First Of Many

Double exposure. A metaphor made relevant below.

It worked out that my first week of tennis therapy coincided with my first league match. It’s technically not therapy but it is a form of training for the mind. Why did I need tennis therapy? I didn’t. My coach needed it. She started using it to improve her own experience and had such success that she wanted to share it. I listened to her pitch and decided to try it. The timing was interesting but not deliberate.

Why did it interest me? One of the most common complaints among tennis players is that once we leave the beginner phase and start improving, we enjoy it less. Next month I will have been playing tennis for a year. I am leaving the beginner phase. For me, this mental training I will lovingly call tennis therapy is designed to prevent the trend of enjoying it less. For everyone else in the group (we have group sessions), I suppose it will reverse the trend.

So how did it work? I drove away from my First Loss smiling. Yes, I lost, but I was genuinely content with the way I played. It was a doubles match. My partner and I agreed before the match started we would not apologize to each other for any missed shots. Missing shots is part of tennis. This made it easier to move on to the next shot without any undue negativity or blaming. No wallowing; focus on the next chance to make quality contact with the ball, not the last chance (which is gone).

We won only one game in the first set. Before we started the next set I suggested we declare a goal of winning two games in the second set. My partner agreed, but instead of correcting technique or strategy I said, I think we need to start having more fun. We went on to win five games. We were thrilled, of course, but more than that we were relaxed in the second set. We laughed. We joked with our opponents. We did have fun. And according to the therapy, this is probably why the second set was so much closer than the first.

So yes, it worked. And it kept working on the long drive home and throughout the evening as I processed the entire match. Because I was not demoralized and disappointed I was able to generate insights well into the next day. I learned more than I probably would have had I walked away stewing in loser-funk. I did not choke. I played well. I served an ace to win the fourth game. I nailed a whistling backhand to win the fifth. We lost the set (and the match) in the end but it was not a blowout.

Maybe winning would have been more fun but the point is that I didn’t need to win to enjoy it. That statement feels amazing, not only to say and to write, but to believe. How did I make losing enjoyable? I enabled joy and made it non-negotiable and of course, non-contingent. I don’t have to win every point to play a good match. Saying it doesn’t work until I believe it; I finally get that.

I won’t dread the next match and that’s a huge improvement in my outlook as compared to January. In January I used language like let people down and not very good and worst player on the team. I am told this contrast will eventually translate into winning more. Winning more is cool as long I can continue to enjoy it. I would rather lose and enjoy myself than win and hate it. My pleasure is more important than winning. As I understand the theory, this generally leads to more winning.

The therapy rewires my thinking (new neural pathways in the brain) so that I stop believing false feedback and stop manifesting failure based on that feedback. It’s more than just regurgitating positive affirmations, it’s work. It’s hard work. The brain likes to be comfortable and prefers the path of least resistance. I thought I was being realistic with my loser/suck/choke predictions. According to the therapy, I was being my own saboteur.

It appears to be working in tennis practice too. Less frustration. Less self-flagellation over what I should be able to do or should have done better. Less pressure. Acknowledgement that my expectations will manifest themselves. Maybe I should call it Zen tennis rather than tennis therapy. If nothing else, I definitely absorb instructions and corrections from my coach better than before. I already adored her anyway but with less internal chatter going on in the background (negative self-dialogue), I’m responding to her coaching with less tension and performance anxiety.

Spring has sprung in Mercyburg. Although tennis can be played year-round it has two seasons for competition: Spring and Fall. I will be flush with opportunities to practice Zen tennis in the coming months but I doubt I will write about it as often as I will play. I remember the old days when my blog was brimming with tedious race reports and those insufferably long training run reports. I’m not going to put you through that; I promise.

I kept my word about not turning this into a vegan blog, didn’t I? It only comes up occasionally and I still haven’t tried to convert a single reader. Likewise, new or remarkable forms of wellness work will still get a mention here. Brain training definitely qualifies.

Also remembers race reports. Titillating, they were. Truly.

All of this would have taken up a lot of space in the highlight reel at the end of the month so it warranted a separate post. However, moving forward I will likely save the win/loss stats for the highlight reel unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. I still reserve the right share insights at any given milestone, of course, or to give credit.

So what is the tennis therapy? It is a form of life-coaching cleverly applied to tennis. My tennis coach began practicing this with a local life coach. Keep in mind my coach is already a coach — for a living. She’s a full-time paid tennis pro and instructor with the US Tennis Association. But although she is a highly-skilled and experienced tennis player, she struggled with joy and fulfillment which had nothing to do with her tennis skills. When this life-coaching started working so well for her on and off the court, she invited her students. So that’s how we got here and why I took the bait.

If you are interested and you’re not in Mercyburg, you can find the curriculum online at The Life Coach School. I get no affiliate kickbacks whatsoever for sharing; I am simply pointing the way for anyone who might be intrigued. Also for reference if/when I become a happier individual AND a better tennis player past the honeymoon phase. We shall see.

— Mercy

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