“We’re #13! We’re #13!”

It’s not much of a rallying cry, I admit. But when there are only fourteen teams in your division, ending in thirteenth place can be definitely worth cheering.

This last weekend, my Saturday league team played the final match of our very long season. Our team had spent the entire season in last place. Dead last. A couple of months ago, we lagged by six points. (Trust me–that’s a lot.) We came into this final match two points behind our nearest competitor. And…

…we ended up winning by a half a point! (Winning, of course, is a relative term here.) By finishing in second-to-last place, we’ve earned the right to stay in this division next year. Had we lost, we’d have dropped back down to the division we won last year.

I won’t lie–this was a tough season. It’s not fun getting your butt kicked week in and week out. At times, I wondered what we were even doing in this division. Maybe, I thought, it wouldn’t be so bad to return to the lower level.

And, in truth, it wouldn’t have been. We played many challenging matches that year, and the playoffs were true nail-biters. But it wasn’t the consistent butt-kicking we received this season.

Platitude alert: While sometimes demoralizing, it’s only through your challenges that you grow. Playing it safe won’t stretch your game.

Thinking about our nutty season, I came up with three takeaways:

1. Always look for a chance to get your butt kicked. A double-bagel win may feel nice to the ego, but a double-bagel loss will show you what you need to learn. If I want to get better, I need to swallow my pride and play the people who scare me.

2. Consistency matters. God knows I love my winners, but at this level my winners come back. (Hate that.) I could try hitting even better winners, but that seems kind of hard. The easiest route to more points is fewer unforced errors.

3. Finally, never give up. Even when you feel outclassed, there’s always a chance. Sheer dumb doggedness counts for so much, in tennis and everything else in life.

Congratulations to my Saturday team! We’re #13–let’s celebrate!!

Do you welcome the chance to play out of your league? Or do you prefer to play at your level and enjoy a more equal competition?

11 thoughts on “Second-to-Last

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  1. I like both. A good schooling by superior players lets me know how many things I need to work on. A competitive match of equals is more fun. There is a place for both in our tennis lives.

  2. I won’t lie: I love to win. But I try to live in a way that is always challenging me to improve. I probably could emphasize “security” and take it easy more often. But that gets boring so fast. Repetition of something done well can reinforce skills. But big improvements tend to be found when one busts out of the comfort zone.

    Your team clearly worked hard and played with heart, especially making up so much ground in the last game. I bet you all improved tremendously through the hard work. Bravo! It takes a lot of fortitude to keep coming back and working hard when you’re getting beaten over and over. You have every reason to celebrate.

    1. It’s true, for me, that my form will break down if the opponents are TOO good. I get rushed and/or anxious, and it’s harder to focus on fundamentals. I need challenge within reason.

  3. All great points. Playing with better players will ultimately get you to the next level, Winning always feels better and strokes the ego. I often have to remember to leave my ego behind when going into a match. It takes a lot of mental energy to play tennis, I might need to practice that along with my ground strokes and volleys!

    1. I need to work on leaving my ego behind, too. It’s so hard! But really it just gets in the way. So how do we do that? Sounds like a yoga/mindfulness thing…

  4. When you play someone better than yourself you don’t just see what you need to work on. You get better just by playing them. You start to move faster, think quicker, and you see where you are being taken advantage of and immediately move to correct. Practice helps, no question, but just the act of playing the match will elevate your game, too.

    1. Agreed–there’s an improvement that just happens almost subconsciously. I do feel I need more exposure to that level of play, though. Experiencing it only once a week may not be enough for that organic game development to happen.

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