Friday, August 2, 2013

Life Lessons According to a Four Year Old Tennis Player

I have spent the majority of my summer interacting with humans who are pushing four feet, show up with fart puddy in their back pockets, and are in the midst of understanding which one is truly the writing hand.  When I say interacting with I mean trying to gain some sense of dominance over 10+ little ones on a tennis court.  Yes bribery has been utilized and I am not ashamed to admit it, but understanding what goes through the mind of a person who's greatest desire is to eat ice cream for breakfast is exhausting.

These future tennis stars have become masters at the step and punch as well as "that one shot you hit with one hand instead of two"...better known as a forehand. I can only hope they have as much fun playing as I do coaching them into pre-kindergarden. I expected to have only about 10-15 minutes of actual tennis play happen, spending the rest of the time struggling to carry all of the heavy balls into the cart discussing the latest gossip...who scored their first goal in soccer, who scraped their face while bike riding, why ants are the 8th wonder of the world...etc.  What I didn't expect were the incredible life lessons these kids would teach me on a daily basis and how insanely hilarious each one of them is in their own special way.

Here are a few invaluable life lessons according to a pewee tennis player...

Own up to your mistakes: "that toss was too high"..."you ignored me"..."we didn't play around the world." The amount of times I was called out due to making my feeds too challenging or calling one of the 4 Maggies in the class Megan by accident was unbearable. I never realized the gravity of my own flaws until I was surrounded by 10 little voices waiting to pounce on the next slip up.  Everyone in life will hold you accountable on some level whatever your role is someone is counting on you. When you devalue that accountability your stock begins to drop.  In my case accountability was more along the lines of that one time I accidentally put the Friday Fun Day Popsicles in the refrigerator over night and was forced to admit my bonehead move publicly to a pack of sugar hungry children with tennis rackets.
You always get another chance: Life is hard as a pewee. You see your older siblings hit each shot over the net with such ease and here you are 20 balls later still double bouncing into the net or rocketing off into the shelter. If there is one thing a pewee is sure of it is that there is always "just one more try." When real life starts happening it is easy to feel like you only get one try at things, or sometimes you just don't get what you want. Watching these little players try as hard as they can to get that ball over after so many tries is an amazing reminder to continually strive for what you want out of your current situation. There is always another chance.

Admit when you are wrong: An ongoing moment of shame in the beginner tennis lessons is happened frequently while warming up in the process of switching from forehands to back hands. They are two completely different shots requiring the racket to go to either side of your body.  Once the peewee would realize their mix-up the panic would ascend...heaven forbid...and in front of the whole class too...simply mortifying.  And you thought you were a perfectionist, try being newly graduated from Velcro shoes trying to find your place in the world.  I had never seen someone fight so strongly in the refusal of accepting their mix-up.  You would have thought I was asking them to admit a felony.  It was a lesson we learned together in creating an environment where it was okay to acknowledge where you were wrong and make corrections for the better.  If you don't feel safe to admit your wrongs in the current environment there is no room to cultivate growth from learning, and essentially no use in my endless reminders "racket low..all the way sideways..."  

Run don't walk : No matter what at any point in time everything in the life of a pewee is a race. You win the race then you are the best no matter what. In the world of a swim club you constantly hear "WALK WALK WALK" hollered by the life guards all day every day. There is no easier way to wipe a smile from a child's face than by forcing them to stop running. The joy quickly returns when they get to start running again. Lifeguards will disagree but having the desire to run though life can only lead to better things especially if you go really really fast!

Follow Through: Oh my I would be embarrassed to know how many times I uttered these words in hopes of the pewee hitting just one ball over the net. While the goals may have been small at the time this necessary aspect of the tennis swing clearly translates into all facets of life.  "You promised we would play a game after this"..."You said I could have a drink"..."I thought we were getting candy today"...You would have thought I magically acquired the ability to harvest slushies out of my ears at the rate they were asking for them.  This lesson correlates with being held accountable. The more I followed through on my promises, the more willing the kids were to listen as I hollered this lesson for hours on end.  If you don't follow though with your shot you will lose the point. Simple as that.

 Sometimes they deserved it: Picture this... pewee #1 goes and deliberately smacks his brother (pewee #2) in the face. Now multiply that situation by 5 and you start to consider the idea of revenge.  While I am not a supporter of whacking the people who wrong you with a racket, there is something to be said for standing up for what you want.  Maybe it is my job to teach them to be selective about who they whack. Slinging your racket around and hitting people clearly is no way to solve the problem, but it always opens the conversation for how to have better handled that situation.