"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
Teddy Roosevelt, 1910
Teddy Roosevelt knew there is no substitute for stepping into the arena prepared and with purpose. In the short, finite time of a game, competition hones the mind to focus on minute detail and adrenalin fuels the body to perform feats visualized a split second before execution.
What we learn about ourselves in the arena makes us better men, and women. And, while the physical skills might not be transferable to most workplaces, the mental skills are. For we learn how to play to our strengths and attack our opponent’s weaknesses. We learn how to silence the doubt that shouts what you can’t do. We learn how to empty the mind of distractions and how to remain patient and cool in the heat of battle. We learn how to live in the moment, how to focus on a goal and how to cover a teammate’s back. We learn how to attack when the opportunity reveals itself and, we learn our limitations and what it takes to exceed them.
These are life skills all children should learn, not just student athletes. Good coaches know this. And, more than 2,400 of them have adopted No-cut tennis programs through the United States Tennis Association.
Mark Faber, coach at St. Francis de Sales High School, has run a No-cut program for 14 years. His team averages 28 to 30 kids, almost triple the number in his first year.
“The game of tennis teaches you a lot about life, about working hard, accomplishing goals and being in a team environment which helps them learn how to work with others,” he said.
Faber, also director of tennis at Laurel Hill Swim and Tennis Club, says there’s another advantage. He sees former players who never advanced to elite status playing the sport recreationally as adults.
Jason Jamison, national manager of school tennis for the USTA, adds, “One of the worst things schools could be doing is turning kids away when they come out for an activity. It’s really a crime this is happening in any sport. Not only do they get the fitness benefit, they get psychological benefits, social connections, discipline and teamwork. That should be a part of the scholastic picture.”
Jamison says the USTA’s No-Cut program was launched in 2006 and its popularity has skyrocketed. The program provides tips and skill games to accommodate the increased numbers vying for court time. And, the numbers will increase. David Steinbach, coach at Brookfield Central High School in Wisconsin coaches 120 boys and 119 girls.
While such a large program takes organization and resources, Steinbach says quantity produces quality. The school has won 13 state championships.
Jamison is not surprised at the success. “Kids blossom at different times. To just assume that only the top 12 kids at a given time should be given the opportunity to play for their school is just really shortsighted.”
But, the main advantage of No-Cut has less to do with the high school team as it does with teaching more students life skills that will help them succeed in the workplace and in their personal lives while providing them with a life-long sport to improve their health.
No-Cut programs are still a rarity, other than track. However, sports can contribute so much to a child’s development, educators should make more of an effort to nurture rather than squelch the desire of a young boy or girl who is willing to step into the arena and learn about himself, or herself.