The pressure’s all in your head, right?

Just like other athletes, professional tennis players contend with performance pressures and emotional swings. André Agassi related his on- and off-court struggles in his 2009 book, Open. Commentators highlighted emotional pressure as an possible issue in Serena Williams’ crushing loss to Roberta Vinci. Although she never admitted to sensing the pressure, Serena had encountered heavy media and fan attention as she attempted to complete the calendar year Grand Slam.

Another American player, Mardy Fish, went on the record to discuss how psychological pressure led to panic attacks and physical problems that sidelined him for nearly three years. In his last singles match prior to retirement at the  2015 US Open, Fish showed signs of mental and physical greatness coupled with indications of emotional wear. He ultimately lost the match in five long sets.



Emotional pressure affects rec players, too

Fish’s willingness to talk about his issues increased dialogue about mental health concerns in the world of pro tennis. And even though rec tennis players don’t earn their livelihoods from the sport, we still have to handle the pressure of competitive situations.

In fact for women such as myself, the scoring and ranking aspects of tennis make it particularly hard to view the sport as merely a recreational activity I do for fun and exercise, not a place where I compare my performance to other people’s.



We decide how to view our pressure

Anxiety over becoming an empty-nester and worries about what I would do after full-time motherhood ended contributed to a general lack of focus and low self-confidence that carried over into my tennis matches. Even though I was playing tennis “for fun,” it actually wasn’t all that fun, and I wasn’t sure how to make things better.

Last year, however, I experienced a defining moment — in other words, a moment of pain + an opportunity to grow.


After organizing a group of players to do clinics, practice and play doubles matches together, I heard from others in my group that they preferred not to partner with me. While I might have taken this information at face value, instead I interpreted it as a rejection of me and my on-court performance. I thought they were choosing to emphasize win/loss record over friendship, and it made me feel terrible.

As a tennis player who wants to improve, I understood my friends’ desire to move up in the ratings, and their fear that partnering with me might prohibit them from doing so. But their rejection still hurt. It hurt a lot. Some days I’d barely get to my car after seeing them on the court before I’d start crying.

Looking at the situation now, I don’t believe my friends had intended to make me feel bad, only to tell me the truth — that they liked me, but preferred not to partner with me. At the time, however, I let myself slip further into negativity, with the result that I lost every USTA match I played that season.

Opportunity to Grow

It had been my choice to allow the emotional pressure of a situation where friends wouldn’t partner with me to drain my self-confidence. Alternatively, I might have interpreted it as a sad commentary on the strength of our friendship, but not as a rejection of me per se.

Given the fact that I felt weak in other parts of my life, choosing the second interpretation would have been hard for me back then. Even so, I tried to hide my vulnerability. I failed to reach out to my friends and let them know how much their rejection had hurt me.

Sometimes we cover up weaknesses to appear strong on the outside — when really, by admitting our weakness, we could become stronger on the inside.

I tried to conceal my pain, but at the same time hoped that one of my friends would notice something was wrong and show me she cared. That didn’t happen. The growth came when I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, stopped waiting for others to help me, and took charge of my own reactions.


“Pressure is a privilege”

Billie Jean King, perhaps the greatest female player in the history of tennis, is famous for saying, “Pressure is a privilege.” That phrase, in fact, is the title of her memoir. Her 1973 match v. Bobby Riggs, nicknamed “The Battle of the Sexes,” became a metaphor for women’s equality struggles through that decade and beyond. She has also discussed pressure faced in her decision to have an abortion, as well as the press conference she chose to hold after being “outed” in 1981.

Recreational athletes can take learnings from the court, course or field and apply them to other parts of our lives. As sports marketer David McLean puts it, we can excel under pressure by changing the way we think about it:

Regardless of who we are and what we do, let’s shift our perspective on pressure from being something from which we want to be freed, to a gift enabling us to be better.

Replace self-pressure with self-compassion

As good as the concept of embracing “pressure as a privilege” sounds, I find it hard to do. What works better for me is looking at the source of the pressure I’m feeling, and deciding what, if anything, I can do about it.

On the tennis court and in life generally, I find the worst pressure I experience is pressure I put on myself. I push myself to do better all the time, whether it be to win more tennis matches, write more “usable” prose (whatever that means!), or load the dishwasher more efficiently.

But I’m learning to identify my triggers for self-imposed pressure and offer up self-compassion instead. To replace the voice of judgment in my head that tells me, “I should have finished this project by now, I’m an incompetent writer,” with “It’s a bummer I haven’t finished this project yet, but I’m going to keep trying.”

A subtle shift perhaps, but one that in time, will help me put pressure in its proper place.


Image credits: WSOC TV, NoFault Sports,Canberra Times,

Five reasons to love sports talk radio

In case you didn’t know, the San Francisco Giants are playing in the World Series for the third time in five years. They’re trying to win the ultimate baseball championship yet again, after triumphing in 2010 and 2012. And there’s nowhere better for Giants fans to get all the stats and commentary — essentially, to live the game right alongside the team, than on sports talk radio. In the Bay Area, we listen to KNBR, “the sports leader.” They have two stations, AM 680 and AM 1050, plus online access. They’re the official radio broadcasters for Giants baseball, Warriors basketball, and 49ers football. Loyal fans listen to KNBR all year long, but anyone with a passing interest in sports should check out sports talk radio when your hometown team is, to use a sports talk cliché, “on the verge of making history.”

love sports talk radio_knbr_sf

Five reasons I love sports talk radio:

1. It’s fun

Sports talk radio shows typically feature two personalities who engage in witty banter, laugh at each other, find funny things to highlight or give sports figures silly nicknames — all in the name of fun, of bringing a smile to your commute. Most of the partnerships have catchy names: Murph & Mac, Gary & Larry, or the Bay Area’s favorite baseball announcers, Kruk & Kuip. Some of the guys, such as Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, do play-by-play for games. Others have built a following by talking about sports, interviewing sports figures and perhaps most important, fielding calls from listeners. All of them stay positive. No depressing world news here: it’s all sports, all the time.

2. It’s efficient

Although it’s possible to waste hours listening to different callers’ opinions on how they would have executed an important play differently, or what they think is critical for the team to win its next game, tuning in to sports talk radio is actually an efficient way to collect a few stats and soundbites that will give you “street creed” with your spouse, your co-workers or even the guys who fix your car or computer. Fifteen minutes of sports talk radio in the car will pay off later, when you mention an interesting statistic or story you remember, or you drop the name of last night’s key player. This modest investment of time can make you look completely plugged in to the sports situation.

love sports talk radio_microphone

3. Everybody gets to be an expert

The best part about sports talk radio is the call-in show, where regular fans go on-air with their opinions about the game their team just played, or what the team needs to do in its next game. After the Giants won their first 2014 World Series game 7-1, emotion was running so high that some callers predicted the Giants would sweep the Series, just like they did back in 2012. But the next day, after San Francisco lost to Kansas City 7-2, fans were somber and analytical. “If I were Botchy [SF’s manager], I wouldn’t have left Peavy in for so long.” Or, “Why is that guy Strickland allowed to pitch at all? We’re not in AAA — this is the World Series!”

Callers had even more concerns after the Giants lost Game 3 in San Francisco, bringing the series to 2-1 games in favor of Kansas City. But fan exuberance returned after Game 4, where a come-from-behind win evened the series score, and everyone who followed baseball in San Francisco knew the Giants’ ace, Madison Bumgarner, would be pitching the following day. After San Francisco won Game 5 with a historic 5-0 shutout, callers started to celebrate a World Series victory in advance. They offered advice on how to handle the relief bullpen situation, how the Giants could “wrap things up,” how we really had KC “on the ropes,” and on and on.

The thing with sports talk is, everybody gets his or her moment to be the expert — to explain what s/he would have done better than the people who get paid lots of money to manage teams and play games. When reviewing a loss, the benefit of hindsight allows callers endless variations on what the team “could” have done. When the team wins, they offer thoughts on how “we” can keep the streak going. People use statistics to bolster their arguments, and/or add warnings that restrain fan excitement. Callers show depth of passion and at times extensive knowledge about the game. Phoning in gives them the chance to shine.

4. It offers lively debate, but within limits

Sports talk radio hosts keep callers on air longer if they have an interesting viewpoint or an entertaining manner. They dispense quickly with callers who add nothing to their program, sometimes even losing calls with a “technical glitch” that may or may not be accidental. But hosts never insult their callers, never suggest they could be spending their time better elsewhere.

Most calls discuss hypothetical situations. They deal with games that are past, or games that haven’t yet been played. As stated above, callers get to show off their knowledge. Sports talk radio hosts encourage lively debate, but at no time is a caller permitted to bash the home team. One of their unwritten rules, but every bit as firm as unwritten baseball rules like “If their pitcher hits one of your team’s players, you have to hit one of theirs,” is that ALL callers have to be fans of the home team. You can debate ideas and opinions, but everyone has the same team’s best interest at heart.

love sports talk radio_kruk&kuip

5. Sports talk radio builds community

By valuing a diversity of views about “the small stuff,” while holding fast to the overall goal of wanting to see the home team win, sports talk radio brings people together. It gives fans a place to talk about their favorite teams, and for those who listen regularly, it offers consistent hosts who can become your radio “friends,” in much the same way TV news show hosts or bloggers you read regularly seem familiar and comfortable. Sports talk radio also gives listeners connection with each other, as they agree or disagree, but recognize that ultimately, they are united by their love of the same sports team. Positive and entertaining, sports talk radio lets fans celebrate (or commiserate) together and allows them to feel united with a bigger cause.

Join in with passion

If you’re even a little bit of a fan, tune in to sports talk radio to become more conversant in the game, celebrate your team’s wins and witness true passion at work. As you’re listening, reflect on why we don’t let ourselves experience other ups and downs of life with the same intensity as we attach to sports — why we don’t allow ourselves to feel or express similar levels of emotion at work, school and home as we do when rooting for our team. Maybe steeping ourselves in sports talk radio’s passionate community will help bring passion to the rest of our lives, too.

But for now, GO GIANTS!!

Image credits: KNBR, Wikimedia, Comcast Sports Net, Anne Rosales

Five MORE ways to return to exercise

How’s your return to exercise going? I’m gradually resuming my prior activity level, although I’ll admit I’m aching more than I was before I stopped working out to go on vacation. Not sure why this is going on, but I’ll hope it has to do with using muscles I had ignored, and not with getting older!

Today I’m adding to the tips in my last post with five more “do’s” and “don’ts” to consider when you return to exercise.

1. Do try something new

Trying a new sport or activity can stimulate your mind at the same time as you’re exercising your body. There are so many options available now, and many fitness or yoga studios offer thirty-day unlimited passes, just to attract newcomers and give you the chance to try different offerings. For example, even though I’m terrible at yoga, last summer I tried a “yin yoga” class that focused on slow, meditative holds of floor poses. It was so relaxing that one day I fell asleep in the middle of class! Other people return to exercise with music and fun in a dance class like Zumba, or they challenge themselves with a barre workout or Crossfit.

If you try a new exercise, remember that you aren’t likely to “get it” the first day. In fact, you may feel like a complete klutz. When I started spinning, I wasn’t sure I would survive the hour, but I told myself I’d keep going back for a month until I could make a better-informed decision about whether I liked it or not. Now I really like spinning and also appreciate the community of friends I have there.


2. Do cross train

Along the same lines, be sure to mix up your workouts a bit. Don’t run every day — bike, swim, lift weights, take a fitness class. Not only will you train complementary muscle patterns, but you’ll keep from getting bored with your workout. One thing I’ve started doing recently is Pilates. I know Pilates has been around for a long time, but I’m finally getting the coaching I need to do it “right” and hopefully address some balance, strength and posture issues that tend to affect women as they grow older. For me, Pilates complements my cardio and tennis activities, so it keeps my workouts varied and fun.

 3. Do consider buying an electronic fitness tracker

Recent news of the Apple watch announced a sleek “wearable” that will sync with your iPhone and tracks heart rate, activity type and level, plus alert you to incoming texts and emails, calls, etc. Starting at $349 and available in early 2015, the Apple Watch promises to do lots of things well. You can learn all about it on, and they even created a video describing the watch’s fitness and health monitoring features.

If you don’t want to wait and/or want something cheaper, you’ll find numerous alternatives. Look at the Pebble smart watch, Nike Fuelband SE, or Fitbit — they’re market leaders among devices that track calories burned, steps taken, sleep patterns and more. Some of them focus on fitness and health, and some (like Pebble’s wearable or the Apple watch) do much more. There are even cheaper options in the form of apps for smartphones — check out Map My Run and competitors.

The point is that using a device or app not only helps you measure your progress, but it can increase the “fun factor” for people who like technology. I used a Nike Fuelband for nearly a year (see this post). For me, it offered a constant reminder to incorporate exercise into my day.


Tory Burch bracelet for Fitbit

4. Do exercise for a good cause

Another way to engage in fitness, social interaction and philanthropy at the same time is to sign up with a charity walk, run, bike ride, danceathon, you name it. You can join a local Team in Training to train for an endurance sports event like running, hiking, cycling or a triathlon — while also raising money to beat cancer. You can walk/run/bike/etc. to fight Alzheimers, juvenile diabetes, breast cancer, AIDS and many other worthy causes. A web search, your local news and sports stores can help you identify ways to get involved in your own area.

5. Don’t give up

Despite all efforts to find a fitness routine that works with your ongoing life commitments, even if you can mix it up and keep it fun, there will still be times when working out seems like a chore. We all have good days and bad days, and we need to be patient with ourselves. At low points I’ve gotten discouraged about my tennis game, even considered whether I should quit the sport. Or I’ve compared myself to someone in yoga class who is more flexible and coordinated than I believe I ever could be. But seriously, self-criticisms like these are too harsh.

Like anything else, fitness is a journey. We all move along our own paths, at our own paces. The main thing to remember is: keep traveling, and enjoy the trip.


Image credits: Anton Stetner,, Arya Ziai

How to start exercising again

Why is it so hard to start exercising again? I took off two weeks in August, and resuming my fitness routine has made September tiring, as well as frustrating. It’s not that I work out super hard anyway. But this month I feel stiff and sore, fat and out of shape. Spin class and tennis practice — things that I generally enjoy doing — have challenged me just to complete the workouts. So I’ve been reviewing my own tips for how to start exercising after a break — whether that break is a week or several years long. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts.”

1. DO make a realistic plan

Set exercise goals, but keep them realistic. If you haven’t worked out in six months, don’t commit to spend an hour at the gym every day. You’ll probably have trouble sticking with this plan and get discouraged early on, risking a return to your former couch potato state. DON’T set yourself up to fail! DO make a plan within your reach. If you exceed your goals, you can celebrate and then revise them upwards.


2. DO find an activity you like

Exercise should be fun, something you look forward to. Being miserable doesn’t help you burn more calories, at least not in the long run. If you like walking, walk. If you enjoy playing a sport, by all means do that. If lifting weights to your favorite music or watching a movie while you run on a treadmill is a good break for you, go for it. The more you enjoy a physical activity, the more likely you are to make time for it.

3. DON’T go too hard at first

Coming back from a break is not the time to make up for “time lost” by pushing yourself too hard. You may feel like punishing yourself, but resist! You’ll probably overdo it and get so sore, or even injure yourself, that you’ll need to take another week off. Best to ease back in and build on your success by training a little harder each time you work out.


Late 19th-century fitness machine and exercise clothing

4. DO buy a new exercise outfit

There’s something about a cute fitness outfit that gives me a boost. And if a new outfit can help me look forward to exercising, I consider it an acceptable use of retail therapy!

Keep in mind you want to dress appropriately for whatever activity you’re doing. In the same way you shouldn’t wear your old college t-shirt, you also want to avoid making fashion statements with edgy outfits that are best left to the twenty-somethings with perfect bodies.

If you play tennis, buy a tennis skirt with built-in shorts — toss out the old “tennis panties!” A multi-purpose staple these days is the black capri legging — you can wear it to the gym, yoga, Pilates, spinning, fitness dance and so on. As an added bonus, you’ll look chic when you stop for coffee or groceries on the way home.

5. DO get a coach or exercise buddy

Sure, it decreases your flexibility to make a workout date with a friend and/or personal trainer. But it also helps you maintain exercise as a priority in your schedule. Besides, working out with a friend makes fitness more enjoyable, and that’s also likely to help you stick with it. If you can afford a personal trainer or small-group class, this is a great way to build confidence that you’re “doing it right,” to learn proper technique and avoid injury. You also can invest in several sessions with a coach at first, and then join a larger class or develop your own fitness routine.


Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy and look forward to doing. After all, it’s better to go for a walk with a friend than sit on your couch and “plan” your weight-lifting routines.

My next post will continue with more tips. Until then, get out and get going!

Image credits: alantankenghoeTekniska museet, pixabay

Travel to developing countries?

My last post explored impressions from a recent family trip to Guatemala. I talked about confronting my experience of travel at midlife, as well as external factors that contributed to a sense I probably won’t return to this beautiful country. Although I loved traveling there with my younger son and husband, I nevertheless felt discouraged about the enormity of the issues that Guatemala and Central America overall are facing. In general, I wonder how much more travel to developing countries I will do.


Busy marketplace in Chichicastenango, Guatemala

My reaction to Guatemala’s economic problem

My most troubling issue with travel to places like Guatemala lies within myself. I find it tiring to be always saying “No, gracias” to the scores of people who approach tourists, trying to sell them something. These entrepreneurs are just doing what they can to try and feed their families, but their sheer number at times can overwhelm.  My heart went out to a woman who hadn’t made many, maybe not any, sales one day — sometimes I would buy, or simply give a vendor money. And yet there were too many salespeople for a single tourist to make much of an impact. As a result, I felt discouraged. Admittedly, mine was a “first world” reaction, but I didn’t like feeling depressed while on vacation.

Furthermore, conversations with locals about Guatemalan industries like rose-growing and candle-making, where once-thriving businesses had been shuttered due to competition from lower-wage countries, gave me little cause to hope for future growth in their economy. Guatemala has more than 15 million people, but most of them lack the technical skills needed to thrive in the modern economy. Like similar countries, corruption is pervasive, but infrastructure and investment are lacking. Micro-enterprise loans and grants can address poverty on an individual level, but system-wide, the standard of living remains low.


Mayan woman selling flowers outside church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala

My travel time is finite

It is a strange feeling to be in a place, feel grateful and happy to be there, but also to recognize you probably won’t be back. I felt this way a few years ago when our family went to Machu Picchu. I didn’t have this perspective when I was younger, when I ventured alone to Michoacán, Mexico, or took a midnight ferry across the Adriatic to then-Yugoslavia. It didn’t cross my mind as a twenty-something to wonder whether I would go back to these places, or what they might be like in the future. But from where I stand now, time for traveling seems finite, and some places are lost to me forever.

But maybe I shouldn’t give up yet

There are still some developing regions of the world I’d love to visit. However, I’ll need to reconcile my desire to change people’s living standards with appreciation for life “in the here and now.” Just because my personal impact might be limited to people whom I encounter, just because I feel frustrated or despondent that their lives seem so “uncomfortable” compared to mine — this is not a reason to give up my appreciation for the beauty of life as it is right now.

This insight, in fact, might be what I’ve been lacking all along. Moreover, it’s a significant element in why it remains worthwhile to travel to places that aren’t so comfortable. Whether we are at home or abroad, ultimately all we have is the present. Maybe this is what I was supposed to see, and why I need to continue traveling to places like Guatemala.


The sun rises over the jungle of Tikal, Guatemala



Iconic Mayan temple in Tikal, Guatemala