Playing tennis is easy, right?
Most people can hit the ball over the net a few times. Some people can direct the ball to certain areas of the court in order to make their opponent run. More experienced players can even execute strategic patterns of shots based on a game plan that is designed to combat their adversaries. However, no matter how long we have been playing, or how many lessons we have taken, we are rarely pleased with our performance.
Why is that? Why do we often feel that we have not played up to our level?
As in most challenging areas of life, we are our own worst enemy. We do it to ourselves!
After each errant shot, we choose to blame ourselves: “what a lousy shot!”, “I should have made that volley”, “what a choke”, “I knew he was going to hit it there”, “I am so slow”.
Why do we do this? Why does it feel that we have to assign blame? Somehow it feels right, to be critical, to offer ourselves ‘constructive’ criticism, or worse.
It’s as if someone is asking: “A mistake has been made, so someone must be at fault. Who is the perpetrator? Someone is going to have to pay for this!”
And we are so eager to comply: “I found him, your honor! It’s me! I did it. I am guilty.”
The constant self-badgering wears us down. All the guilty pleas add up. They add up until all our moral fiber has been shredded to mush. It leaves us feeling deflated and unable to ‘remember’ all of the hopeful energy that we started the match with. We have plenty of good intentions. We try to make every shot to the best of our abilities, but it just isn’t enough. The self- judge is insatiable and ruthless. After every miss, with every judgment, our mood sours more and more. At this point some of our critical capacities as far as tennis is concerned are not available to us anymore. The ability to problem-solve, and adapt to our opponents play are only at our disposal when we are in a better state of mind. The downward spiral is completed when we finally agree that we are indeed guilty of not playing up to our potential. We are often even ashamed of it!
So, here is the challenge: I predict it might be the hardest thing you will ever do on a tennis court.
Play your next match with the intention of NOT judging yourself. Make this priority number one.
As soon as you are aware of a self-judgment, let it go. Every sigh, moan or begrudging eye roll counts. Try and register even the tiniest transgression against yourself. Just the curiosity alone to find out how long you can last will help you continue. You have my respect if you can allow yourself to take this step. Try and be gentle with yourself.
The reason it will be difficult is because of the addictive nature of our ego. When our ego is involved, we think of everything as cause-and-effect. This good-or bad, black-or white type of reasoning needs to be released in order to succeed at the challenge. Here’s how to take a broader view:
►Accept that you can do everything right in a point and still lose it
►Be willing to roll with the eb-and-flow of a match
►Display the courage to stop blaming anyone, including yourself
►Use compassion to make your corrections proportionate.
►See the joy in learning about yourself.
In order to make this challenge worthwhile some mental preparation is required. Most of you reading this article will not follow through on that. I am aware that while you are reading these lines, your ego is peeking in as well! You will decide that next time will be different. That’s fine. You have not suffered enough yet (at your own hands).
A small minority of you are ready for this. You have had to learn the same lesson one too many times, and therefore are ready to give it a go.
Good Luck! Email me your experience! Return message guaranteed.
Tonny van de Pieterman
Tonny van de Pieterman is a tennis professional at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y.. He was recently named USTA Tennis Professional of the Year for the USTA/Eastern-Long Island Region and helped the Eastern Section win this year’s Talbert Cup. He may be reached by phone at (516) 536-2323 or e-mail Tonny@PointSetTennis.com.