Friday, June 17, 2011

The Point of Staying in the Moment

As a latecomer to competitive sports, I'm amazed to discover how the lessons I learn on the tennis court apply to my entire life. Yesterday, I realized how important it is to stay focused on the moment. 

 (image via
My Park District team played against the Saddle & Cycle Club - a gorgeous old club tucked into the Edgewater Neighborhood of Chicago. Saddle and Cycle's courts are clay, which is good for me because I don't have a powerful game and the softer surface slows things down. Anyway, my partner Betsy and I were in a groove and quickly won the first set 6-1.

In the second set our opponents made some adjustments - they lobbed, poached, and attacked down the line. Suddenly we were down 2 - 0 and I got rattled. Instead of concentrating on hitting the ball, my mind started creating all sorts of possible scenarios; none of them good.

"If we lose this game, it will be so hard to come back to take the set."
"It's so embarrassing that we're losing! What will my teammates think?"
"They have the momentum now, we'll never get it back."
"I'm letting Betsy down!"
"I'm going to miss my dentist appointment if this goes three sets!"

My anxiety affected my play. I made errors, lost my serve - I actually swung at one ball and whiffed.

"Oh my God, I stink!" I moaned to myself.

Then, remembering the advice from Gallwey's book, The Inner Game of Tennis, I decided to pull it together. Forget about the score, I told myself. Forget about my record, my ranking, my teammates and all the various things that could go wrong in the match. Focus on this point, think about this ball.

"When we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, focused play."
W. Timothy Gallwey - The Inner Game of Tennis

As soon as I stopped beating myself up and started keeping my eye on the ball, we began winning more points. Eventually, we fought our way back to take the second set 6-4.

Driving home from the match (with plenty of time to make my dentist appointment) I thought about how all that worry was not only unnecessary, it was harmful. By thinking so much about the final outcome of the match, I'd totally lost my ability to influence the game at the point level - which is the only level any match can be won!

It's so easy to slip into a pattern of negativity and worry when something goes wrong in life, but thinking about how things could turn out is often an encumbrance to making the best out of what actually is. Making a habit of focusing on the present moment, not judging ourselves or others, and staying positive is the only way to achieve winning outcome.

I "love" tennis even more for reminding me of this.

1 comment:

Christie said...

Great post, Marjie! Thanks for the reminder!