Lessons In Assholery

Tennis lessons should be over by now but they are still dragging on due to chronic cancellations. Rain-outs, holidays, tournaments, and most recently, a reunion party. This week’s make-up lesson was cancelled for a party. We were supposed to be done by now and this was supposed to be our wrap party, as they say in show business. I would argue that the party should have been postponed but it was a reunion for everyone taking lessons through the same program all over the area. Those folks are done with lessons and ready to party.

Since tennis was included in the party, my group had our regularly scheduled lesson canceled and we were sent to the party instead. And it was more tennis than party but all I really learned is what not to do to other newbies once I mature in the sport. I’m not going to pull any punches here; those people were assholes. They were elitist pricks showing off for each other and deliberately humiliating the beginners. The word reunion should have been a clue but unfortunately for those of us still brand-spanking new to this, we had no idea we were walking a human turkey shoot.

I realized shortly after stepping onto the court to join the group drills that I was NOT playing with folks who had just graduated from six weeks of lessons. I was playing with folks who took the program years ago and were now functioning far above the beginner level. Reunion party meant reunion for anyone who had EVER taken the program; not just folks who recently finished (or weren’t finished yet, like me). The Chef argued that maybe the assholes didn’t know they were playing with beginners but if I could figure it out inside of 30 seconds, I assure you the upperclassmen figured it out just as easily.

We were all mixed together. The high-level players and folks who hadn’t ever played a real match were herded together on the court for drills, rotating around the court after making or missing shots. The elite players intentionally hit shots the newbies couldn’t return, laughed about it, showing off for each other, and the coaches out on the court running the drills let it happen. Over and over we were nothing but shooting targets for the highly skilled players to showcase their superiority. They didn’t bother to hide their cruel delight at making us all look like bumblebutts and it was impossible to learn anything.

Beginners were deliberately embarrassed and then not coached or instructed. We got nothing out of it except humiliation. The elite players laid on the swagger, which only got worse as they encouraged each other to beat us down with shots we couldn’t possibly return. Once there was blood in the water we were nothing but easy pickings. And the coaches just let it happen. Not a word. Not a tactful redirect. No response at all other than to keep feeding the balls to keep the drills moving.

When we took breaks there was no camaraderie. The Cool Kids were cold and cloistered together in their cliques, non-welcoming and unfriendly. It was a lesson in how I never want to treat people in the sport, especially beginners. Especially newbies already struggling with confidence. Especially folks who commuted over an hour in horrible traffic to a foreign venue only to be treated like outsiders and hacks. Instead of being good ambassadors for the program (or the sport), these people were predatory pack-bullies targeting the weaker players for fun. And maybe some of that is inescapable in sports but this is an apprenticeship program. The whole point is to bring in beginners and mentor them.

The party element was franchise delivery pizza, so there was nothing for a vegan to eat. I didn’t hold this against them but it meant feeling even more excluded. While they were all munching their slices I tried to buddy up to some of the other beginners who had also been thrashed on the court. Rejected. I suppose six weeks of eating shit from elitist pricks had already converted them socially. They were curt and dismissive. They had all been treated as badly as me but there was no solidarity. But they were further along in lessons than me. Perhaps I haven’t yet gotten to the lesson on how be a stone cold tormentor and they were all just practicing their learned skills. Forehand, backhand, trample, shun. Once their physical technique catches up they will already have the preferred attitudes in place.

Is good sportsmanship not a thing anymore? Is it obsolete? Out of style? Only for nerds and the terminally uncool?

The whole ordeal saddened and disgusted me. But it also made me grateful that my coach in the program did not foster an environment or behavior like this. Quite the opposite; she has been warm and supportive and a true mentor, which has encouraged her students to be this way with each other. We have fun even when we’re forced to compete against each other. We’ve even begun practicing together on the weekends. It’s all the same program but somehow we got lucky and didn’t get lessons in assholery. We got quality instruction. I appreciate it even more now that I’ve seen what the other groups (and the people in them) are like, so I guess it’s good that I went.

If I ever go to another one of these reunions you can bet it will be under the banner of revolution. Someone must break formation and be the change if it’s ever going to be different. Staying away and letting tyranny run unchecked is not the answer. Forehand, backhand, object, reform.

— Mercy

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