The biggest test of friendships


What a Racquet tennis racquet and ball

I’ve just got back from Sydney where I’ve been for the last week.  It seemed like a nice place; I liked the hour I spent around Circular Quay looking at the Opera House anyway.  The rest of the time I spent either cooped up in a small self catering apartment in Parramatta or surrounded by concrete all day.  Why would I do that in the first week of the Spring school holidays when most people are off for their first camping trip of the summer or preparing to spend the weekend with friends and family enjoying the AFL Grand Final?  The simple answer is, obviously, tennis.   It’s Spring Nationals time, when the best young players in the country battle it out in their never ending quest for success in this, their chosen sport. 

It’s tough, it’s  brutal and it’s bloody hard work.  And that’s just for the parents.  For the kids it’s not just tough and brutal on their bodies but what it does to them emotionally, from a sport perspective, is something no participant in any other sport has to endure, in my opinion.

I watch these talented children go on court, match after match, tournament after tournament, full of the healthy desire to win and the less healthy, but just as necessary, fear of losing.  They talk to eachother before matches, giving tips on their opponent’s form (“Hit it to his backhand” or  “His second serve is weak”), and after matches they ask eachother how it went and either commiserate or congratulate, “Good job.  Score?” 

They are all good friends off court.  They discuss their favourite Pros, they share music, compare games on their phones, talk about who will win the Footy Grandfinal, they run around between matches kicking a football, playing mini tennis, just doing what other teenagers do.  They support eachother, respect eachother, care for eachother.  

To the casual observer they look like any bunch of young teenagers on a team tour doing what they love most; playing their sport and having fun with their friends.  Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

And yet it’s tough because at some point or other, in this tournament or another down the track, they will be facing one of their friends on the other side of the net and that’s when their desire to win kicks in and takes over and the person at the other end ceases to be their friend for the next hour, or two, or even three.   There is a job to be done.  At the end of the day, they want to compete and they want to win.  And they all hate losing.  This is why they are good at what they do..  

I believe this develops a level of friendship between them all that goes far beyond regular teenage friendships.  On one hand they develop a deep respect for eachother; they speak the same language and want the same thing.  They are all beasts of a kind and are cut of the same cloth. When one of them loses the plot in a match (they all have a bit of McEnroe in them), where the parents or spectators wonder what the big deal is, the children get it.  They understand when one of their own is suffering because they’ve all been there and felt the pain of losing a tennis match.  

On the other hand, however, their friendships are tinged with a slight need to keep eachother at arm’s length because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much you like and respect someone, you will still want to beat them in competition. And when it’s lonely sport at the best of times, it’s even more lonely to be out there beating your best friend or being beaten by him in a situation where the desire to win overrides  all else. 

Afterwards they have to regroup themselves; find a way to get back to talking, to discussing football, results, latest playstation games.  Some of them slip easily into it, chatting while putting their racquets back in their bags or talking on the way to the tournament box to give in their results. Sometimes it might take an hour or so to get back to comfortable co-existence because losing hurts and they need time to lick their wounds.  On e few occasions it may take longer, it may take a few days or even until the next tournament to talk again. But it’s ok, they all get there in the end.  

It gets easier as they get older and mature.  I watch the older ones, the 15 year olds and older,  deal with it better and show the young ones how to be.  They are hardened players.  They play, they compete, they come off, they move on.  The younger ones will be like that eventually.  

But no other sport expects people of this young age to do this; to travel and train together, be friends together, eat together, learn together, and then at  some point go out there and face eachother in battle like young gladiators.  Like I said, it’s a brutal sport, physically, mentally and emotionally, but it is also one that I believe can build great grown ups and forge deep friendships among like minded people if we go about it the right way.