“Never give up.”
Talk about the cliché of all pep talks.
Those words inevitably will come out of every coach’s mouth when they are at a loss of anything better to say. I’ve played on countless teams with coaches who boast those mundane, yet ubiquitous morals. However, the phrase “don’t give up” will forever remain near and dear to my heart. Let me explain.
As a freshman, playing on the varsity tennis team was something I never expected. However, after a fluke injury, good luck and a little talent (I guess), I ended up sliding into the six singles slot and managed to secure a spot at No. 2 doubles. Our team, which was ranked tops in the district and among the best in the state that year, was invited to a tournament in Hendersonville.
I was not to play singles, but my partner and I were entered in Class C doubles. We had won our first of several matches fairly easily and ended up in the finals, where we were to play the state champions of Alabama.
It was late in the day and we were the last match out on the courts. Graciously, most of our team had stayed to support us. Down 2-7, it was pretty much a clear-cut match; one more game for them and it was done.
I can’t remember exactly when, how, or even why we starting winning games, but we did. Something in us sparked and we took off like firecrackers. We were enthused, revived and determined. We would not lose. We could not lose. Remarkably, we rolled off five games in a row.
Suddenly, it was 8-all and a mere 10-point tiebreaker would determine the outcome. I remember serving in that stomach-twisting, nail-biting, never-ending tiebreaker. My heart was pounding in my ears and I was probably close to throwing up, but I didn’t notice. All that mattered at that moment was playing each point like it was the last. Even if we lost, it was a heck of match.
But we didn’t.
We won that match. I almost cried I was so happy. I knew in my heart that was a once-in-lifetime kind of event. That’s the kind of thing that only happens once in an athlete’s career. I found myself in a strikingly similar situation not too long after that.
This time, we were playing in the district title game. At six singles, I was the last match to be put on. All the way down at the end of the row of courts, I could be seen playing half-heartedly. It was late. I had homework. I really just wanted to go home.
This girl wasn’t going to just give me a win. I was known for my consistency, stamina, and determination. My ability to “just hit it back” was what won me matches. But this girl wasn’t wearing out easily. Our points were long and games close, but the score read 0-5 in favor of her.
It all started with a game. I won one. Well, I remember thinking, “At least I got one game on her.” Then I won another. And another. And another. By now, my match had become more interesting and people began to gather. My opponent took a seat beside our court and held her head in her hands.
A couple of games later (and a couple more victories for me), her coach approached her as she complained of being “shaky.” Poor thing, I thought. I smiled quietly to myself and bounced the ball impatiently on my court. Unbeknownst to me, our district title lay in my hands. It all depended on the winner of my match as to who would be crowned the district champions and continue on in the state tournament.
By the time all the other matches had finished, my score was tied at five games apiece. As I pulled out a sixth victory, my team had pulled in close to watch. As had the other team. Every call I made was scrutinized. Every point closely examined. She pulled out our 13th game and made the score 7-6 in favor of me. I had to win now.
The last game was surprisingly the easiest. I don’t know if it was because I played my heart out, or because she just gave up. But I had won. Once again, I had done the virtually impossible: beaten the odds that had been stacked high against me. I had done what was not expected. And I did it because I never gave up. Never.
I still live by that philosophy, however lame it seems. It guides my every endeavor and constantly reminds me that I can when everything else says I can’t. So, really, never, ever give up. You just might surprise yourself. I know I did.