Improve or Die

kaizen-2-svgAs you age, is your tennis game in decline? Some people accept “the inevitable,” while others at all ages are still working to improve their skills. They are following the basic business philosophy called Kaizen, which has been loosely translated as “Improve or Die.”


The concept of Kaizen was created in Japan following World War II. The word Kaizen means “continuous improvement” and comes from the Japanese words (“kai”) which means “change” or “to correct” and (“zen”) which means “good.” In business, the concept means there must be continuous improvement in your product or methods, or your company will eventually fade away.

Three Role Models

SuperSenior Gordon Hammes

SuperSenior Gordon Hammes

For me, I have three role models. Naples friends Jack Lease and Gordon Hammes, both playing in their 80s and both continually looking to improve their games. (And Gordon finally was able to beat his nemesis King Van Nostrand and win a Gold Ball in the process).

And New Hampshire/Naples friend Bill Simonton, The King of “What’s new?” Whether it is new strings, new racquet, higher/lower string tension, two-handed backhand, extra slice … he is always working on something new.

“Don’t look back…”

Legendary Negro League pitcher Satchel Page is attributed with the famous quote when asked about his aging, he said, “Don’t look back. Someone might be gainin’ on you.”

How about you… are you striving to improve or are they gainin’ on you?

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9 thoughts on “Improve or Die

  1. It’s funny how things work out, but had my racquet restrung before playing the Nationals and by mistake the stringer strung it 4lbs loser (51 instead of 55) using the 110 Michael Chang (best racquet ever made). Anyway instead of restringing it I tried it out and bingo I got more bite and spin on the ball without losing much control. For the semi’s and finals I upped it to 52 but still good. If you are looking for more bite and power, try dropping the tension. I think it helped me win the National 65 Clay Courts.

    Larry, i am a believer in looser than tighter (but not too loose). thanks, george

  2. Great topic George. I am. Constantly looking for ways to improve and grow in this game. That’s what it’s all about for me! Otherwise we go out day after, make the same mistakes robotically, and that’s the definition of insanity isn’t it?

    Jim, insanity and unhappiness. thanks, george

  3. Question for larry & George – what strings? Poly?

    Jeff, i have been using a Gamma combo: Glide and Moto, strung at 47 and 51 respectively. george

  4. As you age, you may not actually improve but you should understand my “theory of relative decline”. You keep working to get worse more slowly than your peers.

    Bill, Amen! george

  5. Since we’re talking Kaizen…my two yen,

    It’s not about “keep working or working harder or more effort”, it’s actually about MORE ENJOYMENT.

    Kaizen, also means to “improve to the point of effortless mastery”….
    Look at Hank I, Fred, Gordon, King….they all have an effortless mastery about their strokes…as such they are enjoying the heck out of this beautiful game and beating everyone in the process 🙂

    Marc, while you may add “enjoyment” into the mix (and i agree with the goal), i do not think the Japanese worker hears much about that. 🙂 George

  6. As we age, muscle strength diminishes. Aerobic and resistance exercises somewhat mitigate the weakening, however, the gradual, inevitable weakening still occurs.
    Using oversized racquets, strung at lower tensions, can increase the stroke power that is lost with ageing.

    Dr. Michael, thanks! george

  7. Great post, George! That’s one of the things I love most about tennis–there’s always room for improvement, always something to work on. I started playing in my 40s, have been at it for almost 20 years, and still have a long way to go. I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone again at Newk’s next year for the 30th edition. Be well!

    Joe, “room for improvement” is an understatement for most of us! thanks, george

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