Sam Smith is no novice when it comes to athletics; he’s been throwing around balls practically since he could walk. He has played both basketball and football, but throughout his childhood and into high school, his #1 sport has always been baseball.
“Baseball was enjoyable because A. I was good at it and B. it didn’t require a whole lot of emotion to play it.”
Entering junior year of high school, Sam was confident that he would make the varsity team, and for good reason. For the past two years he had played pitcher and had led his team in strikeouts sophomore year. The baseball field was his familiar territory, the place where he belonged.
But then the unthinkable happened: not only did Sam not make varsity, but also he was cut from the baseball team. Although he had shown exceptional pitching skills, he wasn’t a hitter, and that had ultimately cost him his spot on the team.
Sam recounts his parents’ reaction to the news: “The first thing my dad said was, ‘Well, want to try tennis now?’ He had been a tennis coach for twenty years and had always tried to push it on me and my brother and sister, but we never went for it. We always played other sports.”
Without baseball to turn to, Sam finally decided to cave and give in, and that winter he and his dad joined a tennis club.
For the first time he found himself on a court instead of a field. Used to being good at sports, Sam quickly became very frustrated when he realized that tennis didn’t come naturally to him.
“[I had to] come to grips with the fact that I wasn’t good at something immediately, especially athletically.”
The next few months, Sam was forced to learn the lessons of perseverance and patience the hard way. He went through three rackets during that year alone after slamming them in frustration after missing a point. He knew he had it in him to play better and was fed-up he wasn’t playing as well as he knew he was capable of.
Spring of junior year was full of disappointing loses, but Sam wasn’t willing to give up. Determined to improve, he decided to play tennis again during his senior year.
To prepare, he spent the summer practicing with his friend Jordan. Just like Sam, Jordan was also a tennis novice. Together, the pair learned how to take the game less seriously and not be so hard on themselves.
Sam fondly recalls: “We laughed at each other to keep from going crazy.”
All of their hard work and dedication paid off. Senior year Sam and Jordan won match after match, and were eventually undefeated in conference. Sam recounts that year as his most enjoyable year of playing any sport.
Besides, teaching him humility and patience, tennis has been a way for Sam to connect with his father.
He reflects on how this experience affected his relationship with his dad:
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When asked if he could go back and change how everything worked out, Sam considers for a moment before replying, “I would kind of like to see how I would have handled varsity baseball, but at the same time I think I’m better off for playing tennis instead. I learned that something that… made me angry for a good solid year was something I could [learn to] love. I still love tennis and play it to this day. It’s kind of a story of God’s faithfulness and how He taught me something even though [at the time] it seemed like a really bad situation.”
Featured photo credit: rudyproject.com