FINDING COMPETITIVE HARMONY ON THE TENNIS COURT

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tennis brain
Brian Lutz / November 1, 2016

Miami, FL- Welcome to the human race.  We all get anxious and we all crave control.  Just try driving in Miami on US 1 during rush hour and you will understand my point.  Our quest for efficiency seems to be insatiable in our culture. Perhaps we are victims of our over achieving national pride or our own insatiable quest for perfection.  Maybe you are a philosophical type who enjoy the journey? Can there be a nice balance?  Can I be Zen while carrying and edge?  Can I find joy in the journey without fear of failure and the looming results?

What was first thought to be Yoga Tennis in the 70s.  Author Timothy Gallwey learned that having joy during competition didn’t need to be so elusive if you had the right frame of mind.  Check out the excerpt from the legendary book: Inner Game of Tennis and see if you can find your own a-ha moment and how he found it after a canceled date.  : )

Brian Lutz 

Timothy Galleway / The Inner Game of Tennis

In contemporary Western culture there is a great deal of controversy about competition. One segment values it highly, believing that it is responsible for Western progress and prosperity. Another segment says that competition is bad; that it pits one person against another and is therefore divisive; that it leads to enmity between people and therefore to a lack of cooperation and eventual ineffectualness. Those who value competition believe in sports such as football, baseball, tennis and golf. Those who see competition as a form of legalized hostility tend to favor such noncompetitive forms of recreation as surfing, frisbee or jogging. If they do play tennis or golf, they insist on doing it “non-competitively.” Their maxim is that co-operation is better than competition. Those who argue against the value of competition have plenty of ammunition. As pointed out in the last chapter, there is a wealth of evidence showing how frenzied people tend to become in competitive situations.

My own attitude toward competition went through quite an evolution before I arrived at my present point of view. As described in the last chapter I was raised to believe in competition, and both playing well and winning meant a great deal to me. But as I began applying the principles of yoga to the teaching and playing of tennis, I became noncompetitive. Instead of trying to win, I decided to attempt only to play beautifully and excellently; in other words, I began to play a rather pure form of Perfect-o. My theory was that I would be like a yogi, unconcerned with how well I was doing in relation to my opponent and absorbed solely in achieving excellence for its own sake. Very beautiful; I would waltz around the court being very fluid, accurate, and “wise.”

But something was missing. I didn’t experience a desire to win, and as a result I often lacked the necessary determination. I had thought that it was in the desire to win that one’s ego entered the picture, but at one point I began to ask myself if there wasn’t such a motivation as an ego-less desire to win. Was there a determination to win that wasn’t an ego-trip and didn’t involve ail the fears and frustrations that accompany ego-trips? Does the will to win always have to mean “See I’m better than you”?

One day I had an interesting experience which convinced me in an unexpected way that playing for the sake of beauty and excellence was not all there was to tennis. For several weeks I had been trying to get a date with a particular girl. She had turned me down twice, but each time with what appeared to be a good reason. Finally a dinner date was set, and on that day as I finished my last lesson one of the other pros asked me to play a couple of sets. “I’d really like to, Fred,” I replied, “but I can’t make it this evening.” At that moment I was informed there was a telephone call for me. “Hold on, Fred,” I said. “If that call is what I’m afraid it is, you may have yourself a match. If so, watch out!” The call was what I’d feared. The excuse was a valid one, and the girl was so nice about it that I couldn’t get angry at her, but as I hung up I realized I was furious. I grabbed my racket, ran down to the court and began hitting balls harder than 1 ever had before. Amazingly, most of them went in. I didn’t let up when the match began, nor did I relent my all-out attack until it was over. Even on crucial points I would go for winners and make them. I was playing with an un- characteristic determination even when ahead; in fact I was playing out of my mind. Somehow the anger had taken me beyond my own preconceived limitations; it took me beyond caution.

After the match Fred shook my hand without looking in the least dejected. He’d run into a hurricane on that day which he couldn’t handle, but he’d had fun trying. In fact, I’d played so well that he seemed glad to have been there to witness it, or as if he deserved some credit for my reaching that level-which of course he did. But anger couldn’t be the secret to ego-less tennis, or could it?

I hadn’t been angry at my opponent or at myself. I was simply furious in such a way that it took me out of my mind. It enabled me to play with abandon, unconcerned about winning or playing well. I just hit the damn ball, and I enjoyed the hell out of it! It was one of the most fulfilling times I’d ever had on the court. The key seemed to be that something took me beyond myself, beyond the sense of ego-trying. The kind of trying that Self 1 does to feed its self-image was gone, but in its place was a strong, unwavering determination to win. Paradoxically, winning at that point mattered less to me but I found myself making my greatest effort.

The Inner Game of Tennis

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