June 8, 2018

The Magic of Being a Student-Athlete

1800 words · 9 minutes

There is a lot of magic surrounding college athletics. In three years of playing college tennis for the University of Memphis I have already had the opportunity to live through so many unbelievably magical experiences.

It is magical to step on the court in front of a big and excited home crowd. It is magical to be the last person on court when the whole dual match is coming down to your match as it is tied at 3-3 overall and all eyes are on you. It is magical to win those matches and have your whole team run towards you in uncontainable excitement. The whole concept of collegiate sport is surrounded by something special, which is truly fascinating to any European. Going to University in Germany with the aspiration to eventually become a professional athlete is a hard task. There may be sports teams at a higher education level, but these can not be compared to any of the American ones. Luckily, Americans love sports. They have found a way for athletes to follow their dreams, play their favorite sports at a high, competitive level, but are also able to receive a higher form of education. But not only that, due to the competitiveness of any of these sports, it generates enormous pride to play for the school which attracts many fans. A college match against another University is not just a meaningless event as there is a lot on the line every single time the team steps out on the court. There is the hope and expectation from the fans and the mere desire for championships. That is what makes college athletics so magical.

A perfect example for that was a match in my freshman year against the University of Mississippi, more commonly known as Ole Miss, a school known for their high standards of athletics and part of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) which is quite possibly THE conference when it comes to athletics. Ole Miss is only a 45-minute drive from the University of Memphis, which is quite close on an American scale (note: A seven-hour car ride here in the US is not necessarily considered a long drive). As you can imagine, when two colleges are that closely located to each other, a rivalry is unavoidable. The match was played at their facility and several hundred people were in attendance, both from Oxford as well as Memphis. Not only did we win the match 4-1, but I was also the one to get the deciding 4th point. It was a win that the whole city celebrated. The memory of hitting an ace on match point will forever stick with me and it is memories like this that keep me motivated and excited to continue to work hard on and off the court.

I guess, I have always had a small advantage though because not only do I play tennis, I am also a magician. I started when I was just a young boy and my parents bought me one of those “magic sets”. However, it was not until I was about 15 years old and saw a magician use magic to get a girl’s phone number that it started to really fascinate me. I realized that magic could help me break the ice with people. I have always been an outgoing person that loves to socialize, but in that video, I saw an opportunity to make people and strangers happy and surprise them; even if it was just for a moment. That was the moment I chose to dive deeper into the world of magic and away from the little tricks I learned as a little kid. I wanted to learn about the well-kept secrets of magicians.

I would like to stop at this point to give a shoutout to my mom and dad. Not only have they pushed me to always pursue my athletic and academic goals, but they are also the ones financing the whole magic journey. Those magic books are not very cheap. I would also like to apologize to my former high school classmates, as they were the ones who had to see all of my tricks, even when they were bad. But just as it is with any craft, practice makes perfect. I slowly became more and more confident in performing my magic tricks, even to strangers. When performing magic, confidence is the key. As a performer, I need to be one hundred percent certain that I am capable of doing the trick correctly. And with that confidence, the trick becomes even better, it becomes more convincible.

The parallels to tennis are actually quite funny to me. In college tennis, just like when performing magic, the person standing across from you is a complete stranger. They don’t know your tricks and it is your goal to completely fool them. To give them the unexpected and to "one-up" them. And without confidence, neither of those things are possible to do. To win, the player needs to be in full control of the situation. And when not playing against a stranger, when the other person already knows all your best tricks, you will just have to surprise them with new ones.

I continued doing magic as I moved across the globe to study at the University of Memphis and it was a decision I do not regret by any means. It might seem a bit weird to carry a deck of cards with me at a party, but it is an easy form of entertainment. It has helped me make new friendships and relationships and allowed me to make a name for myself amongst the athletes. Once a year, the University of Memphis hosts a banquet called the Pawscars for its athletes. I was asked to perform magic there my sophomore year and was invited back to even host it my junior year. Standing in front of all of my fellow athletes and being able to put a smile on their faces will forever be a highlight of my collegiate career.

Having done magic intensively for 5 years is not a long time. But the more I dive into it, the more secrets I uncover. Besides the YouTube magician with the magic powers to get a girl’s number, there have been a lot of people influencing me on my path. Of course, the infamous David Blaine or Penn and Teller come to mind (I am an especially big fan of Penn). But there are a lot of highly talented magicians I have actively learned from by studying their material, like Daniel Madison, Justin Miller, Daniel Chard, Geraint Clarke and Peter McKinnon, just to name a few. Doing magic has changed my life and these men have had such a huge impact on it.

Doing magic has not made my forehand better, my serve faster, or my footwork quicker, but it has shaped my character. It has allowed me to understand people, by learning what fools them, what doesn’t, and how they respond to certain things. It has also allowed me to deal with difficult situations when things do not go as planned. I am far from being a great magician, I still mess things up. And tennis is a sport full of mistakes. A few per game. A lot per match. Doing magic has allowed me to better deal with those mistakes though. I have also always been a very happy person, trying to smile as often as possible, which is why I try to incorporate comedy into my acts. Not always successfully, though. At the same time, I am trying to portray the same person on court as well. It may be hard sometimes, as things do not always go as planned, but a positive attitude will always help.

College tennis is a lot different from regular tennis. An individual sport was turned into a team sport. The crowds are loud and wild. It’s a fast-paced game. It is something special. And also, something that will never come back. As athletes, we are allowed to play four full seasons. Once we graduate, it is over. We try to cherish every moment; even the tough ones. I cannot tell you, how tennis has changed my life, as I have played the sport most of my life and it became such a consistent part of my life. It has made me who I am today. I don't recall a life without tennis.

However, I can certainly tell you how collegiate tennis has changed it. I have become more independent, I have fallen in love with tennis even more, and I have become proud of who I am as a person and what I work for. A word that describes Memphis and Memphians is “grind”. Our conference is very often overlooked and we have to grind for everything. Nothing is given. We all are learning life lessons here which we will take with us post-college. I am incredibly thankful for that and everything the city has given me. A stage to prove myself to be a good tennis player. A platform to express myself as a magician. There are too many people to thank individually, but first and foremost my family, who have supported me from the very beginning, the University of Memphis staff and especially the coaches that recruited me, dealt with me, trusted in me, and made me a better tennis player and person in general. My teammates, who are like a family to me. Just like brothers, we don’t always have to get along, but we are always there for one another. The fans who stand behind all of us and keep us going. All of the individuals that mentor us and help us navigate through our college lives. And finally, all the people from Memphis who have taught me how to grind and work for everything I want. German born, but Memphis made.

... just as I am trying to give people a magical moment, so are all the other collegiate sports as well. Experience them all. From football and basketball to tennis, golf and rifle. They will all excite you. They will make you proud of your university. Nothing makes me prouder than being a Memphis Tiger. And that is truly magical to me.

Thank you

If you have made it this far, thank you very much for your attention. This means the absolute world to us. We hope that you enjoyed this story from Chris Patzanovsky and if you did, please share it with someone that could also enjoy it.

Also, thank you to the Memphis Tigers and photographers Joe Murphy and Ben Solomon for allowing us to use their pictures.

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