I am supposed to be a wordsmith, but I am not sure I can adequately describe what I felt and did on the court this week! My young friend Marc VanDam and I played our usual “handicap singles” … where I spot him 24 years (!) and he gives me four points per set (that I can take one or two at a time, anytime I want). With that balancing act, the sets are usually pretty close – but he has been winning lately.
Even though I had a 5-3 lead, he won the first set 7-5. But after about two games of the second set, everything changed!
If you are a regular reader, you know my favorite tennis book is Jeff Greenwald’s small paperback on “fearless tennis” (“The Best Tennis of Your Life… 50 Mental Strategies for Fearless Performance”). I have read it several times and recently bought and listened to the companion CD several times.
In it, he preaches “focus on the process, not on the results.” In other words, concentrate on hitting the ball and playing the next point; and don’t worry about the “consequences” of losing the point, game, or match. And take physical actions to block out those ‘results’ thoughts to improve your now focus.
Well, in the beginning of that second set, I said to myself, “Just play this next point.” And pushed the game score out of my mind. And like magic, I was hitting the ball freely, hard, and in good locations.
In the middle of the set, we had perhaps the best point we ever played together… about an 18-20 ball rally that saw me driving the ball corner to corner; and speedy Marc retrieving ball after ball.
Toward the end of the set, we crossed over (after I had broken his serve at 15) and admitted that I did not know what the game score was! He told me that I was leading 5-2 and still had several handicap points in the bank.
I again pushed the score out of my mind and focused on “the next point.” I won the first two and stood at the line to serve; and he asked, “don’t you want to take your handicap points and win?”
I responded, “NO! I am having too much fun (and never even thought about having them).”
I crushed the ball on the next two rallies and closed it out serving a love game. Playing perhaps the best sequence of eight-ten points in a row that I have ever played in my life!
I can try to describe what it felt like to stand over the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time or how the feeling you will have for your grandkids is a “different kind of love” … but until you experience them and being in the zone for yourself, you will not fully comprehend what my words really mean.
Now, as Greenwald’s book says, the trick is to remember and duplicate that focus and that feeling other times on the court.