What I really get excited about, in tennis and in life, are the unexpected moments that show up in front of us to make us learn and grow. And The Story of Joe reveals that we are never too young to encourage others.
To say that I love tennis is a major understatement. A good friend of mine likes to joke and say, “I saw you on campus today. Well, I saw what looked like a walking tennis bag and knew it was you”. You see, I am rather short and a tennis bag could look life-sized next to me.
In the sport I have found a meaningful and balanced way to be competitive, stay active and healthy, and learn many lessons in life. I strongly believe that tennis is one of the greatest metaphors of life. You train in the shadows with no one to watch but a coach or team, but when you play a match in public, you play it as an individual competing with your opponent for victory. An exceptional benefit of the sport is getting to see my strengths and weaknesses, notice when I am being lazy, or whether there are abilities I simply have not been gifted with. But what I really get excited about, in tennis and in life, are the unexpected moments that show up in front of us to make us learn and grow. Life recently presented one of these opportunities to me on the tennis court, through a young kid named Joey.
Joey is an approximately 3-foot 5-inch 8 year old boy. He is shorter than other kids his age, and he is a little shy. The same way my tennis bag is almost bigger than I am his seemingly “life size” racquet seems like it should be a challenge for him to handle. While I and another player struggled to hit overhead lobs one practice, much to the annoyance of the coach, Joey stood off to the side watching. Finally fed up, the coach called him over and told Joey : “Show them how it’s done.” So he did.
Joey hit every ball fed to him and did it easily and with a strength that was unexpected from such a small fella. The coach looked at him proudly and then turned to us with a look that implied, “Do not let this little kid show you up.” I was both annoyed and afraid, a combination to be avoided. We resumed, but still, I did badly. When finally a break arrived, I walked up to Joey to acknowledge he had a great potential and to keep up the good work. He looked up at me and said:
You are good too, in your own way. You can get to shots many others can’t. Never give up.
He smiled and headed off to play.
What Joey taught me was that we are never too young to acknowledge and encourage others. The power of his words has inspired me to do it despite the fear in many walks of life and not just in tennis. When facing an exam or an interview where fear has tried to paralyze me, Joey’s acknowledgment and words of encouragement have often come back to me and helped me do it despite being afraid. More importantly, he has inspired and motivated me to always acknowledge and encourage others, no matter how young or old in their age.