Hall of Fame

Howard Sands

Graduation Year


Induction Year


Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

Sands was Harvard's first tennis All-American, earning the honor in 1981, 1982, and 1983 for singles play. He earned the same distinction in doubles in 1982. He was an Intercollegiate Tennis Association Champion and a first team All-Ivy selection in 1981, 1982, and 1983. Sands helped put Harvard back on track leading the team to a perfect 9-0 record in each of those three seasons.

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

It is so rare that an athlete one receives recognition and even more rare so many years afterwards. So I would like to express my gratitude to the Harvard Varsity Club and Coach Dave fish for this recognition.

When I was ten years old I had two goals as I looked into my future -- to play on the Stanford University tennis team, and afterwards to play professionally. While the second objective was in retrospect, a pretty lofty ambition, by the time I was sixteen the first objective was well within reach. At the nationals that summer a coach from Harvard approached me. As a kid in a public high school in Los Angeles and immersed in the street-tough Southern California competitive tennis scene, the thought of attending Harvard had not previously crossed my mind.

When it was time to apply to colleges, I was up against another top ten nationally ranked player for one one-half scholarship spot on the Stanford team. Since I was 5'9" and the other guy was about 6'2" and ranked a few spots ahead of me, I thought it would be best to hedge my bets and apply to my second choice -- University of California. But just for fun, I threw Harvard into the mix.

Around the time that I was accpeted to Harvard I also learned that I would not get that Stanford scholarship. My parents were subtly encouraging me to accept Harvard -- and that alone would probably been enough to convince me to g oto the local junior college, stubborn adolescent that I was. I struggled with the options before me -- it was just not in the vocabulary to go east and train in my sport -- the weather wasn't right; the facilities weren't right; and the academics would be more rigorous. And I didn't know anyone there, except for one guy on the tennis team -- Don Pompan. Don was a great junior player from Southern California who knew early on that he wanted to be a doctor. I began to think that if I could train with Don, and perhaps make up for a lack of competition with more match time and more attention from the coaches, and if I could contribute in a meaningful way to helping Harvard Tennis rebuild a nationally recognized program, it would be tremendously rewarding. So I dragged myself to the mailbox, cursing all the way, and dropped in my Harvard acceptance.

My intial experience at Harvard was not at all fun. In fact, I got off to such a bad start that I didn't even make the varsity squad. At that time, I made three very substantial changes in my game: I sommitted myself to become an attacker, which meant I had to develop my approach and net games; I changed my backhand grip after years of resistance and learned how to drive it with topspin; and I became one of the first players to adopt the Prince Graphite oversize racket, which I did because I felt it would benefit my net game. Over the next couple of years I made some other unconventional moves as I incorporated yoga, meditation, and dietary changes into my regimen.

I'd like to thank those who contributed so much along the way: my family; Coach Dave Fish -- Dave, we didn't always see eye-to-eye, but we never gave up on each other, and I want to thank you for your vision and persistence both on technical issues and on values; and the many coaches who gave me so much of their caring time and energy and encouraged me to grow: Benny Sims, Tom Glen, Don Usher, Peter Felske, and off campus, Paul Cohen, Ron Willens, Alvar Kabe, Lou Dropnik, and Carol Drewyer.

Dave Benjamin, who played at Harvard years before me and later became the Princeton coach, once told me: "Don't let anybody tell you that because of your size you can't have a big serve or any other weapon." These words, from the coach of a rival school, stuck to me like glue and I am very thankful to Dave for imparting them upon me.

Years after my career was over, an aspiring sports sports psychologist who knew a lot about spiritual growth and less about sports asked me to help her develop a sports psychology program that would bridge the gap between sports and spiritual growth. As I told her, I belive that competitive sports are, at worst, a battlefield where the art of war is practiced, honed and played out, but at best, a stage for one to strive to be the best they can, to learn, to grow, to face their demons, weaknesses and strengths, to challenge oneself to excel -- not at the expense of others -- but rather to benefit oneself, and even set an example and inspire others. I also shared that I had learned that winning, as a goal, was antithetical to the achievement of the goal itself, and that concentration on achievement of the "ideal performance state" would, with refinement, result in the greatest performance possible, a most worthy outcome in itself. "Letting go" does not mean numbness -- it means freeing up the trained body from the mind's invisible chains of ambition and distractions of thought, to allow the body to do what it is capable of and has been programmed over and over to achieve.

After the performance is over, how does one put the winning or losing in perspective? I believe that a four-step process I learned works well: First, recognize the result, be it an achievement, or a failure, and understand why. Second, acknowledge one's responsibility in creating that outcome. Third, in the case of failure, forgive, and in the case of success, congratulate oneself. And fourth, after failure, make the commitment to chang, or after success, move on.

These are some of the lessons that I learned as an athlete. I believe they are most relevant to life after sports. As I stand before a room full of equally accomplished athletes and coaches, I drum up some of these thoughts not to preach to the choir, but rather to remind myself and share with others what worked for me, and also to reinforce to coaches what most of you already know -- that you are such important mentors to your athletes during their formative years of childhood through young adulthood.

And yes, I did go on to play professional tennis. And though I did surpass my goal of ranking in the top 200, I cherish most the memories of my team experience at Harvard -- the way we got to know each other, the hard work, and the way we came together to win three Eastern Conference titles and go to three NCAA team chamionships. So thank you to all of my teammates.

I haven't gotten it all right, but I have been blessed with opportunity and support, and these lessons and experiences that I will be able to draw upon not only as I continue to seek excellence, but also as I face the inevitable ups and downs of life. I am proud to see that Harvard tennis has come so far and is absolutely once again nationally recognized. Congratulations to all those who have been a part of rebuilding it. Thank you to the Stanford coach for denying me that scholarship, and more importantly, thank you Harvard for the opportunity.