In the world of professional tennis, everyone sees the glamorous lives of the top 50 players in the world on TV and live during tournaments. But they usually never get to see the thousands of other professional level players struggling at the bottom of the table like myself fighting for each and every ATP tennis point they can get, just so they can continue living the dream and maybe one day play on the ATP circuit.
The futures tour mainly consists of players ranked between 500 and somewhere around 2000 on the ATP tour, then comes the challenger level players who are in the range of 150 to 500 roughly. Then if you can bare the years of struggle and grind and are successful at the lower levels then comes the ATP level.
My whole tennis career has mainly been in the futures level of tennis with the very occasional “wild card” (a free pass for lower level players to compete in higher level tournaments) into a challenger event. I was able to play these pro events because I was successful in other prize money events that anyone could enter, which made me enough money to get from one tournament to the next… barely! Mix playing with a little coaching and stringing other players’ tennis racquets and I was doing OK-financially anyway.
But playing high level tennis week after week left me emotionally fatigued, spiritually fatigued, mentally fatigued and caused great muscular fatigue. So after some time I knew I had to start taking care of the different kinds of fatigue I was feeling in the form of implementing tension eliminators, or else I would have a very short playing career, and absolutely no coaching career afterwards.
At the age of 25 (just a year before my 6 year battle with an anxiety disorder), I got a few friends together to hit the road in my rickety van to play as many tennis tournaments we could afford to, and to see if I could hang with other pro tennis players. As we all made the drive from Vancouver, British Columbia, to California we decided to “wing it” and didn’t book any housing during these tournaments. The three of us had around $600 for a month and a half and that had to cover everything from our entry fees into tournaments, to gas money, to food and accommodation. Well we quickly realised, something… we didn’t bring enough money. We had a racquet stringer in case the other players needed their racquets strung up but other than that we had no other way of bringing in any cash flow.
Our faith was left in the two “money” tournaments that we all entered to get us through this trip to play the four futures tennis tournaments. Many of the futures players don’t really stick around past their mid-20s in the futures circuit and quickly find jobs instead of continuing the constant grind of the low level tours but we were different, we were determined! We had incredible work ethic!
If there was one thing that the three of us agreed on it was that we had to have free accommodation or we weren’t going to have a chance to play these tournaments. We slept on the beach, yep we all decided that the only way we would be able to afford this trip was to sleep on the beach because it was free, it was cozy, and it was somewhere warm and private. All the things a tennis player needs to bring out the best in him during practice and competition.
The morning after we arrived in California we quickly rubbed the sand off of us, took a shower next to the beach, and rushed off to find some public tennis courts so we could get a practice in. The van was running well and we had packed some 30 cent noodles (that we ate raw) to get us by for about a week. We found some courts in southern California in a place called Ventura and lucky for us there was a hill right next to the courts so we could get some hard-core fitness in as well (hills are a tennis players best friend). The practice went great and the sprints up the hill were just what we needed to stay physically and mentally sharp. Things were going great and we were all in good spirits. We found a beautiful park nearby and got the racquet stringer out to string a few of the broken strings on our tennis racquets.
As we were finishing up we saw a sign on the side of the road that said “29 cent tacos.” Perfect timing! We were all getting a little sick of eating the crap we packed so we all decided we needed some real food (if you could call it that) and at 29 cents we couldn’t pass it up. We parked the van and all got out and ordered four tacos each. After we were done eating we were still hungry and decided to have a few more so we ordered six more each. We were stuffed and even though it was only noon we decided we wouldn’t spend any more money on food until the next day because we needed every penny on this trip.
As we were resting back home (or a different part of the beach) on the Santa Barbara beach, I felt like I was getting sick. I blamed my nausea and vomiting on the tacos and asked the other guys how they were feeling; surprisingly they were fine. I skipped the afternoon practice session that we had planned and took it easy instead, trying to recover for the next day because our first tournament was coming up. I started feeling better towards the night, and as I laid my head down to sleep with my buddies nearby, I started my nightly ritual anytime I had a match the next day: mental imagery…
Part 2 Of Athletes And Anxiety / The Life Of A Low Level Tennis Professional Living The Dream…Oct 31
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