Student Reflection: my growth as a Tennis Player, a Person, and a Leader

Student Reflection: my growth as a Tennis Player, a Person, and a Leader
  • Athletics
  • Outside the Classroom
  • Upper Division
Ilan S.

By Ilan S., Denver JDS 12th Grader


   I come from a family of avid tennis players, my mother was one of the best players in her home country of Venezuela and both my siblings played for the George Washington High School varsity tennis team. I did not have that same desire. I had been on and off with tennis throughout the years. I would play it for fun, but not competitively or with any real commitment. Going into high school, my tennis career was up in the air. I wasn’t particularly motivated to pursue any further opportunities having to do with tennis. Thankfully, the tennis player in my mom was not going to let my tennis career trickle away so easily. She convinced me to attend a tennis camp at Cherry Creek high school and then I would try out for the team at Overland high school. One really unique part about athletics at DJDS is any sport that is not offered at DJDS, you are eligible to play at your local jurisdiction public high school. So I decided to take full advantage of this opportunity. 

   A very timid Ilan walked onto the court to play the number one player at the high school. I got trounced, I probably won three points the whole match and I exited the court in low spirits. After a couple more placement matches, to my disappointment, I landed at 3 doubles for my freshman year. Overall, I loved the tennis season. I had an entirely new social group and I discovered my love for the sport. However, After a lackluster freshman year where I won just two matches at 3 doubles, I was left wanting more. I wanted to be a singles player and a successful one at that. From that moment on I became a year-round tennis player. I trained in the winter at an indoor facility called Denver Tennis Park, and when the weather allowed I went to go hit with my teammates. 


    Sophomore year came around and I was ready to prove myself as a much-improved tennis player. Unfortunately, Covid limited the potential that this season had as far as having fun with my teammates. But skill-wise, this season was a huge step in the right direction for me. I was now the 2 singles player and I was much more successful in the outcomes of my matches, finishing a modest 7-3 in the regular season. Socially, I became very close friends with four of my teammates. To this day I still spend time and communicate with these friends. All this being said, my sophomore year season was perhaps the most underwhelming of my four seasons of playing varsity tennis, covid limited the number of matches that could be played, the social gatherings outside of the tennis court, and the team events that were usually had. Regionals were an entirely different format and did not have our accustomed end-of-season banquet. As grateful as I was for my growth as a player during sophomore, I was once again left wanting more from the tennis season. 
Junior year emerged and the team entered the season with some questions left to be answered. With 75% of the team having graduated, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a full team. Among these graduates were two of my close friends on the team. 
I wasn’t particularly excited moving into this season. I was once again two singles which I was happy with. I had still spent the past year improving in my game, and not moving up to one singles was not a disappointment for me. I knew that being as successful as I was last year at two singles, I could attempt to make a real run this year in the postseason.


   The start of the season came, and our roster was filled with freshmen and sophomores that had in many cases never picked up a racket before. This was almost a complete reset for the overland tennis program. There were only four players on the team with any tennis experience. But now that covid had settled down a little bit, we were allowed to have a more regular season. I made new friends on the team, and I had an even more successful regular season. Now the pressure was on for me to perform in the regional tournament. It was the first I had ever entered the postseason with any real expectations. I entered as the one seed for my position in the tournament. Two of the five players in this draw made it to state and I was confident that I could make it happen. My first match was a real wake-up call though. I lost the first set of the match and was losing my cool. Luckily, I was able to regroup and find it in myself to grind the match out. I ended up winning the match and was in a position where I had to win one of my last two matches to advance to the state tournament. My next match came and went, I played a far superior player and he made easy work of me. I prepared myself for my next match. I knew that this was my time to capitalize and achieve my goal of making the state tournament. The build-up to this match was extremely intense, I spent time thinking about the possible outcomes as the match was delayed due to rainy conditions. Finally, I hear my name called. I nervously took the court as I prepared for the biggest match of my life. The start was a dream come true— up 4 games to 0 on my serve. As I slowly bounced the ball, I remember a moment of worry: “What if I blow this lead?” I struggled to breathe; the panic had completely consumed me. What followed was a meltdown: 12 games were lost in a row. In what felt like a nightmarish blink, my season and my hopes of qualifying for State were gone. I walked off the court teary-eyed, still, in the hole I entered back when I was up 4-0, reflecting on what could have been. I had spent the past year training for this moment—tennis had been my entire world. At that moment, my world felt like it was falling apart. 


    The two weeks that followed that match were spent experiencing what I now have come to understand was depression. It was a feeling I was familiar with, but had never acknowledged. I now know and can categorize that emotion because after those two weeks, I decided to see a mindfulness coach. I had toyed with this idea in the past, but the cathartic meltdown at regionals pushed me to finally initiate it. My experience with my coach has gifted me with a vocabulary to describe the emotions I’ve always struggled with and helped me develop a set of skills to cope with them. One key practice that I’ve embraced is meditation, which helps me live more in the present. I strive to sit in stillness for 20-30 minutes each day. To be present. To breathe. At first, I couldn’t help but instantly start to become anxious about what I should be doing other than, seemingly, nothing. However, I soon came to realize that mindfulness is about growing empathy and patience for yourself. Soon enough, I found myself understanding these anxieties, acknowledging them, accepting them with more compassion, and learning to appreciate the experience of watching them shrink.

    After starting this practice I was more motivated to be the best tennis player that I could be. I spent the next several months preparing myself to have an opportunity to play tennis in college. I would train as much as I could, I reached out to college coaches, and my mind was fully set on playing tennis at a small, division three college. However, something changed that mentality. Basketball season rolled around, and I found it extremely difficult to balance tennis and basketball, and frankly, I found myself enjoying basketball much more than I did tennis. I told myself that I would take a two-month break from tennis during the basketball season, but basketball season came and went, and I was still no more motivated to play tennis. Basketball season was followed by the HIP trip, and it was after this month in Israel that I came to terms with myself. As difficult as it was, I decided to put the three months of hard preparation behind me and let the idea of college tennis go. I realized that I enjoyed tennis much more as a simple hobby. 


    Following a long summer in Israel, my senior year tennis season began pretty much the second I stepped foot back in Denver. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect for this season at all. I hadn’t picked up a racket for most of the summer, the last players with experience on the team had all graduated, and this left me as the only senior on the team as well as the only player with more than one year of experience under my belt. This meant that I was the team captain and the leader of the tennis team. I was the one singles player and the one that everyone looked up to. I went into this season with a completely different mindset though. I let my expectations go, I let the pressure go, and I decided I was going to make the best of an unfavorable situation. I made new friends, I played my hardest, and I understood that the result was not the most important part of my season. I finished with my most successful regular season, and I went into my last regional tournament, my last chance to qualify for the state tournament.

    So fast forward to tennis regionals, senior year, October 2022. I am entering the court for what could very well be the final match of my high school tennis career. As I warmed up with my opponent in the chilly fall air, it was clear that I was the weaker player on the court. The match started contentiously, but I quickly went down 3-6, 4-5. I was one game from elimination. As I bounced the ball in preparation for my serve, I closed my eyes and told myself: “Breathe.” This time, I did. I won the second set. I found myself in a position where I had all the momentum moving into the third set. Unfortunately, I eventually lost the match, but as the final point concluded, I shook my opponent's hand and walked off the court with the same result as the previous year—no State. Except this time, I held my head high. I realized that the growth I’d experienced over the past year and how it manifested on the court that day was, by far, my greatest victory to date.

    As I look back on my high school tennis experience, I must admit that the first emotion I feel is disappointment. Four years, never qualifying for state, is the first thing that comes to mind. But as I continue to think about it, I realize the growth that I have experienced in every way. Growth as a tennis player, as a person, and as a leader. I look back at all the new lifelong friends that I have made in this experience. Because of my four years of high school tennis, I feel better prepared for any future endeavors. While I never made the state tournament, everything else that I learned throughout my experience will forever outshine any failures that I may have had on the tennis court.



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