Tennis Zen

One of the major no-nos that tennis players do on the court is to judge their performance. I do it, and I've watched many times as students stare in awe after they hit a winner down the line.

In my 10 years of playing tennis, I've come to learn that there should be little to no judgment when executing on the tennis court. I love this passage from The Inner Game of Tennis (W. Timothy Galley) that talks about quieting the mind and allowing your shot to happen spontaneously. It's about trusting your body to achieve its peak performance.

The image comes to my mind of the balanced movement of a cat stalking a bird. Effortlessly alert, he crouches, gathering his relaxed muscles for the spring. No thinking about when to jump, nor how he will push off with his hind legs to attain the proper distance, his mind is still and perfectly concentrated on his prey. No thought flashes into his consciousness of the possibility or consequences of missing his mark. He sees only the bird. Suddenly the bird takes off; at the same instant, the cat leaps. With perfect anticipation he intercepts his dinner two feet off the ground. Perfectly, thoughtlessly executed action, and afterward, no self-congratulations, just the reward inherent in his action: the bird in the mouth.

I tell everyone I coach to limit the amount of judgment they place on themselves while playing. And instead, to replace that judgment with concentrated action. The concentration should be like meditation. Simply enjoy the action taking place, whether it produces a good or bad shot.

In short, 'getting it together' requires slowing the mind. Quieting the mind means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering or distracting.

When I first started playing tennis, there was a lot of judgment going on in my head. Most of it was uncontrolled energy focused on shot accuracy. So if you're just starting out in the game of tennis, this is an important lesson to learn. Even if you've been playing for years (like myself), it's a lesson worth repeating in your head continually. I keep The Inner Game of Tennis in my hitting bag, and from time to time find it useful to skim the pages on concentration when my actions start to become forced.


Kim said...

Good reminder of some of the important lessons in this book. I'm definitely pulling it out to re-read. Thanks for the post.

tennis mobster said...

Thanks Kim! I love that book. Reading "Winning Ugly" by Brad Gilbert now. So far, it's been great! I'll write a blog about it when I'm finished reading it. Thanks again for reading, Kim. :)

Kim said...

I just wrote something about Winning Ugly on my blog! I've read that book several times and always find something useful in it. Good subject for a blog post.

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