Although it seems distant and unreal to me now, I was a bit of a pudgy, awkward, unathletic kid until I finally unearthed my inner Sport Chick around the time I hit middle school. However, one thing I always remember enjoying--even in my early, anti-exercise days--is tennis. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn't required to run up and down the length of a field...or perhaps it was the jaunty ponytails and crisp, perfectly-coordinated outfits the cute pro-girls wore...but somehow with a racket in my hand I didn't mind sweating in the summer sun on a baking-hot asphalt court, chasing balls around in circles. The satisfying thwack of a well-hit shot as it skimmed over the net gave me a thrill that made it all worthwhile.
And I still love it to this day, when I have the time (and energy...and a partner!) to play. So last summer I was sooo pleased when Derek (then age 9) expressed an interest in taking up the sport (no surprise, really, since he plays absolutely everything else involving a ball already, and must leave no game untried!) I gave him an old racket of mine, and we headed off to the courts near our house to give it a whirl. We only managed to practice a few times last summer, but by the time school started again I could already tell that my days of "taking it easy on him" were going to be very limited...as in "over before you know it." Although he's average height, and has always been on the skinny side, he possesses that enviable, can't-be-taught quality: Natural Athleticism. This works both for and against him in some ways, though; he picks up sports with astonishing ease and progresses quickly, but he also expects to start playing immediately at the level of, say, Andy Roddick.
Right at this moment, the benefit of my size and experience means that my strokes are stronger, and more accurate, and more consistent than his, of course. But he already, at age 10, comes up to my chin. And he's starting to show the tall, lanky, long-armed-and-legged build of his father. And he's ridiculously quick on his feet. I see him getting just a little better each time we face each other. So in a year or two, he's going to be able to get to everything I hit over the net, and his technique will have improved to the point that he can return all of my shots. I only hope that by then, since he will be just a little bit older and wiser, he will also have figured out that Good Sportsmanship, at least in the friendly, family game of tennis means: "not beating up on Mom"!