Yesterday I went out and bought a new set of rollers for training on my bike. I already have a bike trainer, but I don’t feel I am getting the control in my workout that I want. Rollers are much harder to work on — nothing holding you up and you must maintain the balance yourself. It does not give you a strength workout, but makes your bike handling skills much sharper. Everyone at the bike shop was telling me “don’t give up, it’s hard at first. Have a counter or a wall to hold on to.” I read the directions and it too said “don’t give up, it’s hard at first.” I laughed, how hard could this be? I set the rollers up in my hallway where I would have a wall on each side. Ten minutes later after spinning my heart out without ever being able to let go of the wall, I had to get off. It was so hard. My heart was racing. I never once held my balance. I would have just returned it if the guy at the store had not said “just stick with it, one day you’ll get on and you’ll have it. It will just happen.” I decided I would just trust him and give it a few minutes everyday. (Then I jumped on my other bike and did 2 hours on the regular trainer with great relief while watching a movie.)
I’m placing my faith in the belief that I will master the rollers. Mind over matter. It does work. After all last night I had a great lesson in mind/body mastery in tennis while trying once again to control my serve. I mentioned last week the audio book that I had listened to “Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life ” by Dan Millken. I guess it was a bestseller in print but I had never heard of it. Well I listened to it while driving to CT last weekend and he mentioned something that I took note of and meant to try. He had said when you serve is in a slump and you keep trying to fix it and it just gets worse, stop trying. Simply decide where you want the ball to go, relax, don’t try and just let the ball go there. Well it seemed to work! I know it sounds obvious, but when you are trying to fix something — obvious is the last thing you try.
Last night I had tennis practice with my team. Our matches start at the end of March and I’ll be honest, I was getting worried that my serve slump was getting so bad that I couldn’t put it on anyone to play doubles so I was going to relegate myself to playing singles for the season. There was a time when I think I was a valuable doubles partner mostly for my serve. Hasn’t been that way for almost a year now. Last season I ended the season in July with the worst serving slump known to mankind. You probably read about it Sports Illustrated. It was haunting. It was humiliating. It stunk.
So last night I was playing with three gals I haven’t played with in a long time. We have about 15 gals on the team right now (I’m looking for more) so this particular bunch hadn’t seen me play in awhile. Funny thing about life is the thing that is so haunting and humiliating to you is barely remembered by others. We like to think that everyone is paying attention to our successes and struggles, but the reality is most people are concerned with their own. So nobody (except me) was standing there thinking “here come the double faults.” I just kept my mouth shut and even volunteered to go first.
I took a couple of practice serves and they went in. Usually my practice serves go in. It’s not until I start playing or start “trying” that it starts to crumble. Gee, think you need a PhD in Psychology to figure out my bad serve is all in my head? I know it’s in my head. I know it’s in my toss. What nobody could tell me was how do I get it OUT of my head and how do I FIX my toss??!?!?! If I had a dime for every person who said to me “your toss is off” I’d have box seats at Wimbledon. Brilliant Sherlock. I can see my toss is off — what do I do about it?
I had a couple of coaches over time that gave me some tips and for awhile they worked. Toss the ball at your opponent — it will counteract the ball going over your head. Line your tossing arm up with the net post — that will keep it straight. Move your tossing arm like it is an elevator — straight up and down, never forward and back. Lighter, looser, stronger, firmer. Two fingers, three fingers, no fingers. All worked well when it was first introduced and I still used them all — with no help. The last couple of weeks I was creating all kinds of cues for myself. Back foot parallel to service line. Front foot pointed at net post. Shoulders perpendicular to net. Body weight back, then rock forward. Toss ball light and to the right. Down together, up together. Toss to 1 o’clock. Sweep up on the ball 7 to 2. Loose wrist. Snap coming over the ball. I know every excruciating nuance of serving a darn tennis ball. I know how to hold my arm out straight like Lindsey Davenport, rock back and tilt my foot up. I know how to bounce the ball a cazillion times, adjust my jewelry, find Jesus and bring my arm closer to my body like Mary Pierce. I know how shorten my racquet dip behind my back like Andy Rodick. I know how to deepen my racquet dip like Patrick Rafter and come into the net. I’ve studied them all. I know what’s wrong, I just can’t fix it in myself.
So last night when the game started and I was up to serve. I said okay, I’ll give Mr. body/mind mastery guy’s theory a try. I looked up the middle of the box and said I want the ball to go right there. I didn’t line up my feet. I didn’t pay attention to my rocking sequence, ball height or anything else. I just wanted the ball to go up the middle of the service box. It went out wide. But! It went in!! Okay, I’ll take that. It’s a bit of a crap shoot if you are playing competitive tennis to not be able to control where your serve is going, but in is better than out. The next several serves went the same way. I thought of one thing only — where I wanted the ball to land. I refused to think of whether I was hitting it flat, with slice or topspin. Just in the spot. None of the balls went where I wanted them to go, but they all landed somewhere in the box. I’d live with that. Next thing I knew we won the game. We won my service game!!! Against two very good players. Yahoo!!
And on the evening went. The first two games on my serve the ball still didn’t go exactly where I wanted it to go but it was going in. In! IN!!! That was huge. Then it got even better. By my third service game it was going in AND where I was aiming it. Then I started really nailing it in. Up the middle, out wide. Then aces started coming in. I didn’t double fault the ENTIRE NIGHT!!! Ironically, I can’t even tell you which way my feet were pointing, which way my arms were going, how I was rocking back and forth. All I could tell you was that wherever I was telling that ball to go it was going there. The gals kept saying, “good serve, good serve, good serve,” which usually rattles me, but somehow I just tuned it out. It was just me and the ball. Me telling it where to go and it going there. It was surreal. It was like old times. I know this sounds bizarre, but I could sense the ball was happy. The ball wanted to be told what to do. The ball was cheering, “welcome back.” It was a like good dog. A well trained dog is a happy dog. They like being told what to do. It gives them a sense of comfort and order. I didn’t say anything to the girls. I went to bed shaking my head in disbelief. How? Why?
The dog training analogy is a good one. I know if I would take my dogs (who have passed away now) into the kitchen, look for a clean spot on the floor, try to push their haunches down they would plop all the way down into the ground. Then if I would try to pull up their front legs they would stand all the way up. But what I wanted them to do was put their haunches down and keep their front legs straight and look patiently at me for their next instruction. Instead, with all the pushing and pulling we would both just end up frustrated and mad. Yet, if I would just command them to “SIT” they would do it immediately, effortlessly and feel very proud of themselves. So simple. They knew what I meant and they knew I knew that they knew what I meant. We had communication. It felt good to be in synch with each other.
Why is it so hard to KISS? (Keep It Simple Stupid) I have to make everything into a laundry list of techniques and improvements. I spend so much time plotting, planning and preparing I forget about the just doing. I know this is in no miracle cure, but it the first time in over a year that I have had a full evening of successful, winning service games. Oh yeah, forgot to mention we won every one of my service games last night. On my serve!! The weak link? It was the strong link last night. No double faults. Lots of aces. But more importantly — the ball was going where I wanted it to go. It was so easy it was hard to handle. I can’t tell you how good it feels. It’s like running into an old friend who moved away years ago and you pick right up where you left off. It may leave town again, but now I know that it is not gone forever. It will come back again as long as I don’t try to force it to.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Leonardo da Vinci
No should, No try, No have to.