We’re number two! We’re number two!
OK, so the chant is not as catchy as we’re number one but does it really matter? Is dominating a sport/team/country/world actually what it is all about? Is being #1 more important than being #2? Is that just what all the #2’s say? Let me tell you a little story.
I have coached the SVHS boy’s tennis team exactly twice in 17 years. Once in 2001 when we had a perfect 0 wins, 13 losses season, and this year when we had a second place 10 wins, 2 losses season. In both years, I didn’t care one bit about the records. The journey, man, it’s about the journey. And it was a good one, this year especially.
Some highlights that didn’t make the paper: Not cutting anyone from the team as my goal for the season is to create lifelong tennis learners, meant starting the season with 27 players and 4 courts. You do the math. This led to The Wall. Read about it here: http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2017/02/20/when-a-wall-is-a-bridge/ and here: http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2017/02/27/wall-not-bridge-bigger-wall/. My frustration (mostly from lack of support) led me to apply to go teach next year at the Green School in Bali (my own version of a “I’m taking my ball and leaving” tantrum).
The wall still sits outside my Creekside art room, waiting for either a Ketamine fueled late night gonzo instillation or the district to OK the project that should have happened months ago. Bitter? Unsupported? Whiney? Nawwww, I’m above all that.
Then there was Pizzagate where the Petaluma coach brought 4 large Costco pepperoni pizzas out before our pivotal second match, leading to oily fingers, full bellies and a very lethargic Sonoma team. Sure, sure, the boys could have abstained but have you ever seen a group of teenagers around pepperoni pizza? It was a brilliant move and resulted in our first loss. I countered by providing three cakes for our third matchup but, alas, the Petaluma squad was wise to the ploy, ate no cake and secured the first place spot.
The only criticism I had of my team came after an easy home match win where after clinching the match with a singles sweep, I looked over and 4 out of 5 team members were staring at their phones while their teammates played. “But look coach, I’m playing a tennis game.” One explained to me. Irony? Or the end of the world? You judge.
I loved popping in to the SVHS front office every couple of days, saying hi to Andrew and Jo and Kathleen and Brian. Comparing stories with Track coach Linda Patterson who comes off as gruff but really is a teddy bear (sorry Linda, hate to ruin your reputation). I really like my autonomy at Creekside but interacting with “the big school” as we like to call it, was kinda nice too.
Also nice was the civility of the boys, each day many would seek me out and thank me after practice. It’s amazing how far a simple, “Thanks coach, great practice.” Can go, I’d often ride my little Schwinn Typhoon cruiser back to Boyes Hot Springs getting bugs stuck in my teeth because of the giant proud smile on my face. Also no drugs, no gangs, no language violations, no rackets thrown in anger, no upset parents, no big snafus (except the Wall but that one was partially my fault), no fights, and no whining about the ladder. Plus the boys played through the tragedy of Brandon’s death, supported each other, and represented their school with pride both at home and away.
My simple goal of the year was to create life long tennis learners (just as creating life long learners is the goal in my classroom). I want the boys to see in the sport what I see in the sport. Tennis taught me how to lose and get back up, it taught me the value of hard work and mastering a sport, it opened doors, provided opportunity and provides a smack down every time I gain an extra 10 pounds and try to get around the court.
I went to Japan, learned to play Ping-Pong from Brad Gilbert, worked in one of the craziest environments ever (Adidas Tournament Training Camp at UC Irvine-like the movie, “Meatballs” but with kids who are so serious about tennis that they cry when they lose). Tennis is a sport you can play till you are old, like really old, like even older than me. It’s easy to learn and easily accessible, find a court, two rackets, a couple of balls and have at it.
And if you become #1, congratulations, but being #2 is pretty awesome as well.