This week has brought more life lessons for me. Of course, it’s tournament time for tennis season, so I am trying to watch my boy whenever I can. It’s not just that I like to watch him play, but I also like to watch how he acts around the other players. I was watching him during the conference tournament this week and heard several people, coaches too, remark about how he handles himself during a match. We have all been exposed to those really good players who seem to behave extremely obnoxious during a match. I could never understand why that was even allowed. I understand the whole “getting into your opponent’s head” strategy, but I don’t believe that’s a fair game. I would want to play my opponent at his/her very best because that helps me gauge my abilities much better. My son plays the game and doesn’t do a lot of yelling. He will try to pump himself up at times but it’s rare. What he does, is try to compliment his opponent whenever possible. If they ace him, he’s the first to say, “great serve”. If there is a long rally, he will try to say something like “good point” whether he wins or loses the point. And after each game, he says “good game”. My favorite is watching him talk with his opponent during the changeover and seeing them smile. He’s competitive, but he’s also learning that there is a much deeper meaning to every interaction we have with others. While winning is fun, being a strong, positive influence on his peers is important. I believe he is learning that and people are noticing.
He struggles with his attitude, as we all do, but he’s also paying closer attention to other people and how they behave to help him see the difference. The hard message is getting him to understand that this behavior is unacceptable, even if the majority of people are doing it, doesn’t make it right. He’s just a kid, so I don’t expect him to be perfect, but with so many adults who are behaving much less maturely than some kids I know, he will hopefully be able to recognize his bad attitude quickly and stop himself from doing anything he might regret.
Please don’t read this and think I am giving my kid praise because I think he’s so great. The fact is, he and I are learning this together and he gives me a good example. We both have a lot to learn, but we both want to learn, too. He typically makes the biggest strides after he’s had a breakdown of sorts. He wonders why it seems so easy for other kids to do so well in tennis while he has to work so hard. I try to tell him that his perspective isn’t necessarily the reality, but that’s hard to convey when the same kids, who don’t always give the positive encouragement to others, keep seeing success in tennis and he thinks he keeps losing. (What he doesn’t see is the championships he has won and all of the trophies in his room) We are both learning to just be grateful that he can play at all and that he’s likable enough to be a positive influence on others.
Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
Isn’t that what Jesus did? Isn’t this what it’s all about? We are learning what the narrow gate looks like by giving other people encouragement instead of criticism. The world will put you down in a heartbeat if you do something that the majority doesn’t like. People will gang up on you without considering details that may be hidden, unless of course those details happen to be negative. Sometimes, the narrow gate is looking for the details that don’t paint a person evil. Sometimes, the narrow gate is showing the people who irritate you the most some quiet encouragement, love and understanding. The narrow gate is doing what is the least comfortable thing to do when your feelings are hurt. That’s my goal and hopefully is for my son and his friends. He just happens to have a bigger platform to do this and he’s learning to do it from both sides of court.