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Sunday, December 29, 2013

REFLECTIONS: The 12 Do's and Don'ts of a Tennis Player

The United States Tennis Association has a rating system for determining the level a tennis player has achieved. In episode 28 of my Gotta Play Tennis podcast, “Rating your Skills by USTA Standards” (available on iTunes), I relayed their approach to evaluating the level of a tennis player. Competition results however don't really measure, in my estimation, the true person who takes the court. Some things are obvious, and some not so much. Therefore, here is my personal representation of a tennis player based upon the principles of do’s and don’ts. Why 12 points? We in the U.S. seem to like this number as we commonly measure things by the dozen. Besides, this was written between December 25th and January 5th for which, on the Christian Calendar, is known as the 12 Days of Christmas.

The 12 Do's and Don’ts of a Tennis Player (in no particular order)

  1. Do be ready, willing, and able to deal with uncomfortable weather conditions, either hot or cold, windy or calm, and sunny or overcast on public or private outdoor tennis courts. Dogs barking, kids yelling, and helicopters flying are all a reality.
  2. Do have a realization that tennis is hard work requiring almost constant movement and even more visual awareness. If resting is your thing, tennis is not for you.
  3. Do understand that tennis is a leg sport, and as such, requires one to develop strong leg muscles that can assist in durability on the court in long rallies and longevity for the unknown length of a tennis match. Regular stretching is a must to protect from injury.
  4. Do take comfort in the ideal that tennis is only a game, and unless it is your livelihood, should be viewed as a fun and entertaining sport that provides exercise, camaraderie, and personal achievement.
  5. Do be accepting of all ability levels, both as partners and opponents, as they too are in their own time line of skill and athleticism.
  6. Don't be stubborn about shot selection. Use the most reliable shot in your arsenal. When you are in danger of losing the rally or point, do not forget that the forehand is the most biomechanically efficient shot for humans to hit.
  7. Do be studious by learning all you can about the sport you love—historically, tactically, and strategically—so that all will feed your overall ability as a player. Be patient with your own growth. Invest in some lessons from a qualified instructor.
  8. Don't purposely hit shots closer to the lines than 1-2 feet and not with any more pace than necessary. Consistency and not sensationalism wins the day. Going for more or less than required in a given situation is a losing recipe.
  9. Don't beat yourself by letting your aggravation from bad on-court decisions or poor shot execution predict your outcome. Embrace the ups and downs. Live in the present—the ball you are hitting—and not in the past.
  10. Do be a good sport when either winning or losing a match or a rally. Applaud quality shots by your opponent. Be fair with all line calls. Give credit where credit is due and congratulate the victor or refrain from gloating over your own win.
  11. Don't lose your focus from shot-to-shot during a rally and always be totally aware of the things that affect your positioning such as spin, depth, direction, and height of the oncoming ball.
  12. Don't let others who worship at the national altar of football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey ruin your love and respect of the international sport of tennis. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Feel good about the fact that you actually “play” your sport and can do so hopefully for a lifetime.
When I began this piece, I wondered how I would find at least 12 things to add to the list. As I reached the bottom, I realized the number 15 had already been written and I felt like I was just hitting my stride. In other words, it is obviously difficult to sum up the measure of a tennis player in just 12 bullet points. With that said, if you truly absorb and take to heart the above principles, you surely are on your way to being a proud and accomplished tennis player.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and yours. May this be the year that tennis becomes all you want it to be in your life.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

REFLECTIONS: How much belief have you developed in 2013?

It seems to be that time of year. "Reflections", as a topic, is almost cliché as we look back over the past days, weeks and months. Many racquets have been swung, lots of balls have been struck, and hour-upon-hour of relentless footsteps and even more unending sweat-droplets have filled the ticks of the clock. But to what end? Is this year of 2013 simply a continuation of the previous one? Has there been progress made? Do you stand as a better player than last year, or are you, like old Scrooge is quoted, a year older and not a penny richer? What do you believe is possible for you as a tennis player in 2014?

I CANNOT speak for your game, and I do hope you will take some time to reflect on what you've accomplished visiting the court over the last 300 plus days. I CAN speak for myself however, and that is exactly my intent in this post. As tennis years go, it has been a pretty good one for my own personal game. My knees, ankles, feet, wrists, elbows and back all seem to still be in working order. As the winter cold has all but put a halt to my outdoor play and instruction, my body finally gets some needed time to heal from the torturous wear and tear of hard courts in South Jersey public parks where I play and teach on courts built by low-bid contractors. My time as a tennis player or instructor is not very near and dear to their hearts, and as result, these slabs of green, white and red are torture chambers that attack every sinew and joint possible. There's a reason they call them "hard courts."

But no one forces me to push my body so relentlessly, tracking down every ball, bouncing off the fences, or diving on painted-over cement. It is the ongoing pursuit of making forward progress that fuels the insanity of such endeavors. I've been no stranger to both good and bad days on the court, and even the tennis royalty in the pro game have their moments. But attitude is everything, because without it, the tennis fire could be easily snuffed out as the years take their toll. For anyone who knows me or reads things I have posted or recorded, you know that my ladder of success is not placed against walls that lead to tournaments and trophies. Just having the ability to cover the court like a wild man, run as hard or harder than my decades-younger students, and stay healthy and uninjured, are all wins in my book. Also, the longevity of having survived on a court for now over 40 years should speak volumes until itself. It is something I am proud to admit along with my over 30 years of youth instruction.

Maybe the most I can take from last year is my continued belief, from the results I have witnessed, that I can still grow and learn and improve as a player and teacher. With my never-ending studies of the game I love—through reading, workshops, watching the pros, and throwing myself about the court—I have accomplished much in 2013. Maybe the small tweaks are not what anyone else would notice, nor will they elevate me to the next NTRP level or competitive bracket. I take solace in knowing them for myself, and their only visible sign may be the smile on my face or perhaps even an animated fist-pump after hitting the winning shot I know was not always possible in the past.

Thanks to the unceasing learning curve of this very physically and mentally challenging game, I have plenty more to work on in the new year. That being said, I believe that tennis skill will continue to grow in my life, not by leaps and bounds, but by small building blocks that continue to develop either physical or mental prowess. This is the gift that tennis brings to me this holiday season.

Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that's playing
There's no time to waste
There's so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe

"Believe" is a 2004 song from the Christmas-themed performance capture film The Polar Express. The words and music were written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri, and the song was performed by Josh Groban.

Happy Holidays to you and yours
from Gotta Play Tennis