Ever wonder how good the pros really are? Ever think to yourself, “If only I had done nothing but play one sport all my life and were blessed with superior genetics, I’d be just as good as them or at least been able to play in college.” Well, the next time these thoughts creep into your mind while sitting on your couch watching Sports Centre, seek out an athlete who played at the college level in whichever sport you THINK you excel at, and compete with them, or better yet, just practice with them and you will receive a lesson in rec league humility.
I’m a tennis player, and believe myself to be a pretty decent one at that (at least at my local club and among the friends I regularly play with). I give most of the players at my club a run for their money. I believe myself to be faster than most of the people I play with and consider my forehand to be a fairly good shot, a weapon in fact. This 'belief' however was called into question when I got the chance to practice with my friend Kevin, a former division 1 US college player.
Ten minutes into our warm-up, I felt pretty good about how I was keeping up. Then I felt compelled to ask Kevin how my shots compared to the players he normally practices with or used to play with in college. His response, “about half the speed and weight I’m used to.” With my ego sufficiently deflated, I requested of Kevin that he rally with the same pace he uses with players at his level. He was more than happy to comply and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The best way to describe what it was like is to imagine that your opponent gets to hit a tennis ball that, to him, feels like it’s coming out at a leisurely pace from a ball machine, while you get to return a baseball coming at you from a major league pitcher. Scariest of all, is the fact that my absolute best shots (which generally give my friends and fellow club players a hard time) were put away for winners by Kevin with ease.
While I did manage to hit a few shots that caught him off guard, most of the practice consisted of Kevin standing in one spot, moving me from side to side and leaving me in need of water every five minutes.
For my final lesson in humility I asked Kevin if he had a good time hitting with me considering the fact that I hit at half the pace of his usual hitting partners. “Yeah” he responded “it was great, it gave me a chance to practice my put-away shot because your shots land so far inside the baseline…my normal hitting partners don’t usually give me that chance because they hit the ball harder and deeper in the court.”
Back to my original point: how good are the pros really? Kevin the former D1 College player informed me that there are players at his club who are MUCH better than he is who also played at the college level. That’s a scary thought considering how good Kevin is, which really puts the pros into perspective. There are levels, and there are levels on top of levels on top of levels on top of levels…then there are rookie pros, then seasoned pros, then there are the top pros who make the seasoned pros look like me playing Kevin.