“This is how you do it… see?” The tall blond man pulled his racket back as the tennis ball came towards him, he stretched back and then swung at the ball with precise violence. The ball went flying over the net ferociously, it bounced off the green cement and then flew back against the tall wire fence that encircled the tennis court. “See? You can’t hit it softly. That just won’t do. You can’t be afraid of it. Here, try it…”
The tall blond man walked over to where his son was standing. His son was eleven years old, blond as well, dressed in long pants that didn’t allow him to run as freely as he could have otherwise. The man handed him the racket and looked to make sure that the boy was holding it in the correct way.
“Make sure your grip is tight, make sure you don’t let it get weak as you swing, make sure…”
The boy nodded and walked towards his position at the edge of the court. The tall blonde man signaled and his friend on the other side of the court threw a very easy ball over the net. The boy pulled back his arm and swung awkwardly at it. The ball bounced off the edge of the racket and flew back towards the blond man, who caught it easily with his hand.
“You see what I’m telling you? You can’t swing so tentatively! You can’t be afraid of it! Look… it’s soft! It won’t hurt you!” He threw the ball softly at the boy and the boy caught it easily with his hand. He nodded, acknowledging that the ball was indeed very soft. Then the blond man walked over towards him and he stood right over him, creating a cone of shade around the boy.
“Look, I know what it’s like… you hear me?” His voice was a bit softer now, almost a whisper. ”I was like you are now. Once I was afraid of things, of girls, of men, of people in general, of little balls…”
The boy looked up at him, squeezing his eyes and wondering if the friend on the other side of the court would be getting impatient. He didn’t want to make a scene. He just wanted the whole thing to be over as soon as possible. But his father was still talking.
“I was like that… you know?… afraid of everything… and you know what happens when you’re afraid of everything? Nothing… that’s what happens… nothing at all… you swing at the ball and it just bounces back at you… and nothing happens at all… no game, no back and forth… no back and forth at all…”
“Let me try again then… let me…”
“No, you have to listen now… when the ball comes, you have to set aside all your fear and swing at it with all your strength…just set your fear aside… if you learn to do that here… you’ll do it anywhere… but here is where it starts…”
He stood back and nodded towards the friend who was waiting on the other side. A new ball came flying towards them. It flew easily over the net in a wide arch, with such a slow grace that it almost seemed suspended in the air. The boy pulled his racket back and brought it flying around his body, driving it directly towards the ball that was flying at him. The ball missed the racket by only a few inches and flew back into his father’s waiting hands.
“Not good enough, see?… Don’t get me wrong…I saw you trying…but it’s just not good enough…As long as you flinch, as long as you hesitate, then there can’t be a true game, and it’s only when the back and forth begins, that’s when the game has started… then we can talk about winning…but right now you can’t even play a real game…”
He pulled the boy aside gently and then stood where he had stood. He pulled back on his own racket and looked across the court. He nodded to his friend and the ball came at him with swift violence. There was an audible zoom as the man brought the racket around and a clear pleasant explosion of air when the racket met the ball. The ball went flying violently again, bouncing against the court on the other side and then bouncing again off the fence, hard enough to make the fence shake. The boy liked watching it happen and he smiled. The man turned towards him, there were long drops of sweat dripping from his forehead onto his face. “That is how you do it…see? When you can do that, without fear… that’s when the game begins.”