As you may or may not know, a large amount of my time between the ages of 7 and 14 (I’m 15 now) were spent playing and thinking about playing tennis. I started playing when my best friend at the time invited me to start doing group lessons with her and her sister, which led to private lessons, attending tennis clinics, and my first competitive tournament was played when I was 10 years old. By the time I was 12, five to seven days of my week were spent on the tennis court or travelling to a tennis court. I loved it. I wasn’t on the road to turn pro and was never the best in my clinic, but I could hit a hard forehand and won a fair-share of matches. I was good enough… until I told myself I wasn’t.
When playing matches in tournaments, my quick temper came to life starting in fifth grade. I wanted to win and I wanted to be seen as a great tennis player. When things didn’t go my way, I would slam my racquet into the ground or against my shoe, leading to at least 5 broken racquets over the course of my tennis career. This is in no way good sportsmanship, but if you go to any junior tennis tournament, you’ll see the same release of temper on almost every court being showcased in varying ways.
Originally the quick temper stemmed from wanting my opponent and the people watching to realize that I knew I wasn’t playing my best and was mad about it. It was a way for me to justify the bad point or game I had just lost. Eventually, the cause of the temper transitioned into less of a show for others and anger and frustration at myself. I told myself I was stupid for hitting the ball that way, horrible for losing the point, worse than anyone else, not good enough. The anger started to come out outside of competitive play and into my lessons and clinics during the week. I felt mounting pressure from coaches to live up to their standards and be as good as the other players in my clinic.
Tennis is an individual sport so the mental aspect of the game is arguably the most important aspect of all. For the most part, coaching is not allowed in junior tournaments. You have to be able to focus yourself, know how to adjust your playing style when you’re losing, and motivate yourself because no one else can do any of it for you. Something a lot of tennis coaches always reiterate is: “If you walk onto the court thinking you’re going to lose the match, you’ve already lost.” According to this, I had almost always already lost when walking onto the court.
Once I turned 14, tennis occupied 85% of my mind and filled it with a constant stream negative and toxic thoughts. Knowing that I had to go to tennis right after school ruined my day. Literally. My stomach would knot and I would be filled with dread throughout the entire school day before clinic. I couldn’t let go of the sport though. It had been my entire life for over 5 years at this point and letting go was scary. I still held onto this tiny shred of hope that maybe I could win the next tournament, maybe I could play college tennis, maybe I could be good enough. But the shred was small and the negativity was greater.
It was clearly toxic for me and I was burned out, but how could I admit that to others when I couldn’t even admit that to myself?
There came a breaking point where my temper mostly disappeared in matches. I had gotten a new coach and started going to a new clinic that I loved and was playing a lot better. My tennis game was improving faster than it had ever before, but when it came to competitive play I still couldn’t win. I began to get physical stomach aches before matches (sometimes days before) and whether I won or lost, I cried after. I always joke and say, “tennis was my first heartbreak,” and that’s really what it felt like. Tennis caused the heaviest and longest cries of my life to this day.
When the focus of my tennis career began to center around reaching college tennis, I had to get honest with myself: I couldn’t and didn’t see tennis in my future. As soon as I admitted that to myself, I quickly lost motivation in my lessons and clinics. I let my parents know that playing competitively and seriously was no longer what I wanted to do. I finished the season and quit in May 2018.
Tennis is a sport I know I will always love and play, but letting it consume my mind and thoughts had to go. I look back and I’m terrified to know how poor my mental health would be if I still played competitively. I am glad that I quit when I did.
However, tennis wasn’t all bad for me. I made great friendships and connections, some I still keep in touch with and some I miss dearly. Some of my favorite days are still the hot summer ones where we played for hours and laughed and had fun doing it. Just the fact that I’m getting sad and nostalgic about this shows me how great my time playing tennis seriously was. I still play tennis for my high school team (we won the state championships the past year!) because it’s fun and different compared to the individual competitiveness I was used to. I feel good enough when playing high school tennis.
WHAT ALL THIS HAS TO DO WITH YOU
Going through an experience where a passion I held and initially loved began to take over my every waking hour with toxic thoughts and a constant feeling of dread made me realize letting go is essential.
If you feel like something is off and that you could be happier, take time to step back and assess what is making you feel awful and why. If something (or even someone) is hurting you mentally or physically, you have every right to get out of the situation. Hell, you deserve to get out of the situation.
It can be hard and scary to admit to yourself that something you used to love and enjoy no longer sparks those same feelings in you. It takes reflection, introspection, and self-control to let yourself grab life by the face and scream: “this isn’t what I want anymore and I am going to change that!” When it came to letting go of tennis, I felt like I did just that.
It was an easy transition once I cut tennis out because I had blogging to move onto and focus my previously preoccupied time on. Think about something in your life that makes you happy, but you never prioritize, and realize that dropping the toxic passion frees up your priorities to do what makes you happy.
Life doesn’t wait for you, so ultimately it is up to you to take the next step forward to make you happier and healthier. Letting go of a passion is difficult, but liberating. It frees up time and space for self-growth and experimenting to find new things you truly love. My final words to you today are: Find a passion that makes you feel good enough; something that you aren’t just talented at, but something that sets your soul on fire.