April tip of the month: dis-identification

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Do you get on an emotional roller-coaster that is the mind when you play tennis and compete?  It would seem that we are ALL on this roller coaster; it is a shared human experience.  Some of us are very vocal during our experience and others may keep it under tabs, but if we are alert to our inner happenings we will see that this roller coaster is taking us all for a ride! 

How can we get off this roller coaster and just PLAY involves a long, but fun journey of self discovery and here is one way to begin this journey.

Consider this: do we really have control over the way we play? It would seem we do, but if we do, who would ever choose to do a double-fault or dump a simple volley into the net? Surely no one would chooses these things and yet they happen. So, what does that reveal?

When we wind up to hit a serve, can we be sure if it is going to be in or out? When we swing at a groundstroke can we guarantee a winner? Is it not as likely to be an error?  

If you get upset, regardless to what degree, it means that deep down you believe that you have control; therefore you ‘should’ not miss such a shot.

Truth is we cannot be sure. It sounds counter-intuitive.  We would like to think that we do have control over the way we play, but please think deeply about this.  Do we have complete control over the result or outcome of a ball we hit?

If you can see that we do not, then you can relax and stop taking credit or blame for the way you play and instead, simply acknowledge that it is a ‘happening’ over which you have no control.  

This simple recognition can completely transform your experience of playing and competing.

Change your dialogue! If someone says ‘you really played well today’, if you see what I am saying, you could simply respond by saying, in a detached way, yes it was happening today!

Similarly, you can also have days when it is NOT happening. Either way, you don’t take the blame or the credit. In both scenarios, you are trying to do the best you can and whether a poor shot results from a lack of skill or fear does not matter, it simply happened; it’s beyond your control.

This could be the first step towards playing freely, without fear and really enjoying your tennis without the burden and pressure that ego-identification brings.

What other areas of your Life does this apply to?

Play, explore and experiment and see what happens……

March tip of the month: Effortless Effort or Relaxed Intensity

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

The zen tradition has many paradoxes, one that is very relevant to tennis is ‘Effortless effort’ or what I like to call Relaxed Intensity.

What do you think that means? Have you ever experienced it?

Effort denotes some sort of trying, while the word effortless is the opposite. To use both words together is to explore the mid-point between the two.

What effort are you making on the court and is it too intense? Many club players feel so insecure of their athletic ability and tennis skills that they compensate with some ‘serious trying’. Does this help?

My contention is that, not only does it not help, but it makes things worse.

For example, many players are constantly reminding themselves to watch the ball, but if we try too hard to watch the ball, we will miss.  Try and watch the ball less intensely and see what happens.

Are we trying to hit the ball over the net or in a particular place or in a specific manner? Are we reminding ourselves of some previously heard ‘tip’ from our favourite tennis coach and repeating it constantly while we are in the process of hitting a forehand or backhand?  What happens when we drop all this and instead bring attention only to the body, for example, the preparation?

I would like to share something I have experienced on the tennis court. I have a single-handed backhand, so for some years now I have had one grip for my forehand and another for my backhand. On return of serve when time was short, I was focusing on making a ‘conscious’ effort to find one grip or the other while the ball came towards me. The result of this, for me, was that I constantly felt rushed on my returns and often found it difficult to ‘find’ my grip.

I experimented with ‘effortless effort’ and gave up the idea of changing my grip and discovered that my returns became much more effective.

I trusted my body to find the grip without telling it what to do. It was a great freedom. Now instead of wondering where the serve was going to come and being ready with the shifts, I was able to just focus on preparing for my swing (finding the ball) and just swinging. As I prepared, the shift took place and I felt I had so much time. I did not feel rushed at all.

This is just one example, but there are many more.

What are you trying to do on the court? Where is your effort and how intense is it?

All trying creates tension. Has to. Can you feel it? How is it possible to be relaxed, waiting and being open to whatever is about to unfold when we trying so hard to prepare for what ‘might’ happen.

Mind wants to control the approaching situation, by preparing in advance, which takes us out of the ‘flow’; while trusting the body allows us to wait with an inner stillness that will enable us to respond to whichever situation presents itself.

This response is not be infallible (I am not saying you will never make a mistake), but it will be as successful as our full tennis skills, athletic ability and focus (management of fear) allows.

Can you trust your body?

February tip of the month: is tennis an arm sport?

Friday, February 12th, 2016

 

February Tip of the month: Is tennis an arm game?

This tip is more for club players, but it can be relevant to any level of player because it reinforces fundamentals. In addition, if your game breaks down at crucial times during competition because of nerves this tip can also be helpful to you.

Look around at your local tennis club and you will see that one of the biggest ‘problems’ players have is that they do not finish their swings. It is possible for coaches to spend hours and even years screaming out ‘finish the stroke’ (I know, I’ve been there!), without any success. The reason why the reminding doesn’t work is because, although this looks like a simple technical issue, it is not!

The real reason the follow through stops abruptly is because of fear and unless we address the fear, it is highly unlikely things will change. Sometimes, the fear can be obvious and sometimes it can be very subtle, but the fear and desire for control will be there for anyone to see if they choose to ‘look in’ as opposed to just looking outside.

It would be better to address this fear in the body, rather than come to any ‘understanding’ with the mind, which will not help in any way.   The body is tangible and ‘real’, while the mind just creates one fictious story after another.

So how does the fear manifest? Yes, the swing stops abruptly, but let’s go deeper. How does it feel when the arm stops abruptly? The arm feels heavy, does it not? Why does the arm feel heavy? Could the reason be because we are hitting the ball only with the arm? Coaches talk about how good technique is all about using the body like a kinetic chain to hit the ball.  Let’s try and explore what this means.

Why does the arm take over or why does the kinetic chain break down? The reason is the desire for control. When missing is not an option, fear comes in and everything inside (the mind) speeds up, while everything outside (the body) slows down. The kinetic chain cannot be unleashed when one becomes careful; as a result the arm takes over. The tight arm and wrist pushes and wills the ball over one way or other, often the result can be acceptable (the ball goes over the net) without being pretty or effective.  

To allow the kinetic chain to unwind in full flow, tremendous trust is involved because the focus needs to be on the big body parts, shoulders and hips, so that the arm and wrist move almost by themselves as a consequence of the rotation as opposed to independent of the big body parts. In this scenario, the arm is light and the wrist loose, which allows them to accelerate forward and across your body without any effort.

It is no coincidence that many club players are plagued by all sorts of elbow and wrist injuries. The isolated use of the arm and these joints leads to tremendous pressure on them and eventual collapse. As I said, in this case the arm becomes heavy and the wrist tight, which will shorten the swing considerably.  The physical isolation and heaviness of the arm while hitting the ball is a reflection of an active mind and the desire for control.

Instead, if players could bring their attention to their hands and shoulders (hands to find the ball and the shoulders turned to hit the ball) and then just allow the arms to go through without any effort to control, a pretty comfortable and smooth looking swing would emerge and there would be no pressure on either the arm or the joints.  Of course this is not easy to do because the desire for control goes very deep and other issues are involved beyond just control.

However, even if just once you can experience the effortlessness of hitting the ball with a loose arm, it will be enough.  To experience the kinetic chain in its glory is a magnificent feeling. 

Play around with this on the court and see what your experience is!

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………..