I coach Middle Learning tennis. A couple of weeks ago we had a match against a public school on the south side of town. Unlike Galloway, the school is in a tough neighborhood and about 45 minutes away, and longer if you are fighting downtown traffic. I knew Coach Sam from last year, and I liked him then and now. Just a wonderful man. Anyway, last week, the match was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. Sam’s players did not arrive until 4:30 and we did not begin to play until almost 5. After playing, it was almost 7 p.m. before we got back to Galloway. We were scheduled to play Sam’s school again in another week.
The next day, I emailed the assistant athletic director and asked him if I could cancel the second match with Sam’s school. I explained to Josh their school did not end until 4:00, it was a hassle to drive down there, we would get back to school late, I had a commitment at 7:00 that night, they were not in our district for placement purposes, blah blah blah. Uncharacteristically, Josh emailed me back and simply said, “Peter, I would really like you to play them again. I’ll email them and ask if they can be ready to play at 4:00.” I capitulated and begrudgingly agreed to go back downtown to play Sam’s team in a week.
When we arrived for our second match, Sam, Xavier (his son and assistant coach), and all the players were waiting for us at 3:45 p.m. Xavier gave me a Kindle and tennis racket that one of my players left from the week before, and we started the match. They had some extra players, and as the matches ended the kids began congregating on the upper courts playing “king of the court.” I continued coaching and talking to Sam and Xavier about school and young people.
By the time the last match was over, I walked over to the upper courts and observed all the kids, from both schools, playing together, talking, and having the time of their life connecting with their new-found friends, laughing and enjoying a little unstructured time with their tennis rackets and a few tennis balls. It was now about 6 p.m., and despite the time, when I called out to load the bus they pleaded with me to let them stay a few more minutes. I said five more minutes. As they trickled down to the pavilion they asked me if they could come back next week to play them again.
As I said my goodbyes to Coach Sam and Coach Xavier, I told them what the kids said, how much they liked playing with their kids, and how they want to come back. Sam and Xavier looked at me and they knew that I finally got it. Xavier gave a hug, then Sam, and Sam says to me, “Peter, it’s good to connect.”
P.S. I think Josh, Sam, and Xavier knew exactly what they were doing. They also knew that a tennis match is not always just a tennis match, it is a chance for kids from very different backgrounds to connect, play, and laugh together. I am glad they guided me to see what they saw.