Smiling Through Triumphs and Defeats on the Tennis Court

In a place where over 200 gifted female tennis players arrive at a professional tournament and only one woman leaves victorious on a weekly basis, the ability to dust off the failures and move on with a smile is paramount.
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Lately I have been suffering from what can only be explained as spiritual starvation. As a result, I am not sure of exactly who I am. My uncertainty has transferred over to my profession, and each day I seem to vacillate between mild confidence and complete and utter insecurity. Do I stand forward and be aggressive at every given opportunity in the hope that my boldness will pay off? Or do I hang back a little and attempt for unwavering consistency? My occupation is one that requires self-esteem to be astoundingly high and my game plan impeccable in order to merely survive -- I am a professional tennis player.

The dream of playing my sport for a living has been in me since the age of seven, when I would play against imaginary opponents on a small grass court on the farm. As a child, it is vital for one to have a soundtrack playing in the mind while visualizing the dreams of the future, whether it may be landing on the moon, saving the world, winning a World Championship or, in my case, becoming the Wimbledon Champion. My go-to song was always Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" -- my taste for music in the early 90s was relatively undiscerning -- and for hours I would remain outside alone, hitting the ball against the wall and singing at the top of my lungs. The positive self-talk I demonstrated as a child is in stark contrast to the words I have spoken to myself in recent years.

At some point in my life, I began to pay attention to the incorrect words. The language of God was lost, and I began to believe that maybe I did not have the heart and mind of a winner, or that special something that champions possess. Worries about being plagued by not only a lackluster tennis career but also a life full of mediocrity have run rampant. As the years of struggling on the tour mounted, the tongue of defeat seemed to replay louder and more frequently until I could not decipher the difference between God's voice, mine or the adversary. In a place where over 200 gifted female tennis players arrive at a professional tournament and only one woman leaves victorious on a weekly basis, the ability to dust off the failures and move on with a smile is paramount. In recent years, I found myself unable to move forward after each loss, and the self-flagellation that would ensue for losing something as trivial as a tennis match was both damaging and unwarranted.

In the uncertain and rickety environment of minor-league professional tennis, one craves a source of stability. For the past few years -- post-college and on the tennis tour full time -- my need for spiritual nourishment has reached an overwhelming high. My spiritual search has come from a strong desire to feel the power of a loving God as well as the ability to love myself. I have always been drawn to united worship and the sense of community that faith provides. Playing an individual sport is an often lonely existence and at odds with the social creatures we are designed to be. The sport of tennis is even more of an anomaly because of its gladiatorial nature; yet the only time one can physically touch the other person is when both players shake hands at the net upon the conclusion of the match.

Even on the toughest days, I am grateful and passionate about my God-given talent. This path of choice will lead me to a place where I can truly help people and make a positive impact in others' lives. To achieve that goal will satisfy me more than any championship, paycheck or endorsement ever could. My unrelenting search for spiritual sustenance has only proven how much I need to fill the void in my life. I am inspired by the feeling of peace and calm that only faith can supply; where you are accepted and loved by God exactly as you are now. In a world where I have permitted my self-worth to be determined by a win/loss record; it will be comforting to finally find a place of non-judgment and kindness.

Psychologists tell tennis players repeatedly that because the outcome of a match -- whether you win or lose -- is unknown, therefore one must remain positive throughout to increase one's chances of a favorable outcome. However, there is always the chance that even though one does everything right mentally and physically on the court, one can still lose. Our journey through life is exactly the same. We can attempt to be the best people we possibly can be but will still endure losses and defeats. A positive outcome cannot be guaranteed even when our intentions are well-meaning and noble. Yet if negativity and self-loathing are permitted to reign from the outset -- in both a tennis match and in our everyday lives -- then we are defeated before we even begin. We will not be satisfied with any amount of success, nor will we have the strength to pick ourselves up and try again when obstacles block our path. My biggest hope is that my spiritual journey continues to evolve me into a better person who possesses the same amount of grace in both adversity and success.

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