As I see everyone’s adorable “back to school” photos on social media sites and my alma matter posting candids of freshman move-in day, I feel a little nostalgic for those days I spent as an undergrad in central Pennsylvania. Back then, I played Division III tennis. While it seems like a lifetime ago, I realized that I learned a great deal from playing college sports, which prepared me for the realities of motherhood.
1. Sleep schmeep!
Expectations aren’t lowered because you didn’t get a full recommended seven hours of shut-eye. In college, I didn’t go to bed before 10 p.m. Ever. Okay, I didn’t go out before 10 p.m. most nights. In motherhood also, you learn to physically and mentally perform when you are tired, stressed out, and not well-nourished. A teammate of my husband’s in college ate Skittles and drank Mountain Dew before every match. This is like when I pick at my kids’ leftovers and call it a meal. There are no do-overs, and this became especially evident when my second was born. My older son didn’t get (or care!) that I had been up all night with the baby. While it was a slightly better excuse than an ice luge at a Hawaiian-themed party, expectations didn’t change. You still need to be physically and mentally present and “on game.”
2. Impeccable time management skills.
I had to make every minute of college sports count by navigating daily practices and matches with a full course load, writing a thesis, student teaching, science labs, sorority meetings, and other extracurricular activities. Similarly, nowadays, nap/rest time at my house is incredibly productive. (Most of the time). Today, I did three loads of laundry, baked two dozen banana muffins, paid bills, and made next week’s grocery list. (Tomorrow, I might nap).
3. Personal hygiene is (sometimes) not a priority.
Gotta lift before class? Going from practice to the cafeteria for grilled cheese and tomato soup? Baby can crawl, isn’t napping, and you have a lunch date? Two words: dry shampoo. Throw a little Lady Speed Stick on, maybe even a hat – good to go for a few more hours.
4. Support of a team.
Even though we feel like we’re out there alone, we need people. We need a BMF (best mom friend) to text when we are having a bad day, and we need a teammate to console us after a bad loss on the long drive home. Motherhood sometimes feels like a singles match – left on the court to figure it out on our own, but we need cheerleaders to support us and coaches to give us advice for next time.
5. Coordinating outfits fake put-togetherness and control.
When entering a doubles tournament ten years ago, this was an attempt to intimidate opponents. These days it implies that I had some foresight about what my children would wear out of the house and that I was in charge of the clothing decision-making. (Only sometimes the case).
6. Gear is important, but it’s not the only thing.
Sure, the newest racket and fresh strings help your chances of coming out on top, but they don’t make up for basic skills, determination, and perseverance. Motherhood is about being there for your children regardless of the “stuff” you are surrounded by.
Although my racket now finds its home in a shadow box on our wall, my lessons on those courts have helped strengthen me as a mother.