I’ve only ever known life with tennis in it. I started playing before I can remember, and I immediately developed a passion for the game.
I trained hard at a young age, always incredibly competitive and determined to improve. While I initially played other sports and was academically driven, my love for tennis outweighed everything else I did. I identified myself through the game.
When I came to Vassar, my relationship with tennis improved. Although I injured my elbow almost immediately, I grew as a player. This past season I played the best tennis of my career at one doubles with my best friend. Our two wins against Skidmore, once during the Liberty League Championships, are the highlight of my college experience.
Despite many wonderful memories, tennis eventually stopped being fun and became a job. With so many obligations that come with senior year, I decided to quit the team.
Quitting has never been a part of my vocabulary, especially when it comes to tennis. I never thought anything would break my bond with the thing I cared about most. Which is why, while leaving made sense, it also scared me half to death.
I worried about upsetting my friends and family. I left my team and my doubles partner. And I feared my dad, a professional coach, would be disappointed in my decision. Along with the mental tug of war I faced, I was concerned about the physical changes I’d have.
I would no longer have practice two hours a day, a lifting schedule, weekend matches or teammates. I was now in completely unchartered territory.
What would I do with my time? Would I ever play to the best of my abilities again? Who was I now that I didn’t play the sport I’ve always had?
When I quit, I had no idea how to answer these questions. My identity was in limbo, and frankly it still is. I never thought I’d face the struggle of not knowing who I am because I’ve always been a varsity athlete.
This must be how student-athlete alums feel. When you leave college, you also leave your sport. Maybe you don’t stop playing, but you likely won’t get the same challenging competition or schedule. The real world doesn’t allow for that.
But the real world is a valid excuse for graduates to stop playing their sport. You get a job and just stop having time. Although I didn’t need an excuse, I did question my decision because I still loved tennis.
After the spring season I took a break over the summer. I was so exhausted, almost overrun from playing so much. I think that I hit less than 10 times and I actually felt guilty about it. I had just played the best tennis of my life and now I wasn’t playing at all. What a bad athlete I was.
Then I realized my decision might make me love tennis more because now I could play on my terms. I could still have the same passion that I’ve always had even if I wasn’t constantly playing. I may not ever be as good as I was last season, but that’s okay.
I’ll just be good at other things too. I will always identify as a tennis player, but that shouldn’t be my only defining factor. While tennis has given me experiences and relationships I am grateful for, I need to let other things give me those same opportunities.
I knew the day would come where I wouldn’t be a varsity athlete anymore, I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. As I reflect on my decision, I’m glad that day came early. I do miss playing, the competition and camaraderie, but I think I’m already becoming a better, wholer person.