On the true value of athletics

Colter Upton, '20

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For years sports were a job to me. Hours of practice, endless stress, and constant pressure to perform. As a young child I played every sport imaginable. But slowly as I grew older and coaches started demanding more of my time my list narrowed down to a specific few. Soccer was my ticket to a social life and ski racing was my passion. The one thing both these sports had in common was intensity. Fourteen hours on the soccer pitch and skiing six days a week takes a toll. My devotion to practice time did pay off. Freshman year of high school I lettered in soccer and was ranked one of the fastest in the state for ski racing. However the pressure to perform was always there. My whole life I was among the fastest on the slopes. I was always a favorite to win every race. Now, that may not sound like the worst thing in the world but I was missing something. I wanted a sport where I wasn’t the favorite and I felt no pressure to compete at the top level.

I had always wanted to try tennis but the task of starting a sport at age 14 was intimidating for me. It just felt wrong to try something I had never done before knowing I was going to struggle. Nevertheless I wrote my name down on the signup sheet. Little did I know of the enjoyment, success, and lasting friendships it would bring.

Walking out of the locker rooms for the first practice everything just seemed so surreal. There were no screaming coaches or pressure of making the cut. Just a bunch of laid back kids messing around and having fun. By the end of that first practice I knew I wasn’t going to regret my decision.

The atmosphere at practices were so much more enjoyable than anything I had been a part of. The no stress environment allowed for much more enjoyment in sports. To make it better — after just few practices I started to get the hang of the sport. By the first week I figured I might even have a chance at making the varsity lineup.

Sure enough, that Saturday found me on a bus heading to play my first match. Sure I lost, but having the whole team cheering on the little freshman who didn’t even know how to keep score made everything worth it.

Fast forward to the middle of my junior year. Time to brush off the dust and get excited for the upcoming season. Looking back on my favorite moments from the past two years — my mind fills with memories of long bus rides ranting about school and blasting music, running the halls of hotels causing trouble, and of course intense dingles matches. These are the things that make tennis so enjoyable. The times spent with quality people who have the same common love for athletics. This is why we play sports. Not for the biggest trophy but for the best inside joke. Ask any professional athlete the most memorable moment of their career, they will respond not with their best accomplishment but of the time the had the most fun with their friends. For it is not the achievements that we remember best but the shared laughs. The success of a career should not be measured in games won, but by the friendships created. And for that reason I cannot thank my younger self enough for having the courage to try something new. It has created lifelong friends, endless hours of enjoyment, and forced me to realize the true value of athletics.

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