Written by: Soufiane Azargui
***19 year old Soufiane Arzagui came to Toronto from Morocco at the age of 10 and a half. Over the next 7 years, Soufiane developed as an excellent tennis player winning singles and doubles titles at the national and ITF level as well as maintaining a high academic level at Bateman High School in Burlington. After six years at the ACE tennis Academy he fulfilled his objective of receiving a scholarship to an Ivy League school, Brown University in September of 2010.***
My third year at Brown University presented me with a variety of challenges – some of which were new while others were all too familiar. Last season, I was able to play the majority of the season through lingering back spasms. This year, however, I had to sit out about 75% of the match due to debilitating back pain. Heading into this year, I was named captain of the team, a role I shared with a senior on the team. I was looking forward to sharing captaincy duties with him, feeding off one another’s strengths and leading the team to an Ivy League title. However, by the end of our second month of practice, my back spasms intensified. On top of that, my co-captain quit the team.
This presented a new challenge for me, because I am very much a lead-by-example individual. Not being able to physically battle with my teammates everyday, I had to adapt and find other ways to lead and remain a valuable member of the team. This could range from providing an energetic pre-match speech to being on court helping and encouraging teammates on the changeovers. The worst feeling for a competitive athlete such as myself, especially one playing a team sport, is having to sit and watch while his teammates battle match after match.
That being said, the guys all did very well this year, topping off the season with a road win against top 25 Harvard in dramatic fashion! In my absence, the team dynamic shifted as a lot of our older players took on more leadership roles on the court, particularly fellow junior Sam Fife. He was rewarded for his increased leadership by being named co-captain heading into the Ivy season. This helped ease a lot of the pressure and burden I had put on myself for being captain and not being able to play.
There are some positives to take away from being injured, however. It challenges your resolve and commitment not only to your sport, but also to yourself. It gives your body time to heal and allows you to focus on your academics, a rare luxury for a collegiate athlete. (the semester when he wasn’t playing he got straight A’s at Brown, which he modestly neglected to report!) Since I have been unable to do anything but core rehab exercises, time management has been less of an issue for me this spring. Although I spend time attending practices and matches, the biggest improvement for me, from a time management standpoint, has been the ability to make better use of my free time to study. I never could fully immerse myself in my studies on the road or at home knowing that I had upcoming matches; there was so much stress involved. Now, I could clear my head and focus solely on my assignments and exams without the stress of playing tennis matches the next day.
My experience this year has taught me the true value of health. Back injuries are different in that many instances, these injuries can even affect you on a daily basis. With our trainers here at Brown, I have started a routine of injury prevention exercises, which I never truly valued before. For young aspiring college or professional players, I would say that injury prevention is the key to remain healthy, successful, and confident. This is something that ACE tennis academy really does promote, with exercises ranging from rotator cuff strengthening to hip mobility. But while I was a player there, I rarely and, in retrospect, unwisely put forth a full effort in fitness. As a result, I suffered many of the consequences. That is why I want to stress the importance of injury prevention exercises because every single exercise you perform, no matter how insignificant it appears, is a building block to ensure that your body stays healthy and primed for competition.
I learned this with about two years left of my junior playing career at ACE tennis. When I was 17, I had a serious sit-down with Pierre and my mother in order to change my attitude and effort level. It seemed that that provided the spark for me to turn the corner. I began dedicating myself more to my fitness, which then gave me the confidence to compete at the highest level, both nationally and internationally. I started realizing that I was taking on more of a leadership role in the academy, especially at a time when there were many young impressionable players.
Being at an academy where the younger and older players are all in the same program improving side by side allowed for a lot of the older players, like myself, to become leaders, mostly by example. This sort of interaction, camaraderie, and ability to step into a leadership role at ACE was crucial for my seamless transition to the Brown men’s tennis team, and later, to become team captain.