Thursday, July 21, 2016

Your First Language in Sports; Thank you Venus Williams

I don't remember the name of the film, but the movie was Irish. Set in Ireland, directed by an Irishman with Irish actors only, I turned to my mom because I didn't understand—more than once—what was being discussed. But, she did. The characters spoke in terms that an Irishman would know....and I'm not referring to things like "crisps" for chips, a "laurie" instead of a truck or the "boot" of the car, rather than the trunk. No, they were using language I had never heard before, beyond terms of endearment. They were addressing ideas about simple things in life and deeper ones too. I looked at my mom and realized she knew their language because it was her first language. My mom's parents were from Ireland and everyone my mom knew growing up was Irish American. In many ways, their world was more Irish, than American—and so was their language. And watching Venus Williams play tennis at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University last night reminded me that we are all raised with a first language, and this is true in sports too. 
Perched not far from the center court, I found myself watching and speaking about tennis in a way that required little to no effort. I surprised even myself as I shared insights—good ones— about the match with my friend. When I watch basketball or football, though I understand a lot, my input isn't as nuanced or natural. My comments are didactic and calculated. I can feel the processing in my brain that requires me to speak thoughtfully, not just emotionally, about the game. I suppose you might say I speak tennis with proficiency. 

I have said before that tennis was my first love. I took my first lessons at age seven or eight, but didn't give it much thought. At twelve years old, however, my dad stepped in to my life in a way that he has many times since. He found a two week camp, led by a great player and instructor. He thought I might love tennis in the way he did. He signed me up, told me about why tennis is a great game, and my life was forever changed.

My love for tennis was evidenced by my calendar and my checkbook, or in this case my babysitting kitty. It brought me friends, I learned its history and the lives of the greatest in the game. I subscribed to not one but two tennis magazines. It's safe to say, I fell hard.

That love for the game not only colored my vision, it strengthened it. I watch tennis like I watch no other sport. I feel the intensity that those on the court are battling. I understand the mental fortitude that is required point by point. I have used tennis as an analogy for every other sport I watch! 
One of the many reasons I love to watch Venus Williams play tennis is because of her love for the game. She has said she can't imagine her life without it. Perhaps it is the only language she speaks (and loves), but in the same way that French sounds delightful to the ear, her strokes are a sight to behold. Venus' combined athleticism and grace, power and poise is like no other player on the tour (her serve clocked in at a high of 118 mph). I love how different her game is from her sister's, who sat in the corner of the stadium last night. I thought about what it might be like for one to see the other compete. What words do they exchange before, after and especially during the game. I know they are communicating with one another!. 

Many athletes today are distracted by the money, power and fame that comes with the celebrity of sport. At 36 years of age, Venus Williams however stands 6'1" and as a 20 year veteran in a game that has never seen anyone like her before. She makes speaking the language of tennis, a romance one. Thank you V!

Photo Credits
Serena Watching V

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