One of the careers I have been involved in along life's journey has been education. But for as much of the planner that I am, things do not always go as expected in the classroom. Therefore, when lesson plans are out the window, there needs to be a "Plan B."
I began hitting again in 2012 thanks to the unseasonably warm weather this year. In this part of the upper northeast, I typically need wait until early April to be outside on the court (I rarely have played indoors during the winter months). Last week was my third venture to the public park, and my hitting partner of several years and I have been working to regain the remnants of how we left our strokes back in mid-December of last year. Interestingly enough, we did retain quite a bit. Session 1 was a great start, and session 2 continued along the right path. But session 3 was something I was not expecting. Usually one anticipates that they will peak sometime in the season when all has come together–physically, mentally, and emotionally. Early season hitting is expected to be the hard work and tuning that greases the wheels towards better ball striking.
Then there was session 3. The ball seemed to always be in my wheelhouse. The court sucked my shots down to its surface. And my power and commitment to each stroke was, in my evaluation, off the charts (from my hitting experience). Power, consistency, tactics all clicked in combination. It felt AWESOME!
Then there was hitting session 4. How do I follow a week in which I have had my best ball-striking ever? How do you NOT feel a letdown after the exhilaration of feeling at the top of your game? Well, there was a letdown indeed. Shots that always landed in the week before with pace and spin were missing their mark. Power was throttled as the timing was not exactly right. The ball found itself outside that ideal hitting spot more often than not. I felt a bit flat and underwhelmed by my performace.
Enter "Plan B." If PACE and hitting on pure talent was not winning me the rallies, and since it was obvious that the magic of a perfectly timed kinetic chain was not to be, then CONTROL was the new black (as opposed to pink). I transitioned my game from high-racquet speed, pulverizing forehands and solidly-driven backhands to shorter but extremely accurate placements. I mixed up the pace and spin, and most importantly, continued to place the ball always just slightly out of reach. Never underestimate how much this both physically and mentally wears out an opponent. Drop shots and sidespin slices became standard fare and worked their magic indeed.
As I've gotten older, I've most definitely become a much smarter and better player. But we all have our good days and bad ones. A bad day is when I leave the court and think of shots that might have been. But with experience comes the ability to turn things around. To keep doing what is not working, and expecting to get better results, is not intelligent tennis. Thanks to having the courage and practiced-skills to execute a "Plan B", I now believe that I can, more often than not, turn an initially disappointing hitting session into a fighting chance to leave the court with my head held high. And if we walk away uninjured, having had a great workout, and leave with a feeling of accomplishment, can we expect any more of ourselves or this game than this?