Coming into Carnegie Mellon as a scrawny freshman with a wrist injury, I never imagined leading the tennis team. The upperclassmen were topnotch competitors and incredible role models, so filling their shoes seemed out of the question. In fact, my goals at the time were small and tangible: I wanted to heal my injury, help my brother Shiv make the team, and crack the starting lineup. Despite the narrow scope of these objectives, I pursued them with unwavering determination. On top of visiting the training room several times a week to rehab my wrist, I practiced with the team and played extra with my brother. Even as fall turned to winter, we trained every day in Skibo’s multipurpose room.
By the end of the first semester, I was fully healthy and both of us had improved our games dramatically. However, the coaches decided that my brother would not be on the team; he would get to practice with us occasionally but would have to join the club team to keep playing competitively. Shiv took this decision in stride, and has since played a pivotal role in transforming CMU’s club tennis team into a premier national program.
That being said, he still helped me pursue my third goal of cracking the starting lineup. When I returned to campus for spring semester, my improvement caught the coaches’ eyes. I ended up starting at #6 singles during that historic season, but I have come to realize that the real benefit of my actions were initially unintended. My pursuit of individual excellence during my freshman and sophomore years actually inspired the team and pushed everyone to new heights. I had made the whole team better and unwittingly become one of its leaders.
At the start of my junior year, the coaches selected the two seniors and me as captains. This is when I began to understand what it means to put the needs of the team first. I became more vocal, and focused most of my energy on motivating the team during practices and matches. Maybe I took this outlook too far; I failed to take care of myself, so injuries resurfaced and my level slipped. Yet, I wouldn’t trade that season for anything. Even though I struggled personally, we ended the year ranked #7, our best finish in program history.
This year, I realized what it means to balance the needs of the team with my own to produce the best combined outcome. I still passionately support my teammates, but know that concentrating on my own game is equally important. The difference between my current view on self-improvement and my old one is that I now push myself much less to notch individual accomplishments than to motivate my teammates and elevate our chances of collective success. I have learned that clean competition is actually the greatest form of cooperation, since both parties can bring out the best in each other.
Ultimately, adopting this balanced perspective is what has allowed me to become a more effective leader. I have continued improving my game, but now give equal attention to fostering a positive culture where all players can thrive. I am thankful to my coaches and teammates for helping me develop as a leader, and I hope that we have laid the foundations for even greater success in the future.