Tennis is a complicated, beautiful game where there are many skills to master – and strategies to learn. But it also acts as a mirror, illuminating our relationship with ourselves and others, and presents wonderful opportunities to practice mindfulness.
As a tennis lover, psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, I’ve seen how tennis clearly illustrates the way I deal with daily disappointments and challenges, and how I learn again and again to focus on the present moment with gentle awareness. Some parts are still a work in progress.
Tennis highlights how we deal with frustration. How do I react when my serve looks like a powder puff? I could say to myself, “Have you learned nothing?! You are never going to get a higher rating with a serve like that!”
Or, I might try, “Ok. You are backsliding here. Take a breath and remember your basics.”
Berating ourselves may seem like a reasonable, even sensible response, but it’s counterproductive to being relaxed and feeling any kind of flow. I’m not saying it’s easy.
Tennis challenges us to stay aware of our body. We must be both alert and relaxed at the same time. That’s a tough combination, especially at the net when a ball might be rocketing right towards you.
A tight serve will almost always land in the net. So, we must be especially aware of where our body is holding tension and focus on letting those muscles soften.
It’s all right in front of you, right this moment.
You can’t focus on the win. Not only does that suck the joy out of playing, but it takes you right out of the present. Every shot has its own beginning, middle and end.
There are lots of opportunities in tennis, not the least of which is wearing a mini skirt in post-middle age. It’s not fun to lose to a clearly less experienced player – or if you are playing well, and your doubles partner is in la la land. Bad calls are unfair and can make you feel angry.
So, what are your choices? How much energy do you want to expend on ruminating? You have the power to stay centered, and not be pulled off course. It does take tremendous discipline not to spiral into a negative place, but my brain enjoys the challenge most days.
At the risk of sounding Polyanna-ish, I am well aware that many people are not able to play tennis for a variety of good reasons. I do get some strange looks when we’re on the court. When I get asked how I’m doing, I respond, “There’s no other place I want to be right now.”
This is especially true if we are outside on a lovely day. I am often filled with intense gratitude for the opportunity to focus on a little fuzzy ball, with no other worries at that very moment. Especially when life feels particularly hard.
Playing tennis is a real opportunity for self-observation and meditative practice. It stretches us, both literally and figuratively, into learning where we have grown, and what is still left for us to work on.
Do you love to play tennis? What other sports or activities are a kind of meditation for you? Let’s chat sports!
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