Does losing a lot make me a loser?

So I lost another tennis match last weekend.  This is nothing new, really.  As my high school son remarked on Skype to his college siblings, “Yeah, Mom likes tennis, she plays a lot.  Most of the time she loses.”  Which pretty much sums up the past few months on the tennis court for me.  And it’s getting annoying, because I think I’m actually playing better than I did before – I’m just not winning, that’s all.

For a while last summer, after one of the worst USTA (United States Tennis Association) seasons of my life, I thought about giving up tennis.  Turning my energies to something where I had a chance to improve.  But to what?  Not yoga – a teacher once stood beside me and loudly suggested that “some students” could benefit from private lessons before coming to group classes.  And this was after I had been doing yoga for a year.  Certainly not golf — don’t even go there.  Handicrafts?  No, thanks.  Cooking?  Although I enjoy it, I don’t see myself cooking more than I do now: I’m not going to teach classes or write cookbooks, blog about food, and so on.  My husband doesn’t want the next Barefoot Contessa anyway — at least he doesn’t want a wife of that size (now Giada de Laurentis, that might be another story).

So I figured I might as well keep playing tennis, since I like the sport, enjoy getting exercise outdoors — plus I like the clothes, the social aspect and organizing teams.  Even though I’d been starting to think of myself as a loser, not merely as someone who loses more than she wins, I told myself this attitude had to change.  That the self-criticism had to stop.  If I couldn’t play and have fun, there was no point in playing.  So for a couple of months I avoided playing tennis in leagues at my club, because they felt too evaluative.  I played random people for fun, and I didn’t think much about the results.  Tennis almost became a recreational activity again.

But I missed the organized matches.  So this fall I went back to league tennis.  I resolved to stop judging myself and just play.  To stop talking so much and watch the ball more.  Hard to do — at least hard for me.  I’m starting to see some improvement, however – but it’s not yet reversed my losing record.

And that’s the rub.  Because in tennis matches that “count,” captains won’t pair you with a strong partner unless you’re playing well, i.e., winning.  And you don’t stand a good chance of winning unless you’re paired with a strong partner.  So I have to win in order to impress the captains of my teams who are making decisions about when I get to play and whom I partner with.  But without a good partner, it’s tough to win.  And sometimes if your partner is perceived to be a lot better than you, the win is credited to her abilities, not yours.  See what I mean?  Just playing “for fun” is a nice idea, but that’s not how it works in ladies tennis.   [Read more…]

Why are mental issues the toughest?

I just lost a tennis match.  A USTA match.  One I should have won.

It started out well enough: my partner and I won the toss, served and won the first game.  Next we lost our opponents’ serve, no big deal.  Then they broke our serve  — this was kind of a problem, since their better server served next, and we couldn’t break back.  Now the score was 1-3 against us.  Our opponents made a couple of questionable line calls, which we let go rather than argue, but I resented the behavior nonetheless.  They also had an annoying habit of whacking the ball back to the server any time a first serve was out, disrupting the server’s rhythm and focus.  Before we knew it, the first set was over, 6-2.

My partner and I tried to regroup.  Our opponents weren’t better players than we were, we knew that.  So we resolved to sharpen our focus, watch the ball, etc.  We won the first two games easily.

They called my partner’s shot out on an important point, when I clearly saw the ball land in the alley.  I questioned the call, but not surprisingly, our opponents were “absolutely positive” they had seen the ball land wide.  I was so irritated with them at that point that I double-faulted the first point of my serve, and proceeded to lose the entire game.  I told myself to get a grip, breath, calm down.  We went up 40-15 in the next game with a volley I hit at the feet of the gal who had been calling our balls “out.”  She popped the ball up and over the fence, into some bushes nearby.  She immediately directed her husband, who was sitting on the sidelines with a beer, to go and find it.  He started rustling in the bushes beside us, and we lost the next point, 40-30.

The husband handed over an ancient, dirt-caked ball.  “No, that’s not it,” she said.  My partner asked if we could please just finish this game and then deal with the ball situation.  “Sure, no problem,” our opponent said.  But her husband returned to the shrubbery.  As he continued to shake the bushes, the other side won three points in a row to take the game.

No question about it, I was letting my emotions get the best of me.  I was also sure my partner was thinking it was my fault we were losing this match, that she’d never want to play with me again.  My internal voice of judgment was drowning out the simple “bounce-hit,” “watch the ball” mantra I would repeat to stay calm.  I just wanted to get out of here.  That happened soon enough: we lost 6-2, 6-3.

As you may have guessed, the foregoing was not an actual match, but an amalgam of USTA matches I have lost.  While higher-level tennis may not be disrupted by balls in the bushes or arguments over line calls, nearly every player loses to a “lesser” opponent at least occasionally.  We saw two such matches last week, as Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki, world-ranked #2 and #1, both lost early-round matches to players ranked below them during the French Open.

Jitters, nerves, collapse of confidence, lack of focus.  I’m not talking about being out-played by a better player, nor am I highlighting those times when technique may have failed me.  What we’re looking at is, pure and simple, letting psychological issues rule the day.  I would venture to say that my serves, groundstrokes and volleys were just as good as those of the women I lost to, but I couldn’t summon the mental toughness I needed, for as long as I needed it to win.  [Read more…]

P90X-ing the midlife body

Most of us have seen the infomercials with the “before” and “after” shots: ugly folks with bad hairdos and fat that spills over their shorts, transformed in only ninety days to svelte people with rock-hard abs, biceps and bikini-ready bodies – not to mention cute hairstyles and good skin. Too good to be true?  Yes, but not entirely.

I started on P90X because I was fed up with being out of shape (see this post, for example), and because my college kids told me it might be too hard for me. In other words, the gauntlet had been thrown! I went online and looked at testimonials. I  was hooked when I saw the cute Asian guy, a self-proclaimed “computer nerd,” who used to sit in front of his screen and eat junk food all day, but now does P90X and looks like someone my daughter should meet. I ordered the DVDs and figured I’d give it a try.

I took my “Fit Test” on December 31 and passed it, barely. At least I was fit enough to start P90X’s “extreme home fitness!” Monday, 1/3/2011, was the start of my New Regime. I skipped the recommended “before” photos, as I didn’t want a potential source of blackmail. On Day 1, you do “Chest & Back,” a one-hour workout consisting mainly of push-ups and pull-ups. I had little prior experience with either. (Read: this was hard!) Then you do the sixteen-minute “Ab Ripper.” Enough said. I finished at 11:30 a.m. and went back to bed for an hour. I made a note to myself, “Must cheat. Must take breaks.”

Day 2 was better, as the workout was cardio that, while difficult, was not as foreign to me. I thought, “Well, maybe I can do this after all.” But Day 12 came, and I still wasn’t feeling more fit. Plus, doing P90X was taking 1 to 1 ½ hours per day. But I made up my mind to keep going.

It was probably around Day 20 when I decided P90X was okay. My husband encouraged me, telling me he thought my body was getting more toned. My teenage son was less generous, choosing to mimic my least-favorite workout, “Kenpo X.” Whenever the subject of P90X comes up, he calls out, “Hook, undercut, sidekick,” punching and kicking the air for emphasis. [Read more…]

Happiness is . . . working out with the ball machine

I worked out with the ball machine yesterday.  It was great!  I just love how you can set it to keep on feeding you forehands, or backhands, or volleys, with whatever kind of speed or delay or spin or anything you choose.  And then you always know what’s coming.  That’s a really nice feature, don’t you think?  I mean, when I knew exactly where the ball was going to be, I could watch it all the way to the strings.  I could hit it to the same target five times in a row.  I could slam a volley down the line.

There were some much better tennis players on a nearby court, and that was great, too.  Just being near them and feeling the vibe of their higher-level game gave me a boost of confidence.  A couple of them even waved hi to me!  I mean, I know I’ll never play tennis as well as any of them, but it’s nice to think of myself as a member of the club, as someone who works out at the same time as better people are playing “real” tennis matches.

I also love the fact that, when you play against the ball machine, you always win.  Now one of my favorite pros pointed out to me that, considered differently, you always lose to the machine, but I disagree!  When you play against the machine, YOU are the one keeping score, and you are the one who is winning — unless, of course, you are super-tough on yourself.  It’s silly to tally how many balls make it over the net versus how many are left on your side when you’re cleaning up, as everyone knows that numerous balls are wasted in fine-tuning the machine’s placement of balls before you can move over there and hit any of them.  Not to mention the ones that are dead and don’t bounce correctly in the first place. . . . Plus, didn’t you set up the machine to practice that tricky new shot that you’ve been afraid to try in matches?  Any time you can execute it successfully, you’re one step closer to using it against an opponent when it will count.

So go ahead: spend a few dollars on a ball machine workout.  Not only will you get to focus on the shots that have been giving you trouble, or shots that are “weapons” you want to perfect, but it’s a quick way to perk up your self-confidence, on and off the court.  Between you and the machine, you’ll definitely be the winner!