How a Wall Changed My Life

As a beginner tennis player, I spent many summer afternoons at the local swim club's courts playing with my enthusiastic dad. I enjoyed the game because I had finally found an outlet for my competitive nature which other sports, such as swimming, basketball, and softball, had not been able to completely satisfy. Something about the hyperactive neon balls bouncing fast and hard appealed to me-and the hot pink racket my parents gave me didn't hurt, either. On the courts, I would chase my dad's shots, and, as I became a more proficient player, my returns gained speed and spin. I desperately wanted to get better.

What held me back, however, was my temper. I soon realized that my tearful tantrums at lost points were not acceptable. My desperate prayers were useless because I figured God probably wouldn't bother with a freckly ten-year-old preoccupied with winning, anyway. In search of temper control and a superlative adversary, I turned to the shabby maroon backboard behind Court 2 and began to experiment with the mysterious wall.

At first, I stood a courageous two feet from the backboard, and hesitantly began to volley with the formidable wall. Of course, my timid forehands and inconsistent backhands were no match for the backboard, which often sent me venturing into the poison-ivy infested area behind the wall for balls I had angrily slammed over the fence.

Sometimes, I hated the wall, but I could not stop playing against it. Even after telling myself that I would try just once more to return all the shots from the backboard, I would make several more attempts before I, finally out of breath, would admit defeat and angrily trudge back to the pool. The backboard always beat me, and I rarely showed good sportsmanship. Luckily, the wall did not seem to mind.

I returned to the backboard again and again. The more time I spent practicing there, the farther back I was able to stand, and the harder my groundstrokes became. The backboard still frustrated me with almost every encounter, and sometimes my anger caused the tears characteristic of my first few years of playing. Eventually, however, with time and practice, I learned to channel my aggravation into a more aggressive style of playing.

The backboard was a steadfast enemy that eventually became a friend. More than just honing my technical skills, the backboard helped me become a more focused athlete who could better accept losses. The wall taught me patience, determination, and especially self-control. Now, when I hear the expression "hitting a wall", I don't associate the phrase with failure. Because the backboard made me a better tennis player, I realize how beneficial hitting a wall has been and can be for me. In the future, I expect to encounter many challenges, but I plan to face those obstacles with determination, just as I did with the backboard.

Anne Grant is a senior at Villa Maria Academy.