Jan 2016: tip of the month: comfort vs winning

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

 

What do we really want from playing tennis?

Of course, the immediate response is that we want to win, but is that the most important thing?

When I look around at club players and even some very good junior and college players, I see many players who have managed their game in a manner in which they can be successful, but the strokes look awkward and the body is not at ease.

Not every one is sensitive to this lack of ease in the body, but it is clear for someone watching the body from the outside.

So what is the goal in Life or tennis? Is it to be successful (however we define that term) or to be comfortable (a body, which is relaxed, fluid and flowing)? I know many players will try and opt for both, but unfortunately, how we answer this question will determine the quality of our strokes. Result is something that comes afterwards and is irrelevant to the ultimate choice.

For many players because winning or getting the ball back is more important that being comfortable and swinging freely, the quality of their strokes will be affected and the lack of comfort will always remain. Of course, success can still come, but comfort will never be there.

For me, growth is the most important component of Life and in tennis that translates into swinging freely without fear on every single shot. Of course, every shot may not go in or be a winner, but to be able to swing freely without fear is more valuable, for me, than getting the ball over the net any which way.

Please do not misunderstand me, in an emergency situation sometimes we are able to get racket to ball without looking pretty, but I am not talking about those isolated situations. I am referring to our regular neutral swings when the ball is right there for us to hit.

For me, sports have always been an art form and the result has always been secondary. That does not make me any less competitive that anyone else, especially if we define ‘competitive’ as someone who gives everything they have to win the game. However, awareness of the art form inspires me to ‘go for my shots’ over and over again, regardless of the score or situation of the match.

Some may view this as a bail out, but I do not. Going for your shots does not mean over-hitting or not making adjustments to find different ways to win. Instead, it means committing to one’s strokes and not being affected by the fear of missing.

So, how can we play freely and trust the body. The initial and most important step is first to realize that growth, both personal and tennis, is more important than winning or getting the ball in play. Once this realization has permeated into one’s core being, change will happen automatically.

On a physical level, one needs to create space in one’s strokes and trust the body enough to just swing. The more practice one has in doing this, the better the strokes will become. However, the trust of the body will not be easy to attain because the desire to control the ball or keep it in play appears on a deep cellular level that will affect the freedom of movement of the body unconsciously.

 

Enjoy the journey……………………..

Competition: the battle between the mind and body

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

The battle is between the desire to control and the ability to trust. The mind is about control and the body requires trust. The desire for control is usually so great that the mind takes over and trust evaporates.

The mind is constantly giving instructions, judging, cajoling, chastising, etc., and is not willing to trust the immense intelligence of the body.

If we truly come to ‘know’ that all the many minds we carry with us cannot help, it may be possible to trust and allow the body to play and thereby fulfill our athletic potential.  Winning cannot be guaranteed, but playing as well can be!

To be in the body is scary and that is why it is so difficult to remain there. It is when we feel the most weak and vulnerable, uncertain of what is to come, that the mind becomes active, looking to ‘help’, but resulting simply in giving us a false sense of control and interfering with the body’s natural abilities to play smoothly and easily.

The challenge is not to panic when fear comes in and not to feed or listen to all the mind’s efforts to ‘fix the problem’. The truth is, there is no problem to fix, the body knows how to hit the ball and if we can simply acknowledge the doubts and yet still trust the body to deal with things, we have a chance of winning this ‘battle’.

The signs of an active mind are awkwardness, tension and ugliness in our stroke production, all a result of the body trying to compensate for the mind’s fears.

The signs of the Being trusting the body and not listening to these minds in smoothness, flowing movement and gracefulness.

Experiment, explore and have fun doing it!

November tip of the month: exploration of yin/yang continued

Friday, November 6th, 2015

 

Staying on the yin/yang theme for a little longer, let us explore how it applies to actually playing tennis.

As I experiment and continue to explore this theme on the tennis court, I am amazed at what I see and feel.

There seems to be yin and yang working in every movement. It is not only the full body that is in harmony with this, but apparently, each individual movement also.

For example, the non-dominant hand in each stroke has a role to play and it is easy to overlook its importance. In most situations, the non-dominant hand is the yin and it provides support to the swing itself.

The non-dominant hand is huge in the serve. It controls the toss through the speed, rhythm, path and release of the ball and its ultimate steadiness will play a significant role in the quality of a serve. As I said, it is easy to overlook the role of the non-dominant hand because it seems to be ‘far away’ from the action, but if you never paid any attention to it before, go out to the court and explore. Let’s see what happens.

The non-dominant hand is significant in looking at the entire body as a whole, but the yin/yang understanding seems to reveal things on a particular movement also.

For example, let’s take the forehand. The drop of the racket head during the swing reflects the yin phase of the swing and yet at the same time there is the yang that provides the force at contact. How can we feel both at the same time? Many problems in the forehand can stem from the inability to find this balance. This cannot be ‘gotten’ through intellectual understanding, but from experimentation and the feel that arises from that.

I have noticed that when fear arises in me, my hand becomes yang, which would seem to make sense. When threatened, it does seem logical to be ready to fight and yang is that.

On the forehand, for me, this translates to when an awkward ball comes to me or when the mind becomes too active during play, my grip gets tighter and the wrist locks, which, in turn, does not allow the racket head  to drop.  This will invariably result in an error or a ball hit with no pace.

How is it with you? Bring attention to your body parts and develop what has accurately been called ‘feeling awareness’ as opposed to intellectual awareness, which is not really awareness at all.

There are many such examples so I encourage you to jump on the court and hit balls with friends and experiment with this, all the while exploring both yourself and your body.

 

Enjoy the journey!

.

 

October tip of the month: yin and yang

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

October tip of the month: yin and yang

In Chinese philosophy there are two, apparently opposite, but actually complementary energies at work in the world. One is the yin or feminine energy and the other is the yang or male energy.

We all have elements of both energies within us and yet we are usually predominant in one or the other. The key is, through keen observation, to determine which energy is most predominant within us.

For example, for me, it is the male energy that is most predominant and what I discovered with myself was that in many situations I ‘automatically’ did or behaved in a yang way. As long as I remained unaware of this ‘pattern’ I remained a slave to it, but as soon as I became aware of the pattern, in some way, I became free of it. Not that I chose to behave in another way, but yet my behavior changed regardless. Hard to explain or to make sense of, but true nevertheless.  

What are your patterns of behavior? Are you predominantly yin or yang? By watching your inner process carefully, you will discover many things about yourself. You cannot be free if all your behavior is determined by consistent patterns over which you have no control.

How is this related to tennis you may ask? For me, who you are determines how you do anything, including your competitive experience on the court. By discovering more about who you are, your competitive experience can change. For me, that is the only way it can change.

Those of you trying to eliminate the fear and discomfort you may be experiencing on the court will discover that this experience does not magically disappear through ‘faking it’, escaping, by accentuating the positive or rational counter arguments to the feelings that arise during the heat of competition.  

So, if escaping or avoidance does not work, what’s the alternative? Actually, there is no choice; there is only one thing to do.

Get into it!

 

Enjoy the journey…………….

 

 

 

August tip of the month, #5: waiting

Monday, August 31st, 2015

August tip of the week # 5: waiting

For me, rhythm is the most important aspect of playing tennis. A stroke can be technically unsound and yet if the rhythm and timing are good, every ball will come back over the net.

The most important aspect of rhythm is waiting. Many players rush their swings. Notice the next time you are not hitting the ball well and try and see what is happening.

We have mentioned before in this blog that the hands need to move as soon as the eyes see and that is where the waiting needs to happen often. Obviously, the harder the ball is hit at you the less the waiting.

Why is waiting so hard? The waiting is uncomfortable. The anxiety surrounding what we want to do is so intense that calmly waiting for the ball to arrive becomes an impossibility. Who wants to be uncomfortable?

We need to notice this on the court and see how difficult it is for the hands to do nothing and just wait. Sometimes, the hands will get fast or the legs will want to keep going, but just waiting is so difficult.

Even volleys require waiting, even though we think we have so little time when at the net.

Once you bring attention to this phase of your game and notice the difficulty in just waiting, things will change. For one thing you will feel like you have so much more time. This sounds counter-intuitive, but check and see for yourself.

You do not need to do anything once you have become aware and felt the discomfort of waiting. Changes will happen by themselves.

Too easy? Explore and see for yourself.

enjoy the journey………..

 

August tip of the week #4: topspin serve

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

August tip of the week # 4:   topspin serve

When learning the topspin serve, many players struggle with the trust required to accelerate up to the ball. To swing up as hard as you can and ‘know’ the ball cannot go out requires something that many players lack.

In order to get comfortable with that racket acceleration, I suggest hitting a slice serve first. It is easier to get comfortable accelerating through a slice serve because it requires less trust.

Once you are comfortable with throwing your racket at the ball with speed, it will be easier to throw the racket up to the ball as is required in the topspin serve.  

Enjoy the journey………….

Happy hitting………….

 

 

 

 

August tip of the week # 3: competing

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Every player has a range; one day you can play at one level and the very next day or later the same day, you can play at a very different level. Not realizing this can lead to much pain and frustration.

Why this range exists can be discussed another day, but for today, I just want us to be clear that such a range does in fact exist.

Look at your own game. Do you play the same every time you step out on the court? Obviously not, and yet our behavior suggests otherwise.

Even worse, we identify with just the top of our range many times, consistently denying the lower part of our range as if it is an aberration. We expect to play our ‘best’ tennis every time we play, not realizing that our ‘best’ only happens when it happens and it certainly does not happen often. In fact how often does it really happen?

Consequently, when you play up and beat someone, it does not mean you are better than that person. Similarly a loss does not mean you are worse than that person.

Every match is a moment in time. Once the moment is over it is over and the next time you play, the result may be very different.

The reality is that we don’t have control over the type of tennis we play. It would be nice if we did, certainly less frustrating, but we don’t. If we did, why would we ever choose to play anything but our best?

And yet there is this illusion that we do have control and the battle between the mind and the body continues.

When we realize that we have very little control, we will take less credit for the wins or great play (because if we have no control who is to take the credit?) and less blame for the losses or poor play.

But the big issue is to explore the issue of control. Do you have control over the way you play?

Stay with this question for some time and delve deep and see what comes up. If you answer any question of this nature too quickly, you are bound to come up with the wrong answer, so please be with the question and let it float around your head for a bit.

love, peace and chaos,

enjoy the journey………..

 

August tip of the week #2: meditation

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

August tip of the week # 2:   witnessing     

The subject cannot be the object. If something can be observed then it cannot be the observer. The body can be observed and thoughts can be observed, consequently, neither of these things can be the ‘I’, we so frequently and inaccurately, use to denote the essence of who we are.

Let us call the witness who observes all these things ‘I’. Let us then, use this ‘I’, to observe and witness the ways of the body and the ways of the mind. Observe as various thoughts come and eventually go. Observe how these thoughts affect you.

Being the witness and watching the ways of the mind and the body is meditation.

This is something that you can do 24 hours a day. It is not limited to your on-court time.

For me, this is true ‘mental’ training. By going to the ‘root’, the symptoms will disappear and although the symptoms seem many, the solution is one.

So self dialogue could sound like: ‘my body is in pain, but I feel good’ or the’ mind feels jealous, but I do not’.

Too simple to be true…..try it and see what happens.

 

Enjoy the journey………..

August tip of the week #1: service motion

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

August tip of the week # 1: serving             

The non-dominant hand can easily be over-looked when working on the serve and yet it is crucial in the execution of the serve. Ignore the yin at your own peril.

The non-dominant hand should be relaxed and the best way for that to happen is to let it hang a la Roger Federer, it is not the only way, but I think it is one of the best. Many club players begin the serving motion with both hands very high and I think this makes timing a little more difficult.

When the arm is hanging, it will also be fairly straight and that will result in more uniformity in the ball placement.

Stop calling it a toss, it is not! It is more of a placement. You are simply letting go of the ball right at the top of the reach. This will make your ball placement more consistent and take the wristy-ness out of it.

To remove the image of throwing the ball and replacing instead with the image of placing it on the top shelf will also slow down the non-dominant hand and that is also an important aspect of the total serving motion.

Finally, for some reason, I have found that to have the two hands connected and to pause for a few seconds before beginning the service motion will also serve you well.

Experiment with some of these things and be alert to your body.

 

Enjoy the journey………..

 

 

 

July tip of the week #4: expectations

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Expectations

There is a certain expectation that if I am winning a set 5-2 that some how I ‘should’ win that set.

Even now, away from the adrenalin rush of competition, do you agree with that statement?

And therein lies the problem. How about when you are up 40-15 on your serve or you have a few break points, what is your expectation then?

If we can truly understand that these situations are a simple reflection of what has passed, but have no bearing on what is to come, we can become better competitors.

The expectations usually have consequences. When we are up, we tend to play more tentatively and some how feel entitled to the victory. When we are down, we get desperate and play more freely and go for our shots.

Many sports psychologists like the latter, but don’t want the former, not realizing, it is simply impossible to have the one, without the other slipping in through the back door.

To play freely out of desperation, is different from playing freely through fear, doubt and uncertainty.

One of the difficulties is that this voice within us, which expects to win in certain situations is very low and it is not always easy to detect it. But, it is there and whenever it is heard, it must be silenced.

Be silent and listen for it and the many other asinine things it says and we buy into!

happy hitting…………..