Learning a Lesson From a 6-year old

Not sure if anyone noticed (or missed) the lack of posting for the last couple of weeks. My “excuse” is that we had family visiting; but there is a tennis pointer from my hitting with my two grandsons.

The 3-year old is a natural athlete and will stay in the driveway and try to hit the foam ten-and-under tennis balls with no problem. But when I was on the court with my six (soon to be seven) year old, he was not focusing and just spraying the balls onto the next court.

He is a highly competitive youngster and I remembered his father telling me that “he needs goals to focus on what he is doing.” So I said, “Lucas, our goal is for me to feed you balls and for you to get three in a row over my head and into the court.”

His demeanor immediately changed; and he got focused on accomplishing “the goal,” which he did.

I find the same with many of my “adult” tennis friends. A good half of them do not want to “just practice” and hit balls back and forth. If they do agree to practice (many won’t even do that), they frequently need a drill game in which we “keep score” to help maintain their focus.

Perhaps my makeup is different. I can focus and get satisfaction out of “the process” of trying to hit the correct stroke repetitively. Agreed, keeping score does add pressure and makes you try to perform “under pressure.”

So perhaps it is a combination of both that is the best way to learn and improve. Isn’t that what is all about?

3 thoughts on “Learning a Lesson From a 6-year old

  1. George, I think you raise a good point which is, everybody is different and different people are motivated by different things. At the competitive level we have all heard the mantra that there is a big difference between those who merely like to win and those who absolutely cannot stand losing (the expectation being that the people who hate losing are always the tougher competitors).

    When we are learning new things in tennis, or even just trying to sharpen our existing games, we need to be mindful of what truly motivates us, and what does not. I believe that people do not fundamentally change their motivational triggers over time, but the circumstances themselves may evolve as we get better at the game.

    For example, when I was first learning to play tennis, in my very early teens, I was definitely the most motivated by the simple esthetics of hitting the ball properly off my racquet. I did not care all that much whether I even got the ball in the court, or where it landed even if I got it in. And if I was playing a point, or a practice point, I didn’t much care if my shot was a winner or even if it set me up to win the point. All that I cared about were the esthetics.

    To be specific, I loved that sound that you get, and that feeling that you get in your arm, when you hit the ball squarely in the racquet’s sweet spot, and the ball makes a wonderful “whomp” sound and your arm doesn’t feel a thing at all — no vibration, nothing. Conversely I hated the cacophonic noise that was created when I missed the sweet spot and I caught the ball on the frame, or even just off center. Indeed, it was the equivalent for me of eating a pint of chocolate ice cream on the rare occasions that my strokes were so much in the groove I could consistently hit ball after ball, just hearing that “whomp” sound and not even feeling a racquet in my hand at all because the ball made so little vibration. Of course, this did not happen that often.

    Now that I am much older and sort of do know how to play the game, I sometimes try to revert to focusing just on the esthetics as a means to regroove my game. So, if I am in a practice session I will try to put every other thought out of my mind that I can and just experience the sheer pleasure that comes from hitting the ball right in the middle of the strings. It is quite a liberating feeling, because it frees my mind from all sorts of distractions, including the tennis admonitions of “move your feet,” “eyes on the ball,” “racquet back,” follow through,” etc. that so often we spend too much time thinking about and never actually doing.

    If I am really lucky, I have on occasion been able to use this trick of focusing on the esthetics as a way to get myself close to, if not really in, the “Zone” in a competitive match.

    I think the best coaches almost have a sixth sense about individuals and are able to pick up on dozens of little signals that people put out as to how they get motivated, and the best coaches are able to adjust their teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles in their students, instead of trying to force all students to conform to the same style of coaching. But people who have this talent are rare, and are to be cherished when they are found.

    Marty – I think this is one of your most insightful comments (of many) on my website! Thanks. George

  2. George, I watched you hitting with Lucas… Must have been after the goal orientation conversation. He was hitting pretty well.. I was jealous! Wishing I’d had that opportunity when he was his age! Instead of starting out in my mid-50’s!
    Lynn Nolan

    Lynn – But you are young at heart and (like me) still have plenty of time to learn! Thanks, george

  3. Was unable to view your pointer….only comments on whatever you reported.

    Nick – Strange. anyone else? george

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