Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"I want to win state this year."

A young fellow I know recently said "I want to win state this year." He meant this as an individual, not as a team. Easier said than done.  Many states allow lots of kids to say they "won state" each year by having multiple singes and doubles flights.  Fair enough.  I'm not really talking about the three or four doubles "state champs" here, but this post applies with diminishing relevance to any kid who hopes to "win state".

My question for those kids who want to win state is, "Do you want to do what it takes to win state?"

It's easy to say you want to do something, but putting in the work necessary to give yourself a chance to achieve that goal much tougher.  Practicing and training can be tedious at times.  Maybe you'd prefer to spend Saturday nights with your girlfriend instead of practicing.  Who can blame you?  But don't come crying to me when you fail to win state if you don't do everything you can to prepare in the months and years leading up to the tournament.  Talk is cheap.

I italicized "give yourself a chance" in the paragraph above because that's really all you can do.  You cannot do anything that guarantees you will win state.  Very rarely will one person become so much better than all the other kids in a state that they can realistically expect to win state, especially "this year".  It takes many years to distance yourself from the pack.  Most years two or three or four or five kids have a legitimate chance to be the state tennis singles champion.

If you're one of those kids with a legit shot to win state, keep the tournament in perspective.  The tournament only happens once each year, but if we run a thought experiment and play the tournament a hundred different times I think you'll realize that the person who wins one year and those who lose one year may not be the same over all one hundred trials.   The best person entering the tournament may win 60 of those trials, for example, with the second player winning 20 times, the third winning 10, and the fourth and fifth each winning 5 times.  Those numbers are pulled out of thin air, obviously.  The point is that if you win or if you lose this year, keep it in perspective.

If we ran the tournament again the next day, it's likely the results would have been different.

I'm reminded of my own experience as a high school tennis player.  I, too, wanted to win state.  My junior year I almost did, but lost in the finals to a better player.  That better player and I had been frequent practice partners over the previous few years.  I knew I could beat him because I had in the past, as recently as the regionals the week before the tournament.  But I also knew he could beat me because he had beaten me more times than I had beaten him, including the team regionals right before the individual regionals.  Tennis can be that way, can't it.

Anyway, my senior year I was the heavy favorite going into the season.  I was runner-up the previous year and had been the top player in my section my age or younger for four or five years by then.  But as sometimes happens, a very good player moved into our state the fall of my senior year.  In my state we played high school tennis in the spring, so I had a year to practice with this kid.  Or not.  My choice.

The downside to practicing with a competitor is that by practicing with someone you help them get better.  That's tennis.  In this case, the kid was a sophomore and wasn't as good as I was.  That meant that he was at a different place on his learning curve than I was.  My curve was not as steep as his was, which meant that he was going to be getting better faster than I was throughout the year.  Trouble.

But I never thought of it in those terms.  Just like my friend who beat me the year before and my teammate who won the two state titles the two years before that, I was more than happy to practice with younger players.  I wanted to practice with the best players available.  He was available and he was damn good.  The second best junior in my area.  So we practiced together often, probably weekly as I recall.

Luckily I was able to beat him every time we played during that spring season, including in the state championship match.  Timing is everything.  I got him when he was young. He went on to become much better than I did, I think, winning the title a couple of times and playing tennis at Harvard.  I played at a somewhat lesser university (what isn't, huh?).  One of the younger kids that he beat, I think maybe even the next year, went on to achieve a top 20 world ranking.  Again, timing.  That kid was only in 8th grade at the time!!

So you can see how the tennis generations in my state all worked together, though we were fiercely competitive, to get as good as we could.  Not all of my practice partners won state, obviously.  This can't work out for everyone.  Only one guy wins each year.  But I don't think the guys who didn't win regretted practicing with me.  Sure they helped me get better, but they got better, too.

That's the nature of competition.

So if you "want to win state", get off your ass, find the best people you can to compete against, and get after it.  I guarantee the person who wins will have done just that.


Anonymous said...

No doubt! Practice and play sets! Practice against the pushers and the hackers and be able to beat them....OR BE them if it wins! Enjoy the challenges and rewards of losing AND winning. (But if you live in Colorado....I still favor the attacking game)

JAW (the one in Tokyo) :)

Bob said...

Tokyo JAW! What a great nickname!