There is a sound that evokes the hope of warmer days, the unmistakable smell of freshly mown grass and a childhood anticipation of play time. The sound is that of the humble tennis ball hitting the strings of a racket.
For me, hearing this reverberation conjures up memories of lighter evenings and precious time spent with my sisters. I am one of four girls, the baby of the family. Due to my parents’ divorce, I didn't grow up with my older siblings, but visited them every Wednesday after school. I loved being with my sisters, and along with all the usual fun and games, we played tennis together.
My sisters were fortunate enough to live opposite a junior school that had an open yard, marked out with white lines and great walls for hitting against. All we needed to do was hop, skip, and jump over the boundary fence. And so, we did, each week through June and into July. Those evenings embodied my love of play, freedom, and sisterly belonging. The air was warm and filled with distant sounds of lawn mowers, the chimes of an ice cream van, and the bouncy, echoing ‘thwack’ of a fuzzy tennis ball. This is the spirit of summer.
My love of tennis runs deep and like many things in my life has ebbed and flowed throughout each chapter. It was with my sister, Catherine, that I first experienced Wimbledon 20 years ago. We were like giddy teenagers running around the concourse, cameras at the ready, eagerly spotting stars such as McEnroe and Agassi. We sat in gifted seats on Centre Court at the end of the day, praying for the rain to stop to allow Tim Henman to continue his winning streak against Ivanisevic and go onto the final - but rain stopped play (there was no roof), and Ivanisevic went on to win the championship.
Later in my life, tennis was therapy and a form of recovery. I became very unwell in 2017 and spent 6 months recovering from a nervous breakdown. As part of regaining my health, I chose to do things that gave me joy, and most were from my childhood. One of these activities was tennis. I played with my husband, who had never really picked up a racket. Our beautiful local park in Aberdare has a concrete court, kept in pristine condition, with the backdrop of a bowling green, lake, and lots of splendid trees. It became an oasis for me, a place to reset and most importantly, play and have fun again.
The best thing about this time, is the love my husband found in the game. He joined the club, has lessons and watches the men's tour avidly throughout the year. My children also play. And so, the childhood play time with my sisters, which started over 30 years ago, has come full circle. We have become a tennis family, and I get to enjoy the sound of tennis in my life. The joy of seeing my daughter and son hop, skip, and jump around on the court - missing balls, getting frustrated and then swinging a perfect lob - is priceless.
I believe we grow up, we mature, and we age - but we choose whether to grow old. Play is a vital part of not growing old. I love nostalgic play - remembering the things you did as a child and reliving them as an adult. Brené Brown says that "play—doing things just because they're fun and not because they'll help achieve a goal—is vital to human development." Research has shown that play is at the core of creativity and innovation. Brené goes on to say that "play can mean snorkelling, scrapbooking or solving crossword puzzles; it's anything that makes us lose track of time and self-consciousness, creating the clearing where ideas are born". Ultimately, adults who play are happier, healthier, and more connected to themselves and others as a result.
So, as the summer holidays approach, plan in some time to play. Think about the fun things you loved to do as a child and pick up, dust off or re-invent your game. Have fun and feel your own spirit of the summer.
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