Believe

Posted on January 26, 2010

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Those of you who follow me know I love sports. I can’t wait for KU Jayhawk basketball, tennis, Tour de France, NFL playoffs and many other events. If I had been born in a body that was bigger than 5 feet tall and 90 lbs dripping wet…well, okay, and male, I would have been a tremendous quarterback, point guard, cyclist, tennis player. The reality is I’m not. This means I need to scrap after every point in tennis, fight for every yard in flag football, chase other cyclists and well, basically, believe.

This is a story about believing. And as it is the Australian Open season, it is a tennis story. My good twitter bud @ginidietrich thought it might make a good post. I think it does.

This is a story about what it is like competing on the court and the mental journeys that occur. It is a story about acting as if you believe you can win even when you might not have a chance. With tennis competition, there is a fine-line between believing and acting as if you believe. It can change within moments, within a match, a set, a game or a point. Your opponent is watching your body language, expressions closely, like a shark, will smell the blood and pounce if you let it show that you feel vulnerable.

Those who watch, or perhaps don’t even watch tennis, might believe it is all about hitting the ball, physical endurance, strength..The reality is that that is what the practice drills/sessions are all about. That training is meant to train your muscles to react on memory in a match so that your mind is free to think about shot selection, your opponent, the point. This way your mind is available to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of the game, and not the mundane of the shot.

So you practice hard. You work on drills that are scenerios of the
type of points, type of opponent you will play. You push yourself to
the limit, and then push yourself further so if a match goes long
and grueling, you not only last, but exceed. You want your
opponent to look across the net and think…”geez, she won’t wear
down. She chases every ball down. She never gets discouraged.” No matter what the score is your opponent wonders if she’ll break
first.

Then you show up for the match. Thanks to the web, you can now see your opponents match results online. You look her up and see that she has utterly kicked ass of every opponent you have played and then some. Great, you think, as you head to the court on a Friday night. I’m going to get my ass kicked. No, you think. Bad thoughts. That won’t help you in this match. Focus on the points. This game is one shot at a time. Shot by shot leads to a point. Point by point leads to a game. Game by game leads to a set. You can do this. Focus, relax, have fun. You repeat the mantra over and over as you pull the heavy bag that contains racquets, sweatbands, towels, gatorade out of the jeep. It is late…8pm on a late October night. You shiver as you feel the chill of the strong fall winds.

Great, cold, hard winds. Just what I needed. I have a high toss, the
wind will make it tough to control. I hate wind, I really hate wind.
No, you think. Out of my head negative thoughts. It’s okay. The
wind will make it tough on her. She has to struggle with it too. You
check in at the same time nodding pleasant smiles at each other, but knowing that both of you are checking each other out. Who will get this match, you each are thinking.

You both walk to the court silent, deep in your own mental
preparations for the match. Both have butterflies, the anxiety that
makes competing interesting. Both put your heavy bags down pulling out racquets, towels, gatorade, then moving to your opposite sides of the court. She hits the ball and I return with an easy stroke
silently measuring her pace, watching as I return the way she moves to the ball forehand, then backhand. I hit a short ball, then a wide
ball, then a deep ball studying how well she moves, as she does the
same with me. I stand tall, self confident, arrogant to an extent is
the perception I want her to have. I want her to think that I know I
can blow the ball past her, that I can return at will, that she’ll
struggle to return my serve.

The reality is I know she’s far superior to me and that it will take luck, incredible effort and some help from the universe to be able to win. I’m just praying it will take an hour at least so I feel I made her work a little. She’ll never know that though. I won’t tell her.

What happened. 3.5 hour match. I hustled, dove (literally bloody and bruised by the end of the match), scraped and fought for every point. It was 35 degrees by the time the match finished with 20 mile per hour winds. Noone was there to see, but she had no idea that I thought I was going to get creamed. I pumped my fist at every shot that was a winner. I held my head up high when I missed a shot. I stood tall as if I knew I could beat her. At the end, she shook my hand, told me what a great competitor I was and I knew that I had fought for every point. I had spent an entire match convincing myself that I could compete, and proving that I could. I had acted as if I believed it, and she believed I could.

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Posted in: Sports