Does losing a lot make me a loser?

So I lost another tennis match last weekend.  This is nothing new, really.  As my high school son remarked on Skype to his college siblings, “Yeah, Mom likes tennis, she plays a lot.  Most of the time she loses.”  Which pretty much sums up the past few months on the tennis court for me.  And it’s getting annoying, because I think I’m actually playing better than I did before – I’m just not winning, that’s all.

For a while last summer, after one of the worst USTA (United States Tennis Association) seasons of my life, I thought about giving up tennis.  Turning my energies to something where I had a chance to improve.  But to what?  Not yoga – a teacher once stood beside me and loudly suggested that “some students” could benefit from private lessons before coming to group classes.  And this was after I had been doing yoga for a year.  Certainly not golf — don’t even go there.  Handicrafts?  No, thanks.  Cooking?  Although I enjoy it, I don’t see myself cooking more than I do now: I’m not going to teach classes or write cookbooks, blog about food, and so on.  My husband doesn’t want the next Barefoot Contessa anyway — at least he doesn’t want a wife of that size (now Giada de Laurentis, that might be another story).

So I figured I might as well keep playing tennis, since I like the sport, enjoy getting exercise outdoors — plus I like the clothes, the social aspect and organizing teams.  Even though I’d been starting to think of myself as a loser, not merely as someone who loses more than she wins, I told myself this attitude had to change.  That the self-criticism had to stop.  If I couldn’t play and have fun, there was no point in playing.  So for a couple of months I avoided playing tennis in leagues at my club, because they felt too evaluative.  I played random people for fun, and I didn’t think much about the results.  Tennis almost became a recreational activity again.

But I missed the organized matches.  So this fall I went back to league tennis.  I resolved to stop judging myself and just play.  To stop talking so much and watch the ball more.  Hard to do — at least hard for me.  I’m starting to see some improvement, however – but it’s not yet reversed my losing record.

And that’s the rub.  Because in tennis matches that “count,” captains won’t pair you with a strong partner unless you’re playing well, i.e., winning.  And you don’t stand a good chance of winning unless you’re paired with a strong partner.  So I have to win in order to impress the captains of my teams who are making decisions about when I get to play and whom I partner with.  But without a good partner, it’s tough to win.  And sometimes if your partner is perceived to be a lot better than you, the win is credited to her abilities, not yours.  See what I mean?  Just playing “for fun” is a nice idea, but that’s not how it works in ladies tennis.   [Read more…]