we got out and started hitting it around  (and it seems that over the last decade, according to this data from the Physical Activity Council that we weren’t the only ones).

Lots of new tennis players

Over time, it became a regular activity but our group of playing friends also dwindled to just my friend (let’s call him Jeff, because you know, that’s his name) and me.  Now, Jeff was a little better than me but we were still having fun playing Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings and were pretty competitive with one another.  And then something awful happened.  No, he didn’t move away.  No, neither of us got injured.  What happened was that Jeff started taking weekly lessons (a gift from his wife).  And after a couple of months of those, we weren’t so close anymore.

I enjoyed playing, but getting my butt whupped in nearly every outing got to get a little old (though without a doubt I was running hard and getting exercise).  I supposed that I could start an arms race and start taking lessons of my own, but between work, the already-scheduled tennis, piano and home I really wasn’t enthused about putting more commitments on the calendar.

This created somewhat of an existential dilemma for me.  How important was winning? Was “playing for fun” enough? Moreover, was I giving Jeff enough of a challenge?  Would he leave me for greener pastures that had a more consistent backhand? He and I’d been playing for years and contemplating the idea of not playing felt like some sort of potential on-court break-up.

In the end, we each joined USTA leagues for our respective levels (him 4.5; me 4.0) that play on Sunday mornings.  This allowed each of us to play others of our own caliber – with the bonus feature that playing different people would help both of our games.  The good part about that is that it still left our Thursday after-work slot open to continue our friendly game.

Sunday Morning Service

What do you guys think?  A good solution?  Are you competitive enough that you’d take the lessons to raise your game, or is it just enough to go out, play hard, get exercise and not worry about it?


24 thoughts on “A League of My Own

  1. I played tennis every week with a bunch of little old ladies (looks over her shoulder to make sure none of them heard her call them that). I was about on par with a lot of them, and the win-some, lose-some of it was great fun. Then I started playing with a new friend who slammed me all over the court. It was great exercise, but it ceased to be much fun. It wasn’t even about the losing – it was about the fact that nothing was dynamic any more. She would serve, I would usually miss the return, I would run after the ball. Rinse. Repeat. Yawn.

    • LOM — yeah, I think there has to be *some* competition in the game or that it does end up being just sort of the same routine. And there’s plenty of exercise regimens that include that! :)

  2. great solution and you will both improve from playing others and then bringing that to your weekly game.

    I know from a search result on scifi media that there are some martial arts in your background too :)

  3. I like playing for the sake of fun and exercise: I have to admit however, after losing a game to my long-limbed son whose reach and forehand I will never surpass, it’s hard not to feel a little, um, irritated that one’s skills aren’t better. Your solution is great, as long as you and Jeff can keep your Thursday night game friendly.

    But I mention this just as a warning about what happens when amateur competition turns serious: my husband used to be in an amateur downhill ski racing league, and even though he said he was in it for fun, he began grumbling that he needed better equipment and more practice. After spending $600 on a new set of skis, poles, and boots and many weekends later, he declared he needed a coach and possibly a trip to a $1400 three-day ski racing camp in Aspen. That was when I suggested he probably needed to be single again. That ramped back the competition a bit, but it goes to show how only a little heat is needed to ignite an arms race. Stay chilly, Steve.

    • HG — Hah! Fortunately tennis balls are only $1.75 a can and getting my racket restrung every couple of months is $30. But I can see Jeff getting on a bit of that sort of roll — he’s probably playing 4 days a week now. That’s more time (and really more interest, since my *other* interests would suffer) than I’ve got time for.

  4. OMG, i HAAAAAATE tennis. Despise it; loathe it; really can’t stand it!! I was responsible for my high school allowing co-ed swimming (in 1978) because the girl’s were assigned to tennis while the guys were swimming and I was not having any of that!

    But I’m glad you enjoy it!!

  5. I think this is a healthy and suitable solution. As much as you enjoy playing a friendly game with each other, one of the best ways to get better while still enjoying yourself is to play people of your own skill level, so you get a chance to focus on playing, rather than on always coming back from behind.

    Tennis is a lot of fun. I’m hoping to get into it with my daughters when they get older – it’s good to hear you’re enjoying it so much (and getting some good exercise in the process!) It’s hard to keep from getting too competitive in activities like that, but you seem to be handling that pressure nicely.

    • Ross — I see a lot of dad’s/daughter combos practicing on the courts where we often play. Some of those kids can HIT! It is great exercise and fun outside and requires good mental as well as physical discipline.

  6. I think it’s great that you get the exercise and have fun doing it. My advice would be, don’t let it interfere with the friendship. You can play tennis with pretty much anyone else that can play, but good friends are few and far between.

  7. I think if it’s your current love, it’s a good idea to follow some coaching or team playing. Why not?

    You may find it takes the joy out of it — or increases it magnificently!

    I know a guy who plays tournaments of pool and he’s not very good. He has gotten better since joining league play but he truly enjoys it — not just for the beer.

  8. Steve and I went through a tennis kick awhile back. He was good, I sucked. He tried to teach me. I was not receptive to him telling me what to do…I mean teaching me.

    I did enjoy playing with the kids. They stunk like me and didn’t care if I held the racket a certain way. ;) I’ve thought about trying again once the weather turns. I guess I’d have to be a better student, but I kinda enjoy it.

    • It’s always a little treacherous to play competitively against a spouse, boy/girlfreind — especially if there’s a mismatch. Every time I tried that with a girlfriend, she seemed to become my ex-girlfriend

  9. Personally speaking … if you’re having fun as is skip the lessons, unless you just really have an urge to beat your friend. And unless the USTA has rated your ability and is pairing you with six-year-olds …

  10. Oh, I got SO pissed off when J constantly won at raquetball. We started out new at it, learned together but he practiced alone more while I did my outdoor running, thinking it would make me better than him. Wrong. I think it’s different with couples, though. I don’t expect J to let me win, but friends – well, I think they should let each other win if it’s just for fun.

    On the upside though, if you play with someone a lot better than you, you’ll gain more skill than if you just play with folks at the same level as you.

    • Emmy — when i was in college, I had a girlfriend that I played racquetball with and she would get REALLY mad if I crushed her (I was a lot better than her). But she would also get REALLY mad if I dogged it too obviously to let her stay close. Needless to say, it was a lose-lose situation!!

  11. Pingback: In-N-Out | Stevil

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