When I look back on my childhood, most of my memories seem to surround one thing: tennis.
It all started when I was 3 or 4, when mum called me into her bedroom and presented me with a present; a big, flat white box with a bow around it. I opened it eagerly, and inside I found some sports clothes and a little tennis racquet.
Not long after, I was hooked.
Natalia now and then (with a tennis participation trophy.) Images: supplied.
From evenings spent in group classes and (eventually) private lessons, to holidays spent at tennis camp, there was a time that I lived and breathed the sport.
Having played the game regularly for more than a decade, I definitely picked up a thing or two – and not all skills that I kept on the court. The lessons that tennis taught me have carried through to other areas of my life and help shaped me to who I am today.
Here are five life lessons that I learnt playing tennis.
Your attitude is more important than how good you are.
One of the most important lessons I learnt by playing tennis is that you should always bring a positive mental attitude to the court. It’s not about how good you are, it’s just about giving it a go and being open to constantly learning and improving.
When I was playing tennis, if I was in a good mood and filled with self-belief, my game would be better, my resilience to a bad shot or a lost point was much higher, and I had far more fun. These days taught me that a little positivity and self-love goes a long way.
Tennis mimics life that way: if you bring a positive attitude to whatever you’re doing, you’ll not only have more fun, but you’ll actually perform better and improve yourself more. This helped me be more focused and present in school, during extracurricular activities like music and art, and also a lesson that I draw on heavily now that I’m in the workforce.
"This helped me be more focused and present in school, during extracurricular activities like music and art." Image: iStock.
It’s important to make good relationships with people around you.
Tennis is seen as an individual sport but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that tennis is usually taught in a group environment that not only helps you build your social skills, but teaches you how to work as a team too.
Growing up participating in weekly group classes and going to tennis camps was a great way to make friends outside of school. We’d have tonnes of fun playing practice matches, enjoying games like Around the World, enjoying doubles matches and helping each other improve through teaching one another the techniques and tricks that we’d mastered. In this way, tennis facilitated an environment that helped us learn from one another and work with each other – as well as making good friends who support you on and off the court.
Learning how to form and maintain positive relationships has been so valuable off the court. I’ve been able to apply the teamwork skills that I learnt at tennis when undertaking group assignments at uni, in different volunteering projects that I’ve undertaken, as well as in collaborating with colleagues in the workplace.
Practice makes perfect.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were tennis greats like Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic. In tennis, it’s okay to make mistakes; the important thing is to give it a go and keep learning and trying.
In this way, I learnt that in tennis and in life, the match isn’t won on the court – it’s won in the hours of preparation. Showing up to every training session and giving it your best shot is what counts over time. Setting small goals that you work towards will not only help you improve yourself, but will also fill you with a sense of achievement that motivates you to keep working and improving.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were tennis greats like Venus and Serena Williams. Image: Getty.
Healthy body, healthy mind.
As a kid, you have a lot of time to play sport and run around and be active. Growing up playing tennis meant that I was active several times a week and I’d always feel better after a training session. Over time, my strength, agility and coordination improved and because I had so much fun doing it, it never felt like it was a chore to exercise.
After I’d play tennis, I was more energetic, I’d sleep better, I’d be physically more capable and – most importantly – I was happier.
This love for fitness and exercise has stayed with me as an adult and is a crucial part of keeping me feeling happy and healthy. Being physically active helps give you a positive mental and emotional state and enables you to seize the day.
Having fun is the most important thing.
If I ever got frustrated during my tennis years, all I had to do was to step back, stop taking it all so seriously and remember why I’d been playing for so long: because I loved it. I love running around on the court and feeling the sun on my skin. I love the feeling of hitting the perfect serve down the line, and I love that now, even as an adult, I can feel the same way I did as a child, spending time having a hit with my colleagues after work, having fun and staying fit.
"This love for fitness and exercise has stayed with me as an adult and is a crucial part of keeping me feeling happy and healthy." Image: iStock.
Giving myself the space to fall in love with the sport again and have fun would always bring me back to a healthy frame of mind and was what ultimately kept me playing for so long.
I’ve found that this same principle applies in other areas of life. From sport to exams to career progression, if you do something that you really enjoy, you’re most likely going to find success and fulfillment.
Happiness is, after all, found in the journey, not in the destination.
How has playing a sport made you a better person?
ANZ Tennis Hot Shots is a Tennis Australia program just for kids. Smaller courts, lighter racquets and lower bouncing balls make learning tennis fun and easy. ANZ Tennis Hot Shots coaching sessions are run by qualified coaches across the country. They’re run in small groups where kids are introduced to a sport that they can play for life. There are four stages of ANZ Tennis Hot Shots each using different equipment, court sizes and game rules appropriate to the child’s age and skill level. ANZ Tennis Hot Shots is available at over 2,500 venues across Australia. Visit hotshots.tennis.com.au to find your closest venue.