Recreational Tennis: Why Do We Do It?
By Christine Gaspar
Why do middle-aged men and women such as me hit the courts at every opportunity, week after week, to chase down a little yellow ball and try to hit it with a racket? Sure, it’s great exercise, but is that the only reason more than 17 million recreational players (according to the TIA) enjoy a good game of tennis?
After a 20+ year hiatus, I eased back into the sport by playing casual doubles. I then enrolled in the occasional clinic and eventually joined my first USTA team a few years ago. What has surprised me the most is that with each passing year, tennis has taken on a more significant role in my life. I credit this transformation, quite simply, to the people I’ve met on the courts.
While our army of recreational players cannot expect to play in the US Open finals, we often find our corner of the tennis world to be just as exciting and engaging as the lives of the pros on tour. An end-of-season match for a team trying to clinch a Districts spot guarantees an evening of intense competition, athleticism, and teamwork, followed by delicious food and drink shared in a pleasant and comfortable environment. It is thanks to this unique scenario of participating on a team– combined with establishing strong social ties in our local community — that something powerful and special happens.
Over the years, as the matches pile up and we experience the ups and the downs of each tennis season, we build lasting memories of our time spent together on the court. Players reminisce over the tractor trailer accident on the Mass Pike that caused half the team to get stuck in traffic on their way to Districts, or the time a captain forgot to pack shoes for a match, or when someone went to the wrong tennis club in Trumbull. Almost imperceptibly, these stories start to expand beyond the court to include tales of our oldest child’s college search, or losing a beloved parent. These shared experiences become woven together into a blanket that comforts and warms our weary shoulders after a long, hard day.
And so, in answer to why I play tennis so much, I will say that it helps me be a healthier, happier person. A recent study by Oxford University found that when middle-aged and older individuals participate in racket sports, we experience undeniable health benefits. Yes, our muscles and cardiovascular systems get stronger but just as important, we enjoy emotional benefits as we develop a network of friends and acquaintances that extends well beyond our home club or team. Thus in addition to the physical gifts tennis provides, the sport offers social benefits through club events and organized activities that encourage personal connections and lasting friendships.
All this from a little yellow ball, a trusty racket, and a good game of tennis.
Christine Gaspar is a USTA 3.0 rated player working hard to get to the next level. A graduate of Wellesley College, Christine continued her education earning M.A. and PhD degrees from Brown University. Christine is currently playing on 4 USTA teams, co-captaining a women’s 3.0 40+ team and volunteering her off court time to the USTA New England Public Relations Committee.