Watch the ball! Not where it is going! Swing, hit. Swing, hit, Swing, miss. You looked up. You didn’t even look at that ball you were so busy looking where you wanted it to go. Swing, hit, swing, hit. Swing, hit. Swing, miss. I know. You don’t have to tell me. I took my eyes off the ball.
I have not advanced as quickly as I had hoped when I picked tennis back up after a more than two-decade hiatus. When I had a total knee replacement I discovered I could run again although I limit myself to doubles generally. I come home in considerable pain in my arthritic shoulders, neck, and wrists, but stretching, ice packs, and adequate ibuprofen controls these bothersome indicators that I may never achieve my dream level of competitive play.
My husband used to shake his head when he came home from work. “Why do you put yourself through this when you know you are going to hurt so badly?” He doesn’t ask anymore. Neither does my physical therapist prod me to choose some other sport that won’t tax my injured joints. You see, it is obvious to all, tennis makes me happy.
But why? I love to move. I love to play. But tennis is not the only outlet that offers play and movement. I’ve found delight in a form called Interplay that involves dance and storytelling and improvisation. But as much fun as I have in Interplay, the bodily demanding sport of tennis reaches down and grabs me at a more primal level. There is something I need to learn from tennis as I struggle towards my next steps.
One friend notes that I spent many years before retiring in courtroom law, where competition and even a fight mentality are in the woof and weft of the profession. While this is true, I left the competitive fighting years ago when I moved from divorce trials to mediation and collaboration. Another friend notes that when my grandchildren visit, I like nothing better than to join them in a no holds barred wrestling match, or a fast game of Quirkle where I’m certainly not inclined to give away any points to my 8 year old granddaughter!
Okay. I am competitive. I am physical. But I’m writing this blog to figure out what is next in my life. And I think the energy and dedication I give to tennis have some clues that might be helpful if I can only see them.
Sure, I know people become fixated about sports. My father at 90 doesn’t have a good week if he doesn’t play at least three times. But I am not my father and I am not 90. I’m 61. Unlike my father, I don’t win with any consistency. I’m just not that good. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win. But being successful since I’ve resumed tennis has not been the motivator.
So. It is physical. But again, so is Interplay, walking, playing with my dogs.
Tennis teaches me a lot in a setting of social competition, strategy, and the sheer joy of intense movement that causes me to forget distracting discomforts I may experience later. Watching the ball as it comes off your opponent’s racket, tracking that ball, and running to give the ball a good clean stroke or block before a second bounce requires total presence.
Okay. So although I love the spontaneity of Interplay, I engage the anticipation and strategy and yes, fight, of tennis in a way that connects with some deep aspect of my personality. Both disciplines involve learning forms, and the possibility of reaching a point where the forms become a marriage of technique and art. Both give me outlets for my extroverted social energy.
While competition may be the distinguishing factor, competitive edge only carries me forward so far in my current search for how to use my energy in meaningful ways. While modern science can do wonders regarding joint replacements and repair, I have to be sure I don’t allow myself to be overly distracted by limitations which may just require adaptation. They are not barriers to play. Or, as my orthopedist blithely concludes: “Nothing life-threatening here.”
What might I take away from my experience in playing tennis this second time around? Just as I’m finding in other areas of my life, I don’t need to focus on what I don’t do as well as I would like, or used to, whether due to age, or for other reasons. In new activities, or a new job, I do need to focus on questions about whether I’m filling my life with experiences that are “all encompassing” in the moment. Do they have an element of competitive play and strategy? Am I so engaged that there is nowhere else I want to be during the activity? Whatever temporary discomfort I may suffer after I finish am I ready to return to another round of the activity with the same enthusiasm and intention?
Age and circumstance give me the luxury of choosing a life composed of activities I enjoy and find meaningful. I want to continue to seek clues from my recreational life to see if I can weave from these clues a pattern that will help direct me to what else I want to be doing with my life. Physicality. Total presence and engagement. Strategy and competition. Without the necessity of winning. All these are pieces of the puzzle.
Swing, hit. Swing, hit. Swing, miss. Keep your eyes on the ball. Don’t worry so much about where it is going.