Years ago, I saw the documentary Waiting for Superman, which introduces the concept that the American public education system is vainly waiting for a superhero to come save it.
I suspect that I’m waiting for the same thing, but in my case, it’s my tennis game that needs saving. Too often I’m finding myself at the losing end of matches, even with players who are at my level. When I do get a lead, the tide soon turns and the set disappears.
I’m not claiming that I should win all of those matches, but if I really am evenly matched, I should win more matches than I do.
It recently occurred to me that I’m probably waiting for Superman – or I suppose in my case, for Wonder Woman. I was assuming that once I improved the forehand or bettered my volleys or sharpened my slices, then my superior strokes would propel me to victory.
Clearly though, that’s not the long-term solution. If I actually got what I wanted (better strokes), then I would move up a level to find players who had equally good strokes… and then I’d start losing once again.
So what could make me more consistently competitive?
I wondered if it wasn’t my mental game that needed a tune-up, so I refreshed my memory by re-reading a book called Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis by Brad Gilbert. The book is chock-full of tips of how to think differently to win matches, so I have a lot to consider.
To keep things simple, I’m focusing on two ideas to start with: constructing a basic game plan and waiting for the right opportunity.
Too often on the tennis court, I play in reactive mode; it means that I have no particular strategy or aim, but am simply waiting for an opportunity. This mode cedes the initiative to my opponent, leaving me vulnerable. Now I’m going to spend more time analyzing what my opponent doesn’t like and spend more time trying to do exactly that.
At the same time, I’ve realized that I lack patience during matches, going for shots that I have no rightly business trying for, especially during critical points. It’s a funny thing to realize, as off the court I’m patient beyond patient, but on the court, I hit shots that Federer himself wouldn’t try. Or, well maybe he would… but I certainly shouldn’t. 🙂
Next time, I’ll write about what happened when I put this theory into practice.
3 thoughts on “Waiting for Superman (or would it be Wonder Woman?)”
Brad Gilbert’s book talks about strategies to win at the highest level, statistical analysis and probabilities. This is intermediate tennis. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a personal statistician following me around with an iPad and following my opponents around when I’m not playing. Can you have fun without winning? Absolutely! I am living proof of this fact. I lose virtually every match I play against opponents at my level because I’m a nervous Nellie on the tennis court. Occasionally I’ll play a season of house league just to try and improve my performance under pressure. If I’m particularly relaxed and confident I might take a few games of my opponent but sooner or later I fold like a cheap lawn chair and start waiting for the torture to end. I’ve now accepted this fact and started to think about how to play my best and enjoy the game like I do when I’m just hitting. I’ve had admittedly intermittent success with this but it’s early days. The approach involves shifting my expectations around winning. Winning is an ugly word. It means overcoming, subduing, beating, all those aggressive dog eat dog fight or flight survival of the fittest back in the cave man (person) days. But what are we doing when we engage in leisure sport? Are we playing tennis with someone or against them? Tennis, like most sports, is a dance. In some sports you dance alone, but in tennis you get to dance with another, sometimes with three others. You are cooperatively making music together, with all the love expression and creativity that entails. If you shift the focus from dominate to cooperate, you lose the fight or flight response which tightens us up leading to short choppy strokes, bad footwork, and poor decision making. Instead you cooperate. Instead of trying to hit a winner early in the point, you give your dance partner a good ball, maybe stretch them a little to let them show off their ability, but you want them to dance with you a little longer. You are not afraid of them returning a good ball, because you want to show off a bit too. You want to draw out the anticipation of the climactic winner, which is only satisfying when you or your partner have built the point.Think of the Tango. It’s a teasing flirtatious drawn out mating ritual, foreplay if you like, but the sex is so much better.
I agree that the best part of tennis is having fun on the court, which is a broader concept than just winning.
In fact, the most fun is when you and your opponent play your best possible tennis, challenging each other to be better than you think you can be. That’s the true magic. Rather than hoping that the other person will double-fault or make an error, you instead hope they hit their best shot so you can see if you can rise to the occasion with a shot you never imagined you could make.
I had one of those matches last week, and even though I lost, I couldn’t keep the grin off my face.
But for me, if I’m not trying to win, I can get sloppy and careless. Oops… unforced error, oh well, doesn’t matter. Double-fault… darn.
So where is the happy medium… enough pressure to produce your best tennis but not so much that it becomes tense, unhappy and ugly?
Hmmm… I think I need to write another blog post. Too many ideas for this short box. 🙂