With an eventful Wimbledon – and World Cup – just past, it’s rewarding to reflect on that sage advice from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’, once voted our nation’s favourite poem.
Engraved above the players’ entrance to Centre Court are his much quoted words: ‘Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors both the same’.
A similar sentiment echoes, too, in former champion Boris Becker’s comment after losing on the hallowed turf. “I didn’t lose a war,” he told the world’s media. “No one died. I lost a tennis match.”
Our family always had tennis racquets about the home, alongside footballs and cricket bats. They were wooden, hand-me-down ones in presses, with strings that were never changed.
I’ve played tennis for 60-odd years and observed how it is often the worst players who are most fiercely competitive; the least able who impatiently cut short a friendly practice to play a game for points; the most ill-prepared who rush on court late, announcing, ‘I don’t need a warm-up’.
Odd, indeed, but that’s life; which sport merely reflects. Those in a rush to win usually miss the true joys of taking part. Experience, time spent learning, increases the satisfaction. After a good match I often can’t immediately recall, and don’t particularly care, who finally won.
These days youngsters are coached and have all the gear, which we never did. Sadly, however, those teaching them rarely impart more than how to hit winning shots.
They don’t explain tactics for doubles, which most clubs play: where to move and why; how to set up your partner, rather than just play for oneself.
Come to think of it, many would benefit from similar lessons about everyday life – on our roads, in the business place, wherever other people are involved.
If only . . . as Kipling said.
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