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.

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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.

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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.

Pain

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.

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“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 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.

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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 apple.com, 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.

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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.

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Image credits: Anton Stetner, ToryBurch.com, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

US Open tennis fashion: the women

Almost as much fun as watching the matches is checking out the US Open tennis fashion. This year continues a trend towards variety of colors — not only in women’s clothes, but also in their shoes. Here are some ladies tennis fashions I’ve noticed so far during the tournament.

Sharapova tennis fashion: Day and Night

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Maria by day

Tennis diva Maria Sharapova is looking glam as usual. Nike has furnished her with a daytime tunic as well as an evening dress.

 

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Maria by night

 

Serena tennis fashion: the Big Cat

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Serena by Night: the Snow Leopard

Serena always stands out: not only for her dominant play, but also for her short skirts that emphasize the size and strength of her quads, hamstrings and glutes. This year she’s wearing an animal print dress. For her first round (evening) match, her dress was a more “formal” black and white — a snow leopard pattern. But then for her day match vs. Vania King, she sported the same print in pink and red.

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Serena by day: spotted pink panther?

Tennis fashion in blue, who knew?

Blue is a popular color this year. Azarenka looks cute in her blue and white tennis shorts and matching top. The young Canadian phenom Eugenie Bouchard shows athleticism and elegance in her slim-fitting blue dress.

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Vika shows her flexibility (and contrasting soles)

 

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Genie Bouchard stretches for a ball

Jelena Jankovic is also wearing blue, but she combines it with purple hexagonal spots.  Sponsored by Fila, Jankovic wears a simply styled dress that attracts attention with its bold print.

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Fila’s blue and purple print for Jankovic

In yet another take on the traditional blue color, Venus Williams is wearing one of her own EleVen designs, in a lady-like white and blue floral with a square opening across the shoulder blades. In her after-match interview, she indicated that this design includes some red — to make it red, white and blue for the US Open. Maybe she’ll add something red for the next round!

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Venus wins her second round match

Tennis fashion new color: blush

An often-seen color in early round women’s matches has been blush, or light peach. While blue, black and white are tennis fashion staples, this blush color is fresh and different. One Adidas top in particular has been worn by several players. Who wore it better, in your opinion: Andrea Petkovic, Kimiko Date-Krumm or Maria Kirilenko?

Caroline Wozniacki gets her own version of the Adidas blush. It has a contrasting panel down the front with a kind of flap that comes in two colors, berry and beige. Personally I’m not sure how this “flap” would work on many women’s figures. But on Caroline, of course it looks terrific.

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Caroline Wozniacki – US Open First Round

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Caroline Wozniacki – US Open Second Round

 

The next post will highlight men’s fashions from the US Open Tennis Tournament. Stay tuned!

 

Image credits: various photographers via usopen.org, zimbio.com

How to score tennis in Spanish, German and French

The clay court season is well under way, and tennis professionals are playing on courts accross Europe — all culminating in the French Open at Roland Garros, May 26 – June 9, 2013. The men just left Monte Carlo and are in Spain now, and the women are playing in Germany. So watching the Tennis Channel offers an opportunity to learn how to score tennis in Spanish, German and French.

¿Juega usted al tenis?

In Spanish, you start off the match with a saque (serve). Interestingly, the word for “lob” is globo, which also means “balloon.” You can find more Spanish tennis terms here if you’re interested. Here’s how to score a game en español:

  • 15 – Love: quince – cero
  • 15 -15: quince iguales
  • 30 – 15: treinta – quince
  • 40 – 15: cuarenta – quince
  • 40 – 30: cuarenta – treinta
  • deuce: cuarenta iguales (or just “iguales“)
  • advantage: ventaja
  • to win/to lose: ganar/perder

 

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Sign at Puerto Vallarta hotel

 

Spielen Sie Tennis?

In Germany, the tennis court is called a Spielplatz, or “play place.” German’s use of compound words makes their tennis vocabulary lots of fun — look here for more examples. If you can return your opponent’s Raketenaufschlag (“rocket serve”), here’s how to keep score:

  • 15 – Love: nfzehn – null
  • 15 -15: fünfzehn – beide
  • 30 – 15: dreißig – fünfzehn
  • 40 – 15: vierzig – fünfzehn
  • 40 – 30: vierzig – dreißig
  • deuce: Gleichstand (or Einstand)
  • advantage: Vorteil (or Advantage)
  • to win/to lose: gewinnen/verlieren

 

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Tennisschläger – literally, “tennis striker/smasher”

Jouez-vous au tennis?

A clay court, such you’ll find at Roland Garros, is called un court de terre battue.  Somehow the entire sport sounds more beautiful in French — see this link for more examples. Prepare for the French Open by learning how to score en français:

  • 15 – Love: quinze – zéro
  • 15 -15: quinze à (or quinze partout)
  • 30 – 15: trente – quinze
  • 40 – 15: quarante – quinze
  • 40 – 30: quarante – trente
  • deuce: égalité (the first deuce is often referred to as quarante à)
  • advantage: avantage
  • to win/to lose: gagner/perdre

So turn on the TV, watch some European matches, and listen to the umpires as they announce scores first in the native language, then in English. Think of it as a way to improve your foreign language skills while vegging out in front of a sport you enjoy.

Then, when you head out to play your next match, announce the score in a different language — you’ll have fun, and your opponents won’t understand what you’re saying.

Juego, set et partido.

Spiel, Satz und Sieg.

Jeu, set et match.

 

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Courts at the Jardins des Tuileries, Paris

 

Do you know more fun facts about tennis in Spanish, German or French, or do you have a correction for something I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!

 

 Image credits: Anne Rosales, explainthatstuff via flickr,
 Aaron Rosales