Anyone who knows me well understands I have always been very strict when it comes to on court and mostly off court behavior. I have never seen tennis as an avenue to the "pros," nor do I care about wins and losses based on scores in a game. As far as I am concerned the real game is "life" and tennis is nothing more then a vehicle, a proving ground, to teach all of us how to master the principles that play out in our every day life; How to work hard, how to stay calm, how to embrace , love and make the most out of adversity. Our willingness to eat right, be honest, choose right, let go of frustration and a plethora of other elements to excellence ultimately adds up to our collective happiness and peace of mind.To me it is all about striving to be a "pro" at life.
My messages to youth are always about the subtle pitfalls I have seen so many children unknowingly fall into. If a child makes a few poor choices I have found it becomes a snowball effect and next thing you know they have a mental melt down on the court, feel unmotivated and tennis is no longer fun. This can lead to quiting, self destructive behavior, even things much worse, and it happens in an instant.
Life is sensitive like a tennis match, you can be up a set and 5-2 and all of a sudden you are down and lose the match. That is why it is important to stay diligent and stay the course giving 100% off the court more then anywhere else. Game time is just a reflection of all the days and hours leading up to that match.
Even in loss, hard times and the normal highs and lows that accompany life one either chooses to endure and never give up, which ultimately leads to long term happiness and greatness, or they let the world get to them, get upset and seek refuge in bad or self destructive behavior.
Ever since I left junior tennis and stopped working in junior academies to run the USTA-Nevada office I have missed the mentoring aspect, the excitement of seeing families and children strive to be the best they can be. I also know that one parent, coach or friend can influence a child and possibly save their life. I also know one friend, one influence, and one bad reaction can lead to a child's demise, tragedy or at least major problems.
My concern is children often believe "that would never happen to me," when seeing a child quit tennis, get caught up in partying, lose their chance at a college scholarship, get pregnant, get in a car accident and yes even get accused of murder.
Just recently one of our own junior tennis players has been accused of being involved with people who murdered a 16 year old boy. I got a rush of phone calls, tears and reactions of shock last week when this boys mug shot was on the news after the police arrested him to bring him in for questioning.
This is a horrible and sad thing, especially considering I was just talking to him last week at Summer Sectionals about getting his life together. I could tell he was not at his best and talked to him about it. He was near tears saying he wants to stop hanging around the wrong people and partying. His hopes were high because a college coach was recruiting him for a scholarship. Then 3 days later he was arrested for murder and in jail.
How did such a nice child, so good natured as he has always been get himself into such a situation?
Many think only the really bad people and choices lead to getting arrested, pregnant, in car accidents, and quiting tennis etc.
THIS IS NOT TRUE.
This child arrested and many before him who got pregnant, quit tennis or lost scholarships due to stupid behavior were always good children, who made many good choices.
It was the small stupid decisions, that led to one more stupid decisions that ultimately led to hanging out with one or more bad influences that seemed like "good friends." But someone who "loves" you or is a "good friend" does not accept and or encourage you to be mediocre.
Real friends call you out on bad choices, encourage you to be your best and unfortunately those types of friends are very rare, so children should rely on parents, coaches and mentors for such guidance.
It is my opinion that the child who was recently arrested is not the type to try and harm others. That is not the type of child he was when he was playing tennis.
But that is my point- every time I council children about their desires to go hang with friends from school, go to parties, get the boys friends and girl friends they always see it as "A good time,", "Just having fun," "enjoying my high school years." In reality these choices never end up "fun." For every boy friend and girls friend or party child I can show you a scholarship lost, a motivation destroyed, and years later they always come back to me and say "I wish I never did that."
So having seen so many amazing children lose their motivation, drive, scholarship and confidence due to what they thought of initially as "fun" and "harmless" I am very passionate about warning the next generation to watch out for these subtle pitfalls.
They start with one bad friend, one girl or boy texting you to flirt, then to hook up, then to sneak out and in the last 4 years 4 children have been involved in pregnancies that led to depression, problems and a halt in their career. This becomes a snowball effect and then a child loses their hope, and further digresses.
One might say "I would never get pregnant," or "My child would never be arrested," when the facts are no one ever sought out or even thought these results would happen by "Hanging out" a or "Loving" their girlfriend. They thought it was innocent fun, just like when you believe you are going to win up a set and 5-2 in the match.
But life has a way of taking ones small poor decisions and exacting a large sacrifice from them. I am sure the child arrested was bored with nothing to do before and after tennis and found friends in his neighborhood who seemed to be the "in" and "cool" crowd. To impress them he hanged out, changed who he was to be accepted and when a stupid fight incurred he agreed to tag along and go with the hysteria. Next thing you know someone pulls out a gun and shoots a child in the butt- that boy bleeds to death and everyone there is charged with murder.
Another boy believes the passion and feelings he gets from his girl friend is "love" and is sincere in his desire to be close. Next thing you know someone is pregnant, they begin to fight and never speak again, yet in the meantime his pursuit of excellence has been halted and has a good chance of never returning..
By the time these children figure it out it is often too late. By the time they break up with the boy or girlfriend and no longer talk to them, in the meantime their motivation for bettering their life has wained, or even worse they are in jail or in an accident.
I have always believed you can learn by looking closely at others mistakes. I hope we as a tennis community take stock of the small choices we make so we can see clearly that one friend, one text, one facebook drama or inappropriate flirtation, or one stupid fight and argument can take your passion, even your future away. That is why I suggested to children to cancel text, don't even give people the chance to influence you the wrong way. To avoid facebook, parties and the false "friends" that seem "cool."
I implore children to no longer look for the short term pleasure that always leads to long term misery instead look for and embrace the challenges in life. Know that what looks boring and hard is truly the road to long term happiness and satisfaction.
When you are traveling the country playing college tennis, having fun with good friends and a positive social life, you will look back and reevaluate what you think is "cool" and "fun."
Use tennis, school and a great attitude to help you create the greatest life you can find for yourself, and do not be fooled by what most people do. The path to excellence is only chosen by a few people, yet everyone has the ability to choose it. Take the road less traveled and I can assure you it will be the best decision of your life.
p.s. Although the child arrested likely made stupid decisions to put himself in this situation, that I am sure of. I am not sure he would ever harm a person nor do I trust a press that likes to sensationalize any story. I believe in innocent till proven guilty and we will find out the true facts soon. Then and only then should we choose to believe whether this child made some really bad decisions or was part of something horrible as he has been accused. I personally am hoping it was a case of a few bad decisions to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, which I think most children should learn from.