All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned on a Tennis Court 2011: Part 1

I was teaching last Thursday, a kind client named Marcy, who lacked power on the serve. She constantly found herself lobbing the serve in to start the point with no pop. In addition, many serves hit the net, or should I say “died” into the net.

I suggested we try “thinking outside the box” as they say in business and sales meetings when a company’s policy does not work. In this case, the saying was quite literal–I wanted her to hit with a serve motion, but to hit the ball into the back fence or over the fence on the fly. Almost every time someone hits a tennis ball, at least if they are serious about being good at tennis, one of the primary objectives is to hit the ball inside the lines. This exercise frees the server from the fear of failure. It gets the rhythm and power out of the mind and into the body.

The amazing part about this exercise is how hard it was for Marcy to hit the back fence without the ball bouncing. It took at least twenty-five tries to get it there! Once she had done it, then it became easier. It became clear that Marcy was not physically too weak to hit a ball into the back fence, but that she was mentally trapped by the service box.

This is where tennis and life intersect. How many of us feel trapped by our lives and the routine of trying to make things work the way they are supposed to. This applies to finances, relationships, and health. Perhaps if we can give ourselves permission to make mistakes or not do everything within accepted constraints, we can achieve more and free up the power of our minds and therefore our bodies. You hear all the time how successful business people have gone bankrupt two, three, or four times in their lives before achieving success. By trying things, and hitting for the fence, before going back to “doing it the right way” they sacrificed short-term minor success, for long-term major success.

The upshot of Marcy’s hit the fence serve exercise was that after two lessons where I had her forget about the box, her serve has since been consistently more powerful and goes in more than it did before we did this experiment. By changing the pattern and the limits, we achieved freshness in her motion and in her confidence.

It is also important to remember that in trying to hit the fence, what seemed easy, took twenty-five tries. Yes, hitting the broad side of a barn took twenty-five tries. Do not give up easily on breaking out of the box. It is never easy to create new thinking and exceed man-made boundaries, but once you do, the rewards are sublime.

So, this New Year, 2011, try hitting your serve into the fence, or investing in some sort of vehicle you’ve never tried before, and see if you too can hit the fence on the fly.

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