Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The 2013 Chicago Marathon Registration Now Open: Lessons Tennis Players Can Learn from Marathon Runners


Chicago Marathon 2013 signups opened yesterday February 20, 2013. Based on past results, within the next 24-48 hours, it will be sold out. If you want to sign up, act now!
Naturally, the memories of my 5th hour ordeal from yesteryear came rushing back. I was punished severely for running without logging a single day of practice.  My lesson and experience epitomised the saying: “Youth is wasted on the young”. Childhood folly allows us to take shortcuts that become clear mistakes in the eyes of experience and wisdom.

I never did register. Closer to the date I searched around for a charity bib from entrants who could not run. I told a few people I might run just to psych myself into commitment. One of those was a group of kids under 10 who I enjoy coaching immensely. In their kind eyes, I am a combination of cool, funny, exciting, and wise; one step short of a superhero. It is an easy bill to fit, of course; contrary to their parents, and nannies, my performance is assessed over our weekly 2-hour tennis class which consists of a perfected routine of fun drills and games and delivered in recycled catch phrases and precontemplated, well-timed jokes. The routine always hits the desired effect, and the lessons are a breeze.  
My announcement to run the marathon was followed by a barrage of questions.
“Have you been practicing?”
“I average 12 hours of coaching daily in the summer and 5 of those playing with people who can actually hit. I will be alright,” I responded.
“How long do you think it will take you to finish, Coach D?” another asked.
“4 hours,” I responded confidently.
As I am handling this mini press conference with my eager audience, I notice one of the kids who is in the gifted program at his school, the equivalent of what in tennis we call high-performance tennis, scribbling away in the notebook I make everyone bring to class to take notes and write a half paragraph report of the previous lesson.  He raises his head as soon as he is done.
 “Coach D, this means you will have to run 4.666-minute miles. Can you do that?!”
“Of course I can,” I responded, both amused and impressed, not at the fact that he had gotten the calculations wrong, but that at 10 years old he felt compelled to calculate the pace I would have to hold in order to finish on time, and that he could do long division and correctly, respectively. Being held to such a high standard, I had to run!

A Tennis Career = A Marathon: 4 lessons Learnt Running a Marathon

1. Practice, practice, practice: This is cliché, but rings true for life challenges that require even minimal professional performance to complete. The bottom line is I did not practice for the marathon at all! Yet, there is an ease in performance when execution is done by a well-practiced individual, especially in pressure situations as shown by my 5th hour performance of the race breakdown. 

With practice, one acquires confidence as well, and self-belief alone on a tennis court can decide matches even before they are played:

“The game is 50% mental, 45% physical, and 5% tennis” ~ Juan Carlos Ferrero, French Open Winner 2003.

Practice also helps increase accuracy (shot making skills). Few things are more fun in tennis than exposing an opponent’s weakness and mercilessly chipping away at it and watching them fall apart in their game as well as mentally! But you have to have the shot making skills to open and find the weakness repeatedly, on demand. Well trained players know how to hide their weakness and do so extremely well.

2.    Good form and technique goes a long way: I am not a runner, but from observing those around me during the marathon, it was clear that my form and technique was off. Long distance runners’ feet and arm movements look compact and precise, used as needed and no more. Likewise, the biomechanics of executing tennis strokes have been perfected in the modern game to closely complement our natural day-to-day body movements:

If it feels like you are working too hard to hit any shot, you probably are" ~ Coach D
This is why tennis players spend hours on the tennis court ingraining tennis strokes to muscle memory. Under pressure, well grooved form and technique is more easily summoned, as it is almost a part of you, by comparison to muscled form and technique. Good examples are seen in Sampras’s serve, Richard Gasquet and Stanslas Wawrinka’s backhands, Feliciano Lopez’s touch shots. The same reasoning and argument can be put forth between Rafael Nadal’s footwork versus Monfils and Federer’s. Although all athletes are exceptionally quick and display impressive athleticism, where Rafa seems to trudge across the court, the later athletes seem to glide above the surface almost. Over a career’s length comparison, there is a lot to be said about the “beating” their bodies take and how well they hold up to injury. It is safe to say an athlete whose body is punished more breaks down faster and comparatively speaking, conditioned athletes who experience little to no damaging impact have longer, healthier careers. This becomes increasingly clear when we compare across different sports.

3.    Staying Loose and having a Relaxed Body: My explosive efforts which required every ounce of muscle and effort were too taxing to hold up in the duration of the marathon. This is important in conserving energy. Nerves and counterproductive reflexes as a result of unrefined skill can cause us to tighten up. In doing so, we expend unnecessary energy into muscles that yield no direct contribution to the effort at hand. With a loose and relaxed body, we conservatively and efficiently concentrate our efforts towards the desired shot.
Pace yourself: If I had to put these lessons in order, this would be #1. I strongly feel if I had paced myself I would have hit better times.    

My body almost did shut down. After mile 18, there was little running in my walk! I have told a few friends that if I had stopped moving, or sat down for a second I would not have gotten back up. I was happy to finish the marathon! Funny because it is true--at some point, I was actually feeling cold and wishing I had a sweatshirt on! I was laughing at myself thinking who feels cold during a marathon?! I also could not help noticing the most senior of citizens, in their laboured jogs, whizzing past me at what seemed at the time Aston Martin speeds! Embarrassment, I would not say that much but running the marathon was a truly humbling and educating experience indeed!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What Does Love Mean to you in Tennis?

What Love Means In Tennis
When you first pick up a racquet
Love means the pleasure for partaking in the sport is innocent and genuine
Love means anxious to go for your next lesson
Love means getting up 3 hours early to get to an 8am lesson
Love means sleeping with your first new tennis racquet in bed
Love means dragging the parents 60mins early to a lesson 10 minutes away
Love means not realizing the coach’s racquet is bigger than me!
 Property of TenniswithD

A few years into the sport
Love means remembering the first match you ever won for the rest of your life
Love means remembering a particular obscure passing shot or ace you hit for some strange reason
Love means remembering the first tournament you ever won
Love means experiencing the first loss that drove you to tears
Love means losing to worst player possible and somehow picking up your racquets the next morning
Love means losing 0-6, 0-6 and somehow making it to the net to shake hands
Love means the first tennis trip away from home, no parents!
Love means watching your first pro tournament live

At the peak of you tennis career
Love means looking at the top 10 players and thinking oooo I cannot wait!
Love means winning 6-0, 6-0 and wondering why are they here
Love means winning 6-0, 6-1 and realizing bicycles do not come easy anymore!
Love means landing that college scholarship
Love means realizing tennis defines your entire life
Love means your answer to everything is “I can’t I have tennis”
Love means I have come too far in my career, now I cannot just quit
Love means playing through injuries
Love means quitting for a good period only to realize you do miss tennis

As an adult playing tennis
Love means realizing tennis made me tough as nails
Love means being thankful of every opportunity of family, friendship, good health, and joy it afforded
Love means realizing you got to travel the globe because you played tennis
Love means wondering why you ever smashed those racquets
Love means social and recreational tennis is surprisingly satisfying
Love means seeing the kid you played in juniors, doing well on TV and you rooting for them
Love means coaching kids that make you wonder whether you were that good at the same age
Love for tennis means realizing ….. even as my body slows down….that I just love tennis!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How are those Tennis, Health and Wellness, Career, 2013 Resolutions Coming?

7 Ways to Hit Your 2013 Resolutions!

Whoa long hiatus, it feels good to be back! Do not worry, my first posting this year is not a guilt trip but rather us finding solutions together!

A new year brings with it high expectations, inspiration, and rejuvenated spirits to reach one’s goals. The first week of January, “new year’s resolutions” is the trending topic. Among the most popular resolutions are health and wellness goals. Everyone makes proclamations on how they will create a better version of themselves for that year. We even make big financial commitments to convince ourselves of the success at our fingertips. New tennis racquets, gym memberships, workout gear,  new diet commitments, and these financial commitments are supposed to be trick ways to keep us on track because nobody wants to waste money, right?! Matter of fact, most of us actually start, and with undeniable vigour, two gym workouts in one day, easy……well, at least until the second or third week of January.

Possible Problems

1.    What Goes Wrong; What Kills the Progress? Reinventing a tennis stroke, body weight management, and outperforming your work colleagues all are worthwhile and highly rewarding resolutions. But for those of us who missed out on early childhood immersion, the grind associated with acquiring these attributes cannot be fostered simply because we want them or recognize the reward that comes with attaining them.  The will power to pursue the goals for the most part is built on shaky foundations, that, coupled with biting off too much too soon.

2.    Mistaking “Rewards” for “Motivators”. A big serve, that big work promotion, getting ripped, increased endurance, weight loss, clothing size drop, high morale, increased self-esteem are ultimate rewards. While visualizing rewards as exemplified by buying clothing a few sizes smaller in order to push yourself might be encouraging, it will not necessarily motivate you.

3.    Mistaking “Accelerators” for “Motivators”. A tennis class would accelerate the rate at which you improve your game, but signing up for it, as well-intentioned as it is, will not motivate you. Accelerators are typically monetary purchases: a tennis bag, a gym membership, tennis racquet, jogging shoes,  a yoga class package, among others.

4.    Good “Motivators”. Motivators are all those instances in your day that hold you accountable to the task at hand—for example, a trainer or a coach who will call you to find out where you are, a bathroom scale you step on every morning, or a food/gym journal you fill in weekly to track progress, stagnation or a supervisor, boss, or friend that drags you out there when you feel tired, complacent, or unmotivated. Anything or anyone that holds you accountable is a good motivator

Possible Solutions

Ways to Get BAck to the Grind and Stay There
Practices established in cyclic routines are more easily fostered and maintained as they become habits. Activities based in habit and routine are more easily sustained than arbitrarily scheduled ones.  If you were never a tennis player, it can be difficult to wake up one day and decide you will hit every morning before work, let alone maintain it. There are tricks, however, to making it easier and more manageable until it is ingrained:

1.     Sandwich the new activity you are trying to turn into a lifestyle between already existing habits. This is how our tennis practice in college athletics is structured. For me personally, tennis practice was scheduled between lunch and class so practice was a progression of my life long fostered human habits of having lunch around noon-1pm, and the educational institution fostered habits or mandatory class attendance. Among adults, from personal experience and observation, lesson takers who commit to lessons soon after work are more likely to show up than those scheduled over weekends when the clients have days off. Packing a tennis bag becomes part of their work routine since they have to show up for work anyway.

2.     Have your tennis lesson at the same time weekly. Remember we are working on routine. Your body starts to “notice” when you miss the scheduled lesson over a period of time. Personal accountability with the tennis coach is a welcome motivator until going to the lesson becomes habit; in this case your coach will hold you accountable, for not showing up is the motivator rather than the lesson or financial commitment

3.     Set distinct goals. Recently, I started a new package of lessons with a regular client, and with the bulk lessons, I also issued a lesson plan. I pinpointed areas of the game we will target, wrote a curriculum with steps on how to get there, and established a time frame towards the goal. This is our tennis compass. Every tennis drill builds towards the goal. If we fall off, the plan helps you re-orient. Distinct goals help you stay organized, and keep things in perspective.  Lastly, but not least, it holds you accountable to your commitments. Think of it as a soft contract with yourself in which you can fall off and get right back on.

4.     Recognize small victories, and celebrate them! I am guilty of ignoring this one. The only satisfying victory is the ultimate prize. This makes me susceptible to discouragement on longer tasks. Check them off the small milestones and celebrate them.

5.     Take smaller bits to begin with. Break down the stuff you work on during your tennis lessons into focused areas. If you are working on technique, for example, do groundstrokes the first month, the mid court shots the following, then volleys in the third month.

6.     Track your progress. Keep a progress journal. Even little progress, added together over a period of time, is impressive to look at. A journal is a subtle but effective motivator. It is also an informative tool. You can go back and track what you did when you had the most success and also what you need to do to increase the rate of success among other things.

7.     Maintenance and consistency are key. Remember, the journey getting to your goal is not easy. Maintenance is easier than taking that long, brutal trip back again. In the same way we can foster healthier lifestyle routines into habits, we can instil bad ones just as well!