When I first started playing tennis I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was 13 at the time and I was doubtful of myself and very self-conscience. I didn’t really know this. All I knew is that I would get fearful and nervous when I played. Little did I know that this would later prevent me from doing my best.
I played tennis throughout my high school years and I felt I was never good enough. I always put myself down when I couldn’t hit the ball right or when I couldn’t do a certain stroke. I hated myself when I made mistakes. And it was worse when my Coach would watch me play; I felt like he was watching me with a critical eye, seeing all my faults and mistakes. I felt embarrassed and ashamed during my matches.
I spent all my tennis years trying to improve my game. I went to tennis camps during summer vacations, and hardly ever missed after-school practice. Once, I asked my Coach what I was doing wrong and what I should do to improve, and I remember him saying “You have potential. The problem is you think you can’t play well, so you don’t.”
At the time I didn’t understand this. I felt I was doing all I could to improve my tennis game. And I never got the results I wanted. I never played at the level I imagined myself to be playing at. Because of this I felt like I failed and I couldn’t forgive myself.
After I graduated from high school I decided not to continue playing tennis. I felt it wasn’t for me, and that sense of failure still lingered. I was disappointed and I wanted to forget all about tennis.
But somehow, when I stopped playing tennis I suddenly realized what was wrong all along. It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough or because I didn’t have the potential to play. No. I only lacked one thing: confidence. I didn’t believe in myself, in my ability to play well. I now understand why it was so difficult for me to improve my tennis game. I simply lacked self- confidence. In my mind I thought I was never good enough, and so I never was. It took me a while to accept this truth and to forgive myself for all those times I treated myself badly.
Even though I don’t have triumphant memories of winning tournaments or championships, I do feel I gained something valuable from playing tennis.
Tennis showed me my strengths and weaknesses as a person. It helped me grow. It taught me the importance of self-confidence and the power of believing in myself in order to accomplish things.
But the greatest lesson I learned is that when you rid yourself of your problems and fears, your true self and potential shine through and you discover who you really are; and it so much easier to love yourself.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.