22 November 2019

The tennis terrier: "I think I must have been a dog in a previous life"

Emily Norman

Like many Local Tennis League players, Emily learned to play as a child, then had a long gap before taking it up again and realising how much she liked it. As someone with terrier-like instincts for chasing a ball, she is very glad she did

As a kid, I went to 'short tennis' classes using sponge balls and small rackets. I think I always protested before going and always came back pleased I went and loving each session as it gave me a basic skill set and a little taster of competition. I opted out of progressing into the next step of joining a club as a teen, somehow at that age it felt like it was either something you were massively into and earmarked with potential for, or, well it didn't feel like there was a middle ground between that and not playing. Or maybe I just lost interest, I can't quite remember now. 

Fast forward almost 20 years and a few untamed wild rallies in-between and I randomly played again with friends at university and was reminded how much I loved it. I decided I wanted to be able to serve properly and play a proper match, on the theory it would be something I could take anywhere and do socially throughout my lifetime, also for the sheer joy of it and the added bonus of exercise, and an excuse to be outdoors, especially in the wintertime when the sunshine can appear hard to find.

I think I must have been a dog in a past life as I somehow have that same insatiable desire to chase after tennis balls and be insanely happy about it.  There is just something really fun about having to respond with physical agility and tactical wit to the expected yet totally unexpected trajectory of this flying yellow ball while battling your own inner dialogue and whatever the weather is throwing at you, then trying to keep that up for a potentially lengthy 2 hour match!  

It's those golden moments while striving to improve technique when you get all your limbs to move in just the right way, and suddenly it all makes sense and you feel and see the results in the shot.  I'm also prone to overthinking things in life and getting stuck in my head, so I love that you have to be totally in the moment and 100% yourself in mind and body on court in order to play.  It's all the better for the likeminded individuals I've come across to share such trials and tribulations with.   

I initially joined a weekly adult group lesson 5 years ago in my local park which I still do and which connected me with a great bunch of likeminded people up for practising and I was at first content just to rally without playing points. As I got better, and my serve more consistent I realised playing for points made things much more interesting and challenging, and that to really get better, I'd have to play matches. A friend told me about the league and it took me a while to build the courage to enter. I wasn't considered a sporty type at school and sometimes such cookie cutter pre-sets can stick in your psyche. I'm not naturally competitive either so that's a mindset I've had to hone, but I'm so glad I did and I haven't looked back 2 years and 9 rounds later.  

I love how accessible the league is and how you are pretty evenly matched with opponents. I've met so many wonderful people, all gracious and supportive whatever the outcome, who have taught me so many things about confidence and self-belief, humility, sportsmanship, skill and technique, tactics, and overall outlooks on life in how different people make the effort to squeeze court time into their daily routines and why. 

Playing in the league has definitely improved my game, considering I didn't really have one when I started. I've recently encountered some opponents from the first rounds I did which has shown me how far I've come, if still a way to go yet, but I have definitely improved. In fact I have a match this weekend against an opponent I'm hoping to turn the tables on!

I'm really chuffed that I've kept it up and have a reasonable level of competence that allows me to play without worrying I'll lose a whole game on double faults!  

I would definitely recommend the league, and to join no matter your starting point. The best way is just to play and work through it, trust me you will not be alone. It's a lifetime endeavour and where there is a will, there is always a way! 

The next round on Highbury Fields, north London, starts on 9 January, 2020. Join here by 6 January