While sitting on the sidelines at the local public tennis courts, I waited patiently for a court to open up. As it turns out, this ran about an hour, and it gave me time to reflect upon what players I had in front of me. Two young guys, perhaps between 18 and 20, were slugging it out on the court closest to my sight. They were playing a match, and even though I was within earshot of their announced score, I cannot tell you what it was at any given time. My attention was focused on their groundstrokes, volleys, serve, and overall game play. Two-handed backhands and one-handed topspin groundstrokes ruled the night. There was the occasional foray into the net, but it seemed either out of desperation or due to a ball landing unintentionally short in the court with no other play but to run forward.
What I was looking for was intentionality. They both played quite well, and the usual suspects of unforced errors took their toll on both players. But I didn't even worry about those since they are standard fare at this level of play. What I ran out of patience for though was their lack of purpose. Anyone can play this game by picking up a racquet, hitting balls over the net, learning how to keep score, and running around in reaction to any given shot. But in order to play real tennis, as in any game, their needs to be intentionality and not simple reaction. The brain needs to be firing as much if not more than the muscles and fibers in our legs and shoulders.
Interestingly enough, after I had been playing a while on our own court, these two gentlemen finished and three other young guys took their court. While they were obviously more at a beginner level, they hit most balls with purpose. They didn't know enough yet to be on automatic. They had to craft each movement since those motions were not yet ingrained and natural. In other words, the shots they attempted were hit with purpose. Certainly none of them would have been a match for the other two previous players, but they retained something in their tennis innocence that we should all keep in our hearts and minds on the court. Place each shot for a reason, attempt a variety of spins for a reason, hit hard or soft for a reason. Enjoy the great shot for all its glory. Respect the missed shot for what it can teach you. Always do things with a purpose in mind. And if that does not really make sense, learn how to play the game of chess and see how playing on automatic, without intentionality, works for you. Hopefully you'll be back to the court with an entirely new mindset.