Monday, January 21, 2008

The Tennis Court Oath

You say you want a revolution. The Beatles.

An anxious multitude packed an indoor tennis court in Paris on June 20, 1789 to witness an historic event, yet no balls were hit. Barred from their assembly hall by order of King Louis XVI, the newly formed parliament of France, frustrated yet undaunted had commandeered this facility to discuss their next course of action. (History books fail to record the reaction of those whose play was interrupted - no doubt irate at losing their court time.) The assembled body vowed, in an act known as the Tennis Court Oath, to meet and work continuously until they had written a new constitution for France. Their steadfast resolve set wheels in motion for the French Revolution, which saw the people nearly bloodlessly wrest governmental control from the king. They established a brief era of egalitarian government before internal conflicts reduced the state to riotous turmoil. Napoleon's dictatorial takeover nullified both the positive and negative effects stemming from that day in June. Besides an interesting bit of tennis trivia, the successes and failures of the French revolution offer valuable lessons with which we can enhance our tennis game and our lives.

[Work is] something made greater by ourselves and in turn that makes us greater. Maya Angelou.

Those who took the Oath were attempting the unthinkable. Aspiring to better themselves, the French people challenged the traditional roles that had kept them under subjection by royalty and nobility. Wealth, power, and historical precedent were all against the people, yet they strove on. Their success is a testament to what we are all capable of with unyielding dedication and determination. On the tennis court, we face personal struggles like imposing opponents and the mastering of new strokes. These often appear to be insurmountable tasks, but we must persevere. Becoming a better tennis player is no easy task. By following their example of relentless hard work, we can find ourselves in places that once seemed unreachable.

"Success is a journey, not a destination."

With inexhaustible efforts, the French discarded the entire old order in search of the perfect state. Presuming to have found it, they stopped tolerating the questioning attitude that had guided them. Any voices out of synch with the current leadership were silenced (literally-decapitation via the guillotine.) What began as a quest for enlightened perfection, turned to unimaginable terror. The French Revolution's tragedy illustrates the perils that can befall us as well. A tennis player's personal pursuit of perfection is no exception. For many, perfection lies as a concrete end to their labors. This denies the value of the effort in reaching that end. With an image of perfection in mind, it is impossible not to condemn perceived inadequacies in one's present game. This constant belittling hinders realizing one's potential, while appreciation of the process aids improvement. A further danger awaits those who claim to have perfected their game. Their thinking is, "how can perfection be improved upon?" This mindset ignores the advice, work ethic and innovations that lead up to the current level of play. If one has truly reached perfection by becoming number one in his/her world, this position is tenuous at best. The pack is striving to find ways to improve and will surpass the player who stagnates. Perfection as an end, is a dead one. Measuring success by efforts, avoiding judgments, and continually asking, "How can I improve?" keep one's outlook fresh and enjoyment of the game perpetual.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Charles Dickens wrote these words describing the highs and lows of the French Revolution. Could he not have been talking about your game? Brilliant play, frustrating errors. Glorious wins, humiliating losses. Tennis is all this. Make and renew your own Tennis Court Oath each time you step onto the court. Vow to pursue the process of bettering yourself with all your effort. Swear to value this process of hard work above your expectations. Remember to be kind to yourself as you strive in pursuit of your goals. Create your own personal revolution, for tomorrow's history is yet to be writ. - Nick Sousanis (1998)

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