I’ve blogged about tennis failures – things like how I’ve let my emotions get the best of me, or how my game has suffered due to a “crisis of confidence.” But I also want to pass along what I’m learning about how to overcome these problems. My tennis journey may be a long one, but it’s not so different from other roads I’ve traveled. In fact, there are days when my “tennis journey” and “the midlife passage” have a lot in common. And I don’t just mean the effects of gravity.
I reached a point where I felt as though I had invested so much time and money in learning a sport, watching the pros play it, buying trendy clothes for it, and even taking some “tennis vacations,” that I felt I deserved to be playing better than I was. I held myself to a higher standard than I should have and was constantly evaluating my improvement against better players. As a result, I was always coming up short. By my own standards, I was never going to measure up, never going to get out of my USTA 3.0 “rut.”
But at the same time as I was tired of not improving, I felt locked in: I had put so much of myself into tennis, for so long, that I didn’t want to quit. I was addicted to an activity that wasn’t going anywhere for me. Aside from a bit of exercise and socializing on the court, I couldn’t point to many positives about my involvement with tennis – I wasn’t having fun, and I could have gotten a better workout by going to the gym.
So what started my turnaround? Well, I was complaining about my frustration with poor play in matches and my irritating “voice of judgment” to Coach Alan Margot. He told me, “You can’t silence the voice, but tell it to quiet down. When you worry about what other people are the court are thinking about you, remind yourself, as if you were speaking to them: ‘What YOU think of me is YOUR business.’”
This seems simple, but it’s deep. For years I’ve taken ownership of how others perceive me on the tennis court, and more generally, in most other sectors of my life. Since I’d rather please people, I end up pressuring myself to make a better shot than I’m capable of, let my partner choose when she wants to serve and whether she wants the ad or deuce side in doubles, try for a heroic poach when simply getting the ball back over the net would be good enough. Outside of tennis, I rearrange my own schedule to accommodate an appointment that works better for my husband, or I ask a friend to give me a ride so my son can use my car.
At the end of the day, however, I don’t feel satisfied about setting aside my best interests in order to make others happier. I’m not sure they even notice my efforts, to tell you the truth. But it’s helpful to acknowledge that what someone else thinks of me is his or her responsibility, not mine. It doesn’t give me license to be obnoxious — rather, it reduces a burden I shouldn’t be carrying anyway.