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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

I Stink

“I stink.”

Not words you expect to hear when you come upon a court of little tykes who had been 15 minutes ago having fun and laughing at the games they were playing on court.

But, in the shade, sitting cross legged by himself while the chaotic energy of other eight year olds swirled around, sat Sam.  He was such a happy kid.  Loved camp.  Great listener.  Entered into drills and off court sessions with gusto and a smile.

I sat down cross legged beside him, realizing too late I may never be able to extract myself from this position when I tried to get up.

“Hi, Sam!  Whatcha doing?”


“Why are you sitting?”

“Just because.”

Because of his outward joy most of the time, and because he betrayed no sign of frustration, I asked “Why because?”

He looked at me from behind his glasses and then a big old fat tear spilled out of his eye and down his cheek.  I had not seen that coming.

“I stink,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t even get one ball over!  And I never will!”

These are moments you throw all teaching techniques out the window.  You grasp for whatever you can because you see someone’s heart breaking.  The beauty and rawness of little kids is that you know exactly where you stand once you sit in silence a moment and let them express it.

“So, will you try again in a bit?” I asked.

“I don’t think so.  I’m done with tennis.”

“Because you stink?”

“Yes.  Because I stink.”

Not Sam, but his smile is just as genuine.

“How about if I toss you a few balls?  I want to see if you really stink.  I think you might not, but we’ll see.  Would you be up for that?”


I stood – I knew I should never have sat cross legged – and waddled over to get some balls to toss him as my joints screamed ‘Don’t ever try to sit like a little kid again!!’

I tossed him one in his hitting zone.  He had atrocious form.  That’s because he is eight and hasn’t played tennis before.  But he hit the ball back to me and I caught it.

“One!” I yelled.  Then over and over.  “Two!  Three!  Four!!!”  We got to fourteen.  I said nothing about his form.

“Ok, backhands!”  I yelled.  “One!  Two!”

He got 10 of 13 back to me.  His backhand form was even worse than his forehand.

When we finished I said, “Anyone who can get 14 forehands in a row and 10 out of 13 backhands does not stink!  Are you sure you weren’t talking about your armpits? Maybe they stink!  Maybe you haven’t showered?”

He looked at me from behind those glasses and his smile made my camp.  “No, I showered!”

“Well, you couldn’t have, because you sure don’t stink at tennis!  Think you might want to get back out there and give it a go?”  He nodded, smiled and off he went.

Sometimes I have to remember to throw all the teaching out the window to get to what is important.  A person does not always want to be taught.  Sometimes they just want to be loved.

And next time I will also remember not to sit cross legged.


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