This post is not a commentary about the very serious issues surrounding COVID-19, and its lasting effects on populations, economics, capitalism, politics, or anything like that. Greater (and lesser, just depends) informed media outlets than me can provide you with such reporting.
But I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathy to those experiencing loss and trauma of any form during these times.
Switching gears, these past few months provided me with a lot of time to reflect upon the importance of tennis. It sounds so insignificant against the backdrop of what dominates headlines, but hear me out. I observed tennis facilities and public courts closing in my area, and the mad scramble to find the equivalents of ‘tennis speakeasies’: places where tennis can be played, fully acknowledging the risk of legal sanction and/or health compromise.
Public courts in neighborhoods where few people played tennis suddenly had wait times. Gradually, the spectacle of such anomalies caused these outliers to be padlocked: all except for one. The ghost town facility– where I grew up playing the game, participated in my first junior competitive tournament, learned humbling lessons of defeat against tennis elders–was still open. Ten hard courts that resembled a marriage between the lunar surface, the San Andreas Fault, and a dried out river bed were available for use.
I brought my ball machine to workout one day. No injuries. Reasonably consistent bounces with the occasional skid or pop-up, and nets with some holes were some of the interesting adverse features. But tennis was possible.
I remembered the sense of well-being, the healthy dose of fresh air and activity, the release of hitting something hard, sense of purpose, and the stimulation of applying science and art on the spot (that’s tennis in a nutshell), and thought: I’ve got to get my students out here, now more than ever.
I started by creating videos of at-home tennis specific workouts. Then I created instructional videos with at-home practices for addressing technique for various shots. Next was mental toughness (mindfulness) training. Finally came the offering of socially distant tennis practice at said facility.
Understandably many people thought about protecting themselves and families from possible exposure to the coronavirus. But some considered the opportunity to play tennis an essential risk. Every day the courts were bustling with refugee tennis players and teaching pros: from junior to senior citizen, public park to country club. They were all trying to survive, in many different meanings of the term.
Two to three weeks ago from this posting date, area tennis facilities began to re-open, with restrictions for safety. Naturally, the wide swath of people brought together via tennis and quarantine went back to their disparate ways of life. I know I’m waxing nostalgically, but I also know there is no way otherwise many of these people would be together in such a manner.
But this curious time got me to thinking about tennis’ importance. These were my big takeaways:
- Tennis pros are non-essentially essential. It is no longer acceptable to stand, feed balls, and bark orders. Even as a recreational player, tennis is extremely engaging in so many different ways. Find a pro who can show you those ways so you’ll see the bigger picture and truly want to play for life.
- Tennis can be a mode of getting in shape. Tennis specific workouts can provide a full-body workout that burns calories, gives cardio, develops strength, skills, speed, balance, agility, and coordination. Skip the costly gym memberships, the hassles of waiting for equipment, the mostly indoor confinement and inherent boredom. You’ll reap direct benefits to your game, health, and physical form via tennis-specific training.
- You can learn and improve your game off the court. There are tons of free instructional material for learning any and everything you wanted to know about playing tennis. Your tennis pro is not the keeper of privileged information. What makes a pro valuable is their ability to provide the information that best applies to the development of your skills with ample opportunities to practice/train. They are the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.
- Mental toughness matters. It is crucial to know that sometimes the reason for the discrepancy between practice and matchplay quality has as much to do with what is between your ears as it may have to do with your technique, tactics, conditioning, etc. Fortunately, you can train to find your optimal mental/emotional state for playing your best tennis. Mindfulness training is one method that enjoys widespread appeal, and has helped many players from the professional to the recreational level more effectively channel their attention during tennis outings.
- Commitment matters. Would you commit time and money to an activity that had been proven to improve your physical health and attractiveness, decrease stress and depressive symptoms, increase mindfulness, connect you socially, and engage you mentally? What if you found out it could be done in most places in the world? For as long as you live?
Your ticket to well-being, and the closest thing to the fountain of youth on earth exists on a 78×36 ft. rectangle of real estate. I can tell you from experience it helped people pull through a worldwide pandemic, and brought people of all different walks of life together.
Commit to your tennis. Invest in becoming your best self.