Once there was a young girl, named Patty. She had lots of fun and made many friends. During the summer before her third grade, Patty decided to try a new sport. Swim team was nearly over and Patty was the fastest swimmer in her age group. She had always been the best. The neighborhood was offering a tennis clinic. Patty and her friend Darla got permission from their parents to join.
On Saturday morning, Darla's mom took the girls to a consignment store around the corner and bought them each a good, used tennis racket. "If you girls stick to tennis, then we'll talk about a new racket. These will do for now." The girls were thrilled with their new purchases. Patty had a purple racket with bright yellow strings and Darla got a blue one with fluorescent green strings.
On Monday morning, at 7:00 a.m., Patty's mom woke her up. "It's time for tennis!" Patty covered her face with her pillow. "Mom, it's way too early!" she stumbled out of bed and down to the breakfast table. "You'll need fruit and cereal. I'll fix you some Gatorade to take to the court." Her mother seemed excited that Patty was picking up tennis. Patty finished breakfast and ran over to Darla's house. They walked over to the courts.
Mrs. Cane, the tennis coach, lined everyone up and started with the basics. There were four girls in the lesson. Mrs. Cane had two buckets of balls and tirelessly tossed them to the forehands and the backhands. By the end of the week, Patty was really making progress. Mrs. Cane commented that Patty had lots of potential. Darla, on the other hand, was struggling. The other girls were having a tough time of it, also. Patty was the only one who seemed to get it.
That weekend, Darla begged her parents to hit with her. Patty wasn't really interested. She was such a 'natural' at tennis that she felt she really didn't need to practice. So, Darla was out in the August heat, practicing her serves on Saturday. Sunday, after church, Darla was hitting tennis balls with her big brother. He was not impressed with her talent, but he drilled her anyway. She hit against her house and volleyed with her mom in the driveway. By the end of the summer, Darla was beginning to get the hang of it.
Mrs. Cane held another tennis clinic the week before school started. Darla and Patty signed up immediately. Mrs. Cane was pleased with Darla's progress. "Well, I can tell who's been practicing!" Patty wished that she had been as diligent as Darla, but she was still proud that she had such "natural" ability. Mrs. Cane commented that Patty had so much potential and would be the next Billy Jean King if she would just practice. Both girls had a wonderful time.
Darla decided to join the neighborhood junior tennis team. Matches would be every Thursday. Patty wanted to join, but she didn't want to miss the Youth Troop TV show. She daydreamed about being the next tennis star. She told herself that she would continue to hit the tennis ball when she got some free time. If Darla had fun, she would join the team in the spring.
Several weeks passed, and Patty went to one of the matches. She was really impressed with the way the girls were hitting. She was a little bit lost, too. "Thirty-love," cried Darla, before she served. "What is she talking about?" thought Patty. She wanted to ask but she didn't want to appear dumb. Finally, the match was over. Darla and her partner lost, but they had a wonderful time. All the kids were really nice. Patty wished she had joined. It was too late, now.
Later in the year, the spring junior tennis team started up. Darla was captain. Her parents bought her a brand new racket because she deserved it. She tried to talk Patty into joining, but Patty had not practiced and was way behind the rest of the girls. She wasn't comfortable when she wasn't the "best." She was sort of embarrassed that she hadn't improved. All of that "natural talent" really got her nowhere.
That spring, Darla's team went to the playoffs. They got in 2nd place and were invited to the City Finals. That was the worst week of Patty's life. She was very excited for the girls and cheered them on. But inside she was miserable. "Why didn't I go ahead and join when they asked me?" she thought. Now it really was too late. No one was begging her to join the team anymore because they didn't need her. The girls had developed their tennis skills way beyond her abilities.
Several of the girls couldn't go to the city finals because they were going on vacation. Darla asked Patty to please play doubles with her at city finals. Now Patty got her chance. Too bad she had not practiced. Darla helped Patty along during the match. Patty suffered from heat exhaustion and frustration. They lost eight to one. Patty really felt like she let her team down. But the team won the city finals by one point. That point really made the difference. Darla and Patty's disappointment was quickly turned into jubilation! They had a celebration party. Patty decided tennis would be a good sport after all.
Through the years, the team grew and changed. The girls stuck it out and continued to improve. They became very good friends. Patty joined a team out of the neighborhood and practiced regularly. Darla worked with her and the two girls had lots of fun together, again. One of the girls on Darla's team moved and a spot opened up for Patty. Although she was the weakest player, she still enjoyed herself and worked hard at practice. Because she finally decided to practice and not accept that she was a 'natural,' she was able to join in the fun. That was one of the best lessons of her life.