Love-0: The Politics of Suburban Tennis

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: I was at a benefit last month, and ran into an old friend. She is a Mom of two high-schoolers. She looked terrific. “Hi,” I said. “You look wonderful. It must be the tennis.” (I knew she was an avid player for years). Her face dropped: “Quite the opposite. I had to stop playing. It became so ‘political’ that it ruined the game for me.”

I was surprised, but not really. I am not a tennis player  (but LOVE LOVE tennis fashion). I have a bunch of friends who play or “played” tennis and have had similar experiences — aka: The Tennis Diaries, as one friend put it. It’s a Love/Hate sport, with much more going on behind-the-net than meets the eye. A few Moms explored the inner-workings of  “Game-Set-Match” with GW, and why this particular sport tends to bring out the Best & Worst in Suburban Momhood.

Here, one Mom shares her “tennis story”. Feel free to voice YOUR opinion if you have had a similar or very different experience.  xoxo LB

Anonymous, Mom of three kids — grammar school through high school

The most important thing to note when talking about adult suburban tennis is the fact that playing this type of tennis is not a “job” for any of us.  We are not competing for prize money that will help us pay our bills or send our kids to college.  None of us are going to Wimbledon.  Most, if not all of us, got into this kind of tennis to have fun and to get a little exercise.

For me, it started as a way to lose the baby weight, to meet some nice women, and to get two free hours of babysitting at the club nursery. Having played a bit when I was younger, I wanted to improve my game and meet new people with a common interest.


Over time, the casual once-a-week tennis drill somehow became drilling three times a week, and an ‘innocent’ game of doubles with the women you drilled with became a Game of Survival of the Fittest.


As your game improved, you were “scouted” by other women either looking to get better by having you in their drill or by women who were “better” than you (in their minds) asking you to join their group.  Without a doubt, the latter was preferable and hence the Stress of “the ladder” begins.
Getting to play with the “better” women led to meanness … and broken friendships. All of a sudden, having fun was measured on whether or not you were winning games. I soon discovered that even a winning record sometimes was not enough.


Becoming a better player CAN take a toll on friendships. The competitive scale rises, and each game is scrutinized. You may have an ‘off” game. The result can mean that your ‘friend’ may drop you from the game without warning.
I once had a good friend tell me that I could no longer play in the game I had been in for years because she wanted to “take the group to the Next Level and that my spot would be given to a higher-level player — because keeping me would mean a ‘lower-level’ game.”  That was the first time I really had my feelings hurt over tennis.


Despite that little setback, I did not let it stop me. I was determined to play. As my confidence grew, the idea of playing team tennis on the club’s tennis team became more appealing. At first playing on low-level teams is all about fun and teamwork. Going to other clubs is exciting and fun, and if you win — that’s even better. 


As you get to be a stronger player, you start to feel the stress of keeping your spot on the team and the disappointment when a “newbie” gets put on a higher (more competitive) court than you in a match.


I often think that the clubs promote this kind of competition among the women  by certain decisons they make in regard to rosters and partnering choices. Survival of the Fittest becomes very obvious when women begin to feel insecure about their tennis status and that is when the catty comments begin.


It really isn’t until you begin moving up the “team ladder” that you start to feel your partner’s eyes bore into the back of your head when you miss a shot or feel the frustration of having been paired with a ‘weaker’ partner.


Women you once played with and lunched with no longer consider you an ‘asset’ to their game because they play a ‘higher court’ than you or are on a stronger team.  It’s actually all very silly because often the difference in skill is so minute. Again — let me emphasize, none of us are going on the pro circuit.


I also think that coaches tend to favor certain players and those players advance up the tennis ladder quickly while others with equal skills get pigeon-holed and stay stagnant for years.  For some reason on a tennis court women get so cruel and mean and say things to each other that they would never say in other situations.


I once had a woman at a competing club tell both me and my partner (after beating us 6-0, 6-1, 6-0) how she played SO horribly that day — and she was so upset that she had lost her serve.


She lost her serve ONCE, and that was the one game we had won!  She kicked our ass and had the nerve to say she played badly.


Another woman I played with would always say she played “so badly” whenever she lost.  She could NEVER say that the opposing team played well and that is why she lost.


I believe competition can either bring out the best in a person, or the worst. Many times that ‘worst” was the horrible things I heard women say to themselves while playing tennis.


I have been on court with women who spent two hours constantly putting themselves down: ‘I suck … I’m the worst … I should be in remedial tennis.’


More than once I’ve had to be my partner’s cheerleader while still trying to keep up my own motivation after hitting an easy overhead into the net. Sometimes, in those moments, it was truly hard to keep in perspective that we play this game for fun.


I am very sad to not play tennis like I used to a few years ago.  Games I had participated in have disbanded, and games I’d like to play in are filled. It seems that once you are out, you are OUT.  Pick-up games are even hard to come by as well due to limited court time. I’m not sure, but maybe the only way back IN is to join another club and start over from scratch.


For me tennis was the best of times and the worst of times.  


Tennis gave me an opportunity to be part of a team for the first time in my life, while at the same time making me question why I wasn’t good enough to play on a better team.


It gave me much needed “girl time” when I was stuck at home with three little babies, yet it consumed so much time I didn’t have time to attend to my household responsibilities.  Tennis gave me a way to exercise without realizing I was exercising, but it also gave me a sore shoulder and tennis elbow. Tennis also taught me some life lessons about how to “play” as well as how NOT to play the game I both loved and hated.


By the way, from what I hear… the men are even worse!


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