That's me in the back: directly to the left of my coach who is wearing the blue hat. This is a picture of my team and I after the very last match I would watch as a member of the Carmel Greyhounds Men's Tennis Team. It was my senior year of high school, my final season. We had just finished as state runner-ups for the second year in a row. We lost to one of our rivals (again) so it was tough but nevertheless marked the end of another successful season and the end of a long road for me. This is how my experience playing tennis in high school has affected my experience as a freshman in college and ultimately my life. 

I have been playing tennis since I was four years old. It's safe to say it has been an integral part of my life. I grew up playing tennis in a highly competitive environment with "elite" programs that prepared one to be successful in junior tournaments, high school and ultimately college if one chose to continue into the collegiate level. My high school team is one of the most competitive and successful high school tennis teams in the state of Indiana. Every year, at least one or two individuals are recruited by a Division I school, and some have even gone all the way to the professional circuit in the past. I knew this going into high school and when I showed up for the first day of tryouts my freshman year. 

Due to the high level of competition and individuals on my tennis team, freshmen hold their own separate tryouts and are a totally separate team in general. I was more than happy when I made the freshman team with others that I had grown up playing with for years. Rarely, one or two freshman are moved up to the junior varsity/varsity tryouts and end up on the JV/varsity roster. That did not really matter to me because my class in general was very competitive so I was happy just to be a part of the freshman team. 

The freshman tennis season went by quickly, and going into sophomore year I was ready to be a part of the actual team. The JV/varsity team was a much more serious environment which was something I was looking forward to. The team was extremely competitive that year and I was happy with a spot on the JV roster. By the time the regular tennis season ends and post-season begins, it is just the varsity team that plays, and the rest of the team cheers them on.  It was a fun experience my sophomore year because the varsity team ended up winning the state championship making it three consecutive titles for the team. I was thrilled to have been a part of it. 

Once my junior year began, I went into tryouts optimistic that I would earn a strong JV spot on the team and hopefully get the chance to play in at least one varsity match during the season so that I would earn a varsity letter. I earned a strong JV spot, however when the match came around where I thought I would get to play in the varsity lineup, the coach made a decision I was not expecting and I ended up not getting a varsity letter that season. I was a little deterred, however I focused on my role as an upperclassman in helping the team support the varsity players once playoffs began. To no one's surprise, my team made it to the state championship, however we ended up losing it by one match to the team we beat the year before. It was a little devastating for everyone, however we were motivated to come back strong next year. 

Going into my final season senior year, I was in a good position to earn a spot in the varsity lineup, as seniors are given priority when the lineup is being decided. I had a strong tryout, however lost a challenge match to a good freshman who had been moved up to the JV/varsity team. That did not make me happy. I could not believe that I pretty much blew my chances at being in the varsity lineup my final year. I felt like the countless hours on the court and money invested in equipment, tournaments and private coaches over the years was for nothing. 

Although initially I was upset at the beginning of my final season, my coach helped lift my spirits by placing a great deal of trust and respect in the seniors on the team to act as leaders and mentors to the underclassmen, irrespective of where they stood in terms of skill and spot on the lineup. I got the chance to play in the varsity lineup a few times during the season which was nice, but once post-season rolled around I was once again acting as a supporter for the varsity players. However it was different this time. Yes, I was the only senior not out on the court, yes I was the only senior on the team who would not be playing tennis in college the following year, but I was acting as a role model for the rest of the team, and especially helped keep morale high when we once again were state championship runner-ups. Although I did not actively help carry the team to the state championship out on the court, I felt like I had gained valuable experience putting the team before myself by acting as a leader and mentor. 

As a freshman in college now, my high school tennis season is pretty much out of my head at this point. However being a part of such a competitive team made me learn the crucial skill of sometimes putting the needs of a larger entity that you're a part of before your own concerns. This is applicable in college and beyond. There might be teams, clubs, organization, etc. in college where you may not earn a particular role in that group that you think you have earned. The same goes for entry level internships, jobs and overall career goals.  Understanding how to be a part of something larger than yourself and do your part will make you a more collaborative and driven person and you will ultimately foster a future for yourself that will eventually lead to success. 

Lead Image Credit: Carmel Clay Schools