Being tired of slowly and surely being demoted a league or two every four months at my tennis club, and finding myself getting the same losing scores in league 27 as I did in league 23, I decided to get some tennis lessons.
I was amazed at the things I was doing wrong: not just the number of them but their utter obviousness and worse, how hard it was (still is) to implement the simplest changes.
Having now had half a dozen lessons; I've reverted to the cheaper method of repeating various mantras to myself whilst knocking up with various elderly women, and it occurs to me that the mantras are, perhaps not co-incidentally, just as relevant to my life off the court as on:
Mantra number 1: Keep your eye on the ball
I mean, really, this is such an obvious thing to do if one is playing a ball sport that the phrase has made its way into everyday speech. Nonetheless, keeping my eye on the ball all the way until it hits the racquet and leaves it again is a nigh on impossible task. As soon as the ball is near hitting distance my mind has immediately started to look at where I want the ball to go, worry about where the other person is, what they are doing (which generally is running towards the net in justifiable certainty that they will be able to intercept my poor return with a winner at the net) and what I will do next rather than just keep my head down, look at the damn ball and hit it.
In a horrible flash of realisation I see that this is indeed something I do all the time; look to the next thing before fully implementing the current project; jump to the next thought without letting someone finish their sentence or think about how stressed I will be when I finally get to 'that promotion' or 'that second baby' without just nailing the current situation.
Ambition is all very well but not if in all the scurry I end up muffing the shot. And although there are only a very few ways in which to hit a ball well, there are indeed a hundred ways to hit a ball badly (with the rim of the racquet is a favourite of mine).
Mantra number 2: No one can do much with cooked spaghetti except eat it
Not having much core strength, I’ve spent the last 25 years playing tennis with my arms. Wrong wrong wrong. Like literally everything else, it needs to come from my core, my stomach; I need to hit from inside, not flop my extremities around like cooked spaghetti. A ball hit by a spaghetti person is out of control, is a directionless splash of pasta sauce.
Until I can hit from my core, my tennis coach can't teach me accuracy. I can’t get better.
In life outside the tennis court I often feel indecisive, unpredictable even to myself, too open to change and external influence; unable to make up my own mind to do something and just do it free from a constant loop of second guessing myself and wondering if I’ve got it right.
Mantra number 3: The person stopping me following through is me
More power! That's what I need! And so I turn my shoulders and exhaled and kept my eye on the ball and clenched my core and guess what? My left hand catches my racquet as it swings through and absolutely and completely stops my right arm from being able to follow through. Foiled yet again, my right arm halts dejectedly halfway through its stroke and the ball loops dismally into the bottom of the net.
And there I was trying harder, preparing early, breathing right, but no, another part of my body would stop me and I didn’t even realise it!
God why? And why so easily metaphoric? Why do I say something insightful in a meeting but lose impact by whispering it? Why do I pronounce something with great authority and then backtrack because someone gave me a funny look? Why do I power dress then simper annoyingly? So ridiculously, inexcusably anti-productive: and yet so difficult to stop.
Mantra number 4: Balance is everything
Falling off one's feet whilst hitting the ball does not boost consistency.
Yup, I needed a tennis coach for that piece of wisdom. Yup, it’s really and truly easier to hit the ball when both feet are on the ground than whilst falling over.
I paid money to learn that.
Mantra number 5: If you don’t know what you are doing wrong you can't get better
And that’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Squirmingly embarrassing though it is to realise that I needed a professional to tell me to watch the ball in a ball sport, to try and not fall over and to attempt to let my left hand know what my right hand is doing, the fact of the matter is that these simple rules will (if only my body would obey) revolutionise my game.
The things I do ‘wrong’ in life and at work may be inane and obvious-even-to-a-five-year-old but I can’t help that now. Best take a deep breath, plant my feet firmly down and give it another shot.