The Joy of Hitting
By Kim Shanley
To The TennisONE Community
Out of the 604,800 seconds of my existence this week, I want to talk to you about 60 of them. On the partial pretense of working on business, I have arranged to hit with my Senior Editor Jim McLennan at least once every two weeks. On this particular day, we actually had discussed TennisONE business fairly extensively. After an hour and a half of mental exercise, we decided to try the physical side and hit a few balls.
Although this was a casual exercise, I still felt a little pressure. After all the discussions about tennis and editing articles from the best tennis writers, including Jim, I felt like I should be able to demonstrate some small portion of the TennisONE instructional material I mentally process each week.
But walking onto the court mentally spinning and physically stone-cold, I felt completely disconnected from my body. I felt stiff and jerky moving to the first few balls. My mind was ordering my body to move, and the body was responding like a sluggish waiter who doesn't expect a tip. Becoming self-conscious after drilling a few easy forehands into the net, my mind turned to technique for a solution: "Turn your shoulders," I said to myself. "Take the ball earlier."
As I warmed up physically, I started to hit a little better, but I still felt like a mechanical puppet being jerked around by my mind. Jim was basically silent, just observing. Finally, I don't who surrendered first, him or I. But we came to the net, and it was obvious from my frustrated demeanor that I needed help. He said, "I think you're just in your own way."
Jim is a bit like the Sensei in the Karate Kid, dispensing profound wisdom disguised in simple language. So, being the Karate Kid, I played along with my role in this little mini-drama. "So how do I get out of my own way?" (I didn't add, "Master") He shook his head, as if to say this problem was too tough even for the oracle of the East. He just rocked back and forth on this toes, swinging his arms rhythmically, studying how a forehand groundstroke felt to him. He didn't do this thinking of all the step-by-step mechanical movements of racquet take-back, shoulder-turn, pivot, etc. No, it was more like watching someone dance in place, balancing and pivoting to some unheard music.
As I watched him no thought came to my mind. He really didn't answer my question, so I just kind of shrugged and I stepped back to the baseline. He remained at the net. He started feeding me balls quickly, and said, "I just want you to let go of getting the ball in and think fluid." The next ball I struck with a solid "thunk" that had been missing all day. My shoulders relaxed and my arms extended into the next several balls, driving the ball deep and flat (and mostly in) into the court. Jim started to laugh, and I started to laugh.
What happened in that sixty seconds? Suddenly "I," the ego that was worried about looking good, had stepped out of the way. We both were laughing because I had made everything up to that point so damn hard by over-trying and over-thinking. All I had to do was let go of all that, and something flowed out and connected with that ball in a way that had escaped all my conscious techniques.
If getting out of your way has any interest for you, there are various articles that touch upon the concept within the TennisONE archive. Go to our Lesson Library main page as your jumping off point and do a Find for "Mental Toughness."
At the same time, I don't think TennisONE has scratched the surface of answering the question, "How do I get out of my own way." That's one of the major new directions we're headed within TennisONE. Sure, we want to help people win tennis matches through better instruction. But we also want to help people get out of their own way, to play in the zone, and realize the joy of hitting.
As for me, well, I'll continue in the role of Karate Kid, trying to get out of my own way. If you have any techniques or experiences you use for the same purpose, I'd love to hear them. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
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