The only time I have a preseason is when fall semesters roll around, where perks include moving into campus a few days early and getting first pick of the bed. We’d have a few extra practices on official move-in days for the rest of campus, and maybe even a scrimmage, too, but I think this preseason is an attempt by Coach to encourage early teammate bonding, especially among the freshmen.
Of course this past fall semester was a bit different, i.e. the preseason was just as nonexistent as the season itself. There was no moving into campus early or freshmen teammate bonding to look forward to. There was only the student half of “student-athlete” left to close out 2020.
As winter break approached though, winter sports were trickling back into existence. My teammates and I immediately bombarded our coach for news of a possible spring season while also delicately complaining about how it isn’t fair that winter sports are a go.
With anticipation and hope and impatience, we spent the majority of our 2020 winter break messaging Coach and waiting for his reply. As December became January and 2020 celebrated a birthday, Coach finally hinted towards a spring season.
Coming into the infamously regulated spring 2021 semester, the team was awarded an unusual kind of preseason:
►Tennis is delayed until the end of February, which means the preseason is taking place during the first few weeks of the semester as opposed to a few days before the semester begins.
►COVID testing three times a week is mandatory when the season begins at the end of February. Testing days are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the time slots range from 8 a.m. to noon.
►Until the season begins — during our sad little “preseason” — athletes must be tested at least once a week.
►Both outdoor and indoor tennis courts are closed on campus until the beginning of the season at the end of February, so you have to find a different facility to practice on that is out of the way and has an hourly rate.
I didn’t mind the first point about delaying the season because the College could barely figure out how to manage the winter sports which were ongoing at the time of these announcements. In 2020, we basically had half a semester’s worth of a season, so I wasn’t going to complain about getting back out there, even if it did mean widening my nostrils to take a COVID-19 test three times a week. If anything, I appreciate the one time a week mandated test until the season begins because it gives my nostrils a few weeks to warm up for the main event.
It’s the last point that really gets to me. Courts on campus are closed and unavailable for use. Mind you, this was true in the fall semester even when the track and soccer fields were wide open and ready for action.
The one time my teammates and I took the back entrance to get onto the courts last semester, we were kicked off almost immediately. We only did so because the other campus athletic fields were occupied regularly, and there was never any roaming staff kicking them off.
So why us?
We disappointedly walked past the track back to where we came from and saw a track filled with student-athletes, neighboring adults, and a wide-open fence greeting them freely.
So when the College declared closed courts for the spring, I was a little insulted. But I’m not cold-hearted, I promise. I do see why they would want to shut the courts down for safety restrictions, and I understand that they would have to hire a worker (either student or staff) to facilitate who goes in and out of the recreation center.
But tennis isn’t like track. Track athletes don’t necessarily need a track in order to train. They can run on a treadmill, on a sidewalk, on a mountain for all I care and still be in shape for the season. Tennis needs a court.
Not to mention how tennis, like track, is considered a low-risk sport during the pandemic. There is research proving COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through touching tennis balls, nor can it be transmitted when playing 78 feet away from your opponent with your racket bags distant to the side.
Some things just aren’t making sense, but who am I to speak up when the athletic department has already made its decision. Now I’m left with a decision of my own: find indoor tennis clubs nearby or focus on staying in shape at home. Hear me out:
In addition to the tuition I pay the school to study and play tennis, I have to go out of my way to find a nearby tennis club and pay them to play tennis. All of us in the tennis world know that this is not a cheap exchange. Let’s not forget that those of us who could barely afford a college education are also experiencing the crumbling economy.
Clearly I decided to focus on staying in shape at home. In addition to working out around the house, I make sure to take the stairs more often than I need to. For example, every time I need to bring something from one floor to the next, I transfer them one at a time so I would have to go up and down and up again in order to get everything I needed to the same floor. This is the same for putting them back.
I am not just physically exercising, though, I am also mentally exercising. I am doing visual exercises where I imagine I am on the tennis court playing a point. I go through the point stroke by stroke, and pay attention to how I swing, how it feels to swing, and how I recover. Sometimes I’m serving and other times returning. This is a key component to helping me stay prepared for when I return to the courts at the end of February.
When I was younger and my family would travel, I wouldn’t play tennis for a week or so, and when we returned it was always a struggle to get back into the groove of the sport. However, when I was introduced to mental health and visual exercises, I found that they help my mind stay active on the court even when I’m not. Now more than ever I am relying on these visual exercises and my own willpower to stay in shape for the spring season.
I’ll be honest, there are days when I imagine what it would be like if I don’t return in the spring. I mean, I only have this semester and one more, and my athletic goals are no longer feasible. And if I’m really getting things off my chest I have to admit that having teammates has its downsides. We’re competing for spots in the lineup, and some of us don’t get along as well as we hoped.
There’s definitely been low points with the team, and during this “preseason” these points have been running through my mind trying to convince me that I’m better off without returning. As easy as it would be for me to call it quits, I don’t think I could ever let myself.
Yes, there are days when I don’t want to work out or run up and down the stairs so many times just to keep my legs loose. But there is never a day when I don’t want to visualize myself on a tennis court in the best shape of my life playing strategic points.
In 2018 when I started college, I would tell you how little preseason would factor into my athletic training. Two and a half years later and I am greatly mistaken. The most underestimated word has waited long enough to prove its true influence.
Liya Davidov is an undergraduate student-athlete at The College of New Jersey. She studies journalism and professional writing as well as creative writing, and will be graduating in December 2021, a semester early from the rest of her class. She plays first singles and doubles on the varsity women's tennis team, and was also named captain at the start of her sophomore year. Off court, she is a board member for multiple organizations on campus, and working two ongoing internships. She can be reached at email@example.com.