Competing in any sport at the collegiate level is hard work, but individual sports like tennis require a surplus amount of mental toughness.
“Confidence comes from competing and from fighting on the court like a junkyard dog, “said Head Coach John Peterson, in a meeting with his athletes on Jan. 25.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. every day, Coach Peterson and his Apache tribe gather in the JoAnn Medlock Murphy Tennis Complex for a quick meeting before practice. He asked his athletes what they do to boost their confidence as players. Their answers included winning, repetition and intimidation. He then asked the players to elaborate on how to intimidate their opponents. One of the male athletes spoke up to say that intimidation is about putting on a face that says, “I’m here to win, no matter how long it takes.”
Coach Peterson answered saying, “Ask them, did you bring a lunch? Because I’m gonna be here all day.” A female athlete said it like this, “You show confidence by preparation, practice and the way you walk.”
Peterson went on to say that it is tough to think positive while losing.
“If you got food poisoning and went to the hospital three days before your match, would that boost your confidence?” He then mentioned that the Tyler Junior College mascot is an Apache Indian. He told the team that the Apaches were the last tribe to surrender to the United States. They lived off cactus and were fearless warriors. He reminded his team that they too were Apache indians fighting for a cause. In May, their cause was a National Championship, which they fought and conquered. The Apache men and women’s teams both walked away with first place trophies.
Although all sports take courage, the TJC tennis team described several reasons they believed playing an individual sport is drastically different from team sports.
“There is more pressure of letting your team down because if you are ineligible to play, I think you have to forfeit. You don’t have backup or subs,” said tennis player Colby Meeks.
Tennis is not like football where there are second and third strings. Every athlete is expected to perform on and off the court.
“In tennis you don’t get breaks. You can’t just sit on the bench,” said female athlete Kendra Casey.
There are no time-outs so it is very physically demanding. You play the whole game from beginning to end.
Individual athletes have to demonstrate a lot of self-discipline. They have to learn how to balance their time between school and practice.
“It’s not just a sport. It’s a skill. It takes time to develop,” Coach Peterson said.
The team practices Monday through Friday for roughly two hours every day. If a player doesn’t show up to practice he or she is hurting themselves, which also hurts the team. In terms of the scoring system of a tournament, the team depends on each individual to perform well. An individual win strengthens a player’s own stats but the total points are what earn the trophies and banners.
“There are a total of nine matches. There are three doubles and six singles. You want to win as fast as possible so you can go cheer on your teammates,” said Meeks.
All games are equally weighted so every athlete is expected to do his or her part in winning.
The team said it is very hard to get scholarships in individual sports because all athletes are individually ranked. They added that the tennis population is growing. Tennis is played all over the world.
“Football and basketball get a lot of attention, but the popularity of tennis is growing fast. It is hard to get picked up by a division one school because there are a lot of really good players coming from foreign countries. That increases the number of people trying to find scholarships,” said Meeks.
“It seems like everyone’s trying to play tennis and it’s not like a lot of foreigners play football,” said Casey who has hopes of eventually playing for Texas A&M.
Because football is more of an American sport, there is a limited amount of people familiar with playing it. Young people coming to America for various reasons may find tennis a taste of home.
To keep a tennis scholarship at TJC, athletes must be taking at least 12 hours each semester. Coach Peterson has a personal rule that all the athletes have to maintain a 2.75 GPA. This is not required, but he holds his athletes to high standards. Although athletes are eligible for scholarships, both men’s and women’s teams are open to walk-on players.
Besides scholarships, point totals and long practices, individual athletes are constantly being challenged mentally.
“You have to be more mentally tough. You can’t rely on other people and it’s just self,” said Casey.
There are many fears that factor in on the day of a match.
“Tennis is very personal; the people watching are only a few feet away,” said Coach Peterson. The athletes also said it is very nerve-racking to be on the court alone. It is a very open space and you are constantly looking at your opponent.
Even if you are playing doubles, your partner still expects you to do your part and hold your ground. There is pressure from your coach and teammates.
Casey said that when she looks at her opponent before a match, she imagines them as her enemy. Meeks said when he’s face-to-face with his opponent, he tries to hide his nerves, remember to believe in himself and just play the game.
“Overall, individual sports are much harder than team sports because it depends on your individual performance. It’s obvious if you’re having a good day or bad day one,” Meeks said.
The women play at 2 p.m. on Feb. 12 in Beaumont. The men play at 2 p.m. on Feb 15 in Waco.