I realized last night in my normal Wednesday night tennis game that I was trying to end the point too quickly, and not letting things mature and present the opportunities for real success. Now you probably thought that based on the title of this piece I was going to use this topic as a measure of male performance in bed or other similar playing field. Well, luckily for you, I am not, but I am wondering if this concept of finishing early might be a metaphor for how we perceive daily life and if there are some benefits to letting our days mature, while keeping pressure on, and seizing the opportunities when they come.
So I am playing tennis doubles last night against the top team in our ladder. Last time Lance and I took them on we beat them and it was definitely time for celebrations. On many points I noticed that I forced the winning shot too soon in the point, and many times it did not succeed. I was either off balance, in the wrong position, or hitting into a well positioned opponent. You have all seen this in tennis. As one player gets pushed into a corner or is getting tired, he or she goes for a shot in desperation – and it is either a fantastic winner or out. The good ones make the highlight reel, and the bad ones let the opponent know they have the upper hand. That shift in momentum is hard to reverse.
I like to hit the ball hard. I like to get a sweat out. I like to run the ball down. I like to pull every ounce of energy I have left and leave it on the court. For at least the last 15 years, I have realized that want to play hard, and when it’s time to slow down, I’ll focus more on golf. But for now, I am hitting the pavement or clay every chance I get. I have not learned to shift my play from muscles to mental. I may not be the smartest player on the court, because I know I can make up the gap with speed, power, and will. I like that. I feel like the pros when I am out there, just not nearly as consistent.
Last night though I was reminded that I will do better if I have some patience. There is a gear in between super hard and playing like a backboard. It is one where you are structuring the point, controlling the point, moving your opponent around, hitting strong but not the desperation winner shot too early, making your opponent hit a shot that is weak and opens the door for you to close it. It means not hitting the lines on every shot so that you are likely to have to hit more, but the pressure increases the chances the next ball will be easier. Andy Murray’s coaches are strengthening him to hit a 20, 30, 40 ball rally, outlasting his opponent and ready for the winner at any time.
So now you know the background, and more about how I want to play. But I wonder how far this tennis tactic can pervade into my life, and what benefit it might bring. I have always thought that I should have my soil ready for the seeds of opportunity that may come my way, that luck comes when opportunity meets preparation. I have seen that overnight successes never really happen overnight, but are the result of consistent hard work and diligence in practice. Things don’t often fall in your lap, but they come because of the work, pressure, and drive every day. And that anything just given is not often appreciated — that the biggest rewards and most valued successes come at the end of lots of hard work.
Halls of Fame and record books are likely filled with achievements that are the result of methodical and constant improvement. When I cycle, it try to increase the pressure on the pedals with every stroke, not blowing out my energy, but producing sustainable increases of speed and power.
Maybe the real strength is not hitting a winner on every shot possible, but having the strength to prepare for the right moment, and doing the work to make those moments appear consistently. Maybe the real strength is to balance brains and brawn, firing on all cylinders, and utilizing all the gears in this old car.