By, Deirdre Hughes
As a black woman living in a diverse metropolitan community, I don’t face a daily barrage of overt racism. Instead, I encounter the slow, steady drip of microaggressions and bias that wear on my mind and soul. Regular occurrences like the glares of disdain from my neighbors as I walk in my own neighborhood; Starbucks Barista moving the tip jar when I step up to the counter or the co-worker telling me that racism “isn’t a thing.” My experience, it’s like death by a thousand pin-pricks.
Our current times have generated high stress and anxiety across the nation, in the local Mid-Atlantic region and around the globe. In the African American community, high blood pressure and diabetes are prevalent; African American adults are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, according to the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Studies suggest that these chronic diseases are also linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders. Further, research that links experiences of racism with poor mental health is emerging.
Fortunately, one of my best strategies for combating stressful experiences is tennis.
My tennis story begins on the public tennis courts in Buffalo, N.Y. My uncle, who is also a tennis player, gave me my first racquet as a Christmas gift when I was in middle school. That following summer, I started learning tennis in a free tennis summer camp sponsored by the Buffalo Department of Parks and Recreation.
My passion for the sport started during those summers. Over the years I played tennis every once in a while. Then in 2011, I started taking lessons again when my job’s wellness benefit covered tennis lessons. Over time, as I saw improvement in my play, I began playing more and more.
Currently, I am a 3.0 player but I prefer to play at 3.5. I am a singles player but I will play doubles from time to time. I have played on various teams around the Washington, D.C. metro region in addition to playing in USTA Sanctioned tournaments. My biggest tennis accomplishments to date include an undefeated season in 6.0 Mixed Doubles and winning the January 2019 Ladies 3.0 Singles Simkins Indoor NTRP tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
For me, tennis is an escape and outlet from the daily stresses of my life. Nothing else matters when I step onto a tennis court. From my first strike of the ball, I can feel all my anxiety melt away and my problems temporarily disappear. After I finish playing, I am relaxed and positive, and ready to once again tackle my everyday life.
Tennis also helps my mental acuity. I love the challenge of thinking through a match, problem-solving, self-evaluating, and correcting mistakes. These skills don’t just reside on the tennis court but are skills that I use in my professional life as a marketing manager at USTA Mid-Atlantic. Further, tennis aids in developing mental toughness and resilience. Two very important traits needed to navigate our world.
It’s important not to underestimate the power of tennis. Tennis is unlike any other sport; a lifelong sport that offers physical and mental benefits. Just read Dr. Jack Groppel’s 34 Reasons to Play Tennis and listen to the webinars he held with us at USTA Mid-Atlantic recently and you’ll gain an understanding of the physical and psychological reasons to play the sport.
While playing tennis cannot solve systemic issues such as racism, it can, however, aid in relieving stress and improving overall health. Tennis can foster connections, communication, and community. Healthy minds and bodies create healthy communities.
Tennis can help all people – socially, emotionally, and physically.
And it is with this very belief USTA Mid-Atlantic works hard to make tennis the most accessible sport in the region for ALL people and communities. Tennis can help as part of a recovery process and the #ServeItForward campaign is in progress to support this effort.
USTA Mid-Atlantic invites everyone to #ServeItForward both on and off-court, and get involved in helping to support tennis in the Mid-Atlantic Section as part of the recovery process we’ll all need. Learn more about how you can #ServeItForward and support the USTA Mid-Atlantic, a non-profit organization, as we bring the healing power of tennis to our Mid-Atlantic community.