The Desire for Improvement

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I gripped the tennis racquet tightly. I felt like I was going to pass out, but the familiar feel of the handle kept me conscious. I wasn’t going to faint. For one thing, I was alone with no one to help. But what was more important was that fainting was a sign of failure. Failure wasn’t an option, as the song playing through my headphones told me. Failure was weakness. Weakness proved I couldn’t handle it.
The wall of the school loomed in front of me, pockmarked from all the balls I sent spiraling into it. I spent hours of my life, most days after school, during the weekends and even before school at this wall, with the hopes that it could help my consistency. But what I most needed was a coach or even a partner to guide me. I was all alone on my quest to improve. Just me, my racquet and a couple of worn-out tennis balls.
For the past several hours, I played the wall and every time, I lost. I was delusional, maybe from the exhaustion or maybe from my competitive streak, but I kept on thinking that I could beat the wall. I had to or I wasn’t good enough to make Varsity next year. My classmates, the ones who were as avid for the sport as me, were all better than me. Years of their childhood were spent playing this sport while I spent my younger years, practicing math and playing video games. What a waste. But I’m paying the price now. At every possible moment, I’m playing tennis. When I’m not doing homework, when I can find time to walk to the courts, when it’s not raining, I come to practice. Even sometimes when it’s raining, I go. The logical side of me always asks why, but every time, I answer back with the same remark. Because somewhere out there, a better player is practicing in an indoor court, widening the gap between us. I wasn’t going to let the Washington rain get to me.
My obsession for the game drives my parents insane, but I can’t bring myself to tell them that this was my only chance at being good at something. My determination to become better can be divided into two parts. One part is my love and genuine passion for the sport and the other is the realization that I have never been good at anything ever in my life. With tennis, I have my chance to shine. The willpower, the resolve, the passion and the equipment; I had everything one would need to improve. Everything, except for the skills. Try as I might, I can’t do it. I can’t improve fast enough. On the road for superiority, my classmates are leaving me in the dust with their natural athletic ability and prior years of experience. Every time I miss the ball or hit it wrong, I can feel the frustration build up inside of me. Why can’t I get any better?
A friend of mine tells me that my work ethic is amazing, but what good is that when it doesn’t even work. No matter how many hours I spend practicing and playing, my classmates outclass me in every component of the game. They have better control, footwork and power than me. How am I supposed to compete with their faster serves and superior technique?
But it’s not like I’m going to give up. I’ve quit so many things in my life that I tell myself everyday that I’m going to get better at tennis or die trying. Literally. Every time I pick up my racquet, I can still feel the hope. Maybe one day I’ll make Varsity. If not next year, than the year after that or even the year after that. And even if I don’t, I’ve still got my entire life to improve. I may not ever be a tennis hotshot, competing in tournaments or playing for an elite team, but I’ve still got the drive for improvement and the passion for the sport. And that’s the type of motivation that will never go away.
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As I excuse myself to play tennis, a friend asks me why I spend so much time and effort into the sport. My reply is simple:
“I can’t stop practicing if there’s someone out there that’s better than me.”
“Are you serious? There’s an entire professional league out there. There’s always going to be someone better than you.”
“Then I’ll never stop practicing.”





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