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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

On Family

I love family camp. All shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities thrown into a melting pot. The love – or sometimes rediscovered love – parents have for their kids come out in surprising ways. And vice versa. By the end, we become like one, big, family. It no longer surprises me, but it still makes me wonder about the mystery of it all.


At our family camp last weekend, a family of five came. It was very apparent only one of them wanted to be here. This is not uncommon.

On the court the first night for groundstrokes, I approached one of the teenage daughters to help with a forehand technique. She had, quite obviously, not played much tennis before. Which might be one of the reasons she did not want to be here. She received my help as graciously as she could for a person who did not want to be here. I left the court thinking, “She does not want to be here.”

Over the course of camp, she discovered something, I didn’t know what. Maybe that learning a new sport could be fun. Maybe that hearing about the good things she was doing from our instructors instead of what she was doing wrong (which is the way many teachers approach it from) opened her up to receive instruction. Maybe that she could be a kid again by seeing how our instructors can be goofy about life and serious about tennis at the same time. Maybe that our definition of success (the Three Crowns of attitude, effort, and sportsmanship; accepting the things we can’t change and changing what we can; and noticing and thanking those around us for the good they do) could free her up from what the world says is success (winning, looking good, being popular, accumulating things). I didn’t know. One never does. It’s all speculation.


But she and her siblings became more and more delightful over the course of camp. I was drawn to them over and over to give them high fives and encouragement, and their beautiful, emerging smiles gave me encouragement back.

When it came time for our final session, I asked each camper in the room what was the most important thing they learned or the thing they liked most about camp. The first camper to answer, an eight year old boy, said, “The food.” (Yes, the Three Crowns has such a profound impact on every person who attends…)

As we went around the room different people shared different stories or experiences. Their backhands got better. GVS. Instructors ate with them at dinner. Their children demonstrated the Three Crowns in surprising ways. Their parents displayed the Three Crowns in surprising ways.

One of the last to go was the teenage girl. She started by saying, “I did not want to be here.” (So we have finally confirmed that).

Then she described what happened over the course of camp to open her up to the experience, mentioning some of the things I speculated on above. But she got to the crux of the matter in a voice that could barely squeak it out through sobs at the end. She said, “My mom and I have had a difficult time with our relationship lately. This camp helped change that.” Then she leaned her head on to her mom’s shoulder and the two of them cried together, with almost everyone else in the room.

We had to move on to close the session, but there was still one other young boy left. I said, “What was the most important thing you learned or liked her at camp?” He said, “The food!”

And there you have it.


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