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Life Lessons Learned on the Tennis Courts

What was your favorite class in High School?  For me, hands down,  Study Hall.

It was in Study Hall that I was able to concentrate for a solid hour each day and complete all my homework.  This freed up my afternoons and evenings to play tennis.

I usually had a private lesson with my coach, once or twice a week around 3pm.  He was #1 at USF and although he had flat strokes and a slice backhand, he was phenomenal.  In fact, he used the same grip for both forehand and backhand.  He moved with precision and could place the ball anywhere at anytime.  Really fast with good anticipation and never got tired.  Serve wasn't really fast, but could pinpoint accuracy every single time.  Strangely, he used an old T2000 metal racquet even though the reps would have given him any one he wanted.

And he taught me his game.  Endurance, consistency and accuracy.

He'd have me hit nothing but forehands, cross court, the ball had to land behind the baseline, 25 times in a row.  If you missed a single shot, you started over.  Then forehands down the line, 25 in a row.  Then, the backhand cross court and down the line.  Then volley's.  Then overheads.  And running exercises.  Strength exercises.  Extend your arm, racquet up, with 25 balls stacked on your racket.  Hold it there for as long as you can.  Bounce the ball repetitively for 100 times as fast as you can.  Place your back against the fence, knees bent as if sitting on an imaginary chair, hold it for a minute (also called the electric chair).  Run and touch the line on the other side, then back, do that 50 times as fast as you can.  Run around the tennis complex.

Suffice to say, if you took lessons from Cid, there's a good chance you were in shape.  He also gave me exercises to do at home.  Weights, running, bench press.  My favorite exercise was the jump rope.  Jump 100 times.  Then 100 more left leg.  100 more right leg.  Then double jumps, where you spin the rope twice and jump once, see how many in a row.  I didn't have an ounce of fat at that time.  It also helped that I played years of soccer and had the foot coordination, hand eye coordination and speed.

Cid had me hit left handed forehands.  Why, first of all, because I was stronger in the left arm and threw the ball lefty, yet played tennis righty.  Second, the two handed backhand is basically a left handed forehand, with the right hand along for the ride.  My backhand was indeed the strongest shot and more of a weapon than a defensive shot.

Towards the end of my senior year, it got to the point, where I could keep up with Cid on keeping the ball in play and although I wasn't at his level, it raised your confidence that you could place the ball anywhere at any time, run down any ball and you weren't going to lose a match because you were out of shape.

Tampa also had a group of junior tennis players that took lessons from an ex-Bolliteri Academy teacher.  The best kids in town were there and practice about every day.  You got some really good matches and drills and some nice people.  Yet underneath, there was always the competition and pecking order.

I remember, I was really quiet and my mother arranged for another player to drive me to practice.  He attended a private school and was from Canada and was sponsored by one of the tennis racquet companies so he always had free racquets and bags and supplies but he didn't mind the extra gas money each day.

This guy was academically brilliant.  And although I was starving for intellectual stimulation at the public school, we had the most amazing conversations about science and physics and free choice verses pre-determined lives and all sorts of things.  He really opened up my mind to more advance thinking and gave some confidence on the courts as well.  He got an academic scholarship to Harvard.

And there was a girl there that attended a private school as well and she had written a poem about me, let me read it, but not keep it.  Was about some mirage out in the distance on a hot road, the closer you got, the further it got.  I didn't know she liked me, but we dated for a while.  She too went to Harvard, got a PhD there I think.  My game also got better around that time and I was winning most of my matches at the #1 spot on the high school team.

Another guy went on to play in college and then the pros.  I lost to him in the district finals at the number one position, and then hung up my racquets to work a summer job, then college.

Tennis was the foundation of my life in Florida from 8th grade to 12th.  It opened doors that I otherwise wouldn't have had and introduced me to some very talented people.  The one thing they don't tell you, is after you stop playing competitive tennis for so long, what exactly are you supposed to do in life.  And that's a question I've been trying to answer for close to 30 years now.

In the end, the life experiences will always stay with you.  And those are the treasures we carry with us.