JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
Very few of us have ever experienced anything remotely like this in our lifetimes, this Covid-19 virus that has shut-down most of our tennis lifestyles along with severely impacting the economic well-being of so many others as well. I'm thinking that only those old enough to have lived through WWII, when our nation had to pull together for very different reasons, and did, can legitimately compare this experience.
Needless to say, these are very stressful times. Literally life and death circumstances for tens of thousands worldwide. Thankfully, I don't know anyone completely ignoring the pandemic, and its myriad negative manifestations – unless I go grocery shopping at Publix. To posit that we are all facing new challenges and great difficulties at present, never seen and felt previously, is a gross understatement at best.
Fortuitously, Kari Leibowitz and Alia Crum, an interdisciplinary graduate fellow and an assistant professor of psychology respectively at Stanford University, offered up useful tools in dealing positively with the pandemic's resulting emotional tension and uncertainty in a timely recent NY Times Science section article.
I couldn't help but notice that these same tools could also be utilized in dealing positively with the inevitable stress – stress is stress after all and comes in many forms – that we all face regularly on court. Tennis' version, being comparatively totally benign, nonetheless becomes real despite merely being only threatening to, in the grand scheme of things, our egos and self-esteem.
Leibowitz and Crum smartly outline three counter measures, recommendations that are not only informative, but also very translatable from their intended current societal application to tennis' match play mental-emotional tension that many, even in "friendly" play with nothing really at stake but pride, fall victim to.
- Recognizing that you are indeed experiencing stress will affect your state of mind in a positive manner! Brain wise, this moves your neural activity from the amygdala – that's where emotion and fear are centered and fester unproductively– to your prefrontal cortex where control and planning take place, resulting in not wasting precious mental energy spinning your wheels. Dealing with it by recognizing the specific source of stress – let's say too many backhand unforced errors for example – helps in determining what you're going to do about it. Solutions, not fear of failure.
- On-court we stress because we genuinely care about our performance. Owning its reality, win, lose, or draw, can bring about a positive connection to it. Some, unlike touring pros who are singularly performance oriented, get it wrong and become all tangled up in themselves over having to win (by the way, those are the same people who consistently make bad calls). Others, mired in solution avoidance, behave as if they don't care, being cavalier while repeatedly making the same undisciplined errors over and over - that's tanking in tennis lingo. Bad actors.
- Many psychologists believe that true transformative change can only really happen, in life or in tennis I might add, when we've learned to consistently deal positively with adversity. That's when your game will begin to noticeably improve. That's why coaches agree that open minded players typically learn more from losses than wins.
Personally, when the going gets tough, I always try to keep in mind one of Albert Einstein's elegantly simple Three Rules of Work: "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Seeking the bright side, the proverbial silver lining, the possibilities.
In a less heady context, if you're experiencing tennis withdrawal and its accompanying frustration due to your home courts being shut down, I recommend, for you locals, a good workout at the Southwest Florida State College outdoor racquetball courts in Punta Gorda – perfect tennis backboards, or practice walls, which are a best kept secret. I've happily enjoyed practicing there by myself many times in the past. All you need is one ball and a bottle of water. Blasting away with a purpose (absolutely watch this month's accompanying video featuring the very skilled teaching pro/player, Nikola Aracic, showing you how!) is a serious head-to-toe, all positive release.
Hitting off a wall not for you, then how about some walking at the very least? According to Dr. Shane O'Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College in Dublin Ireland along with being a WSJ (Wall Street Journal) contributor, walking's benefits are both physical and psychological. He states: "Walking is the movement that we all profit from and have evolved for. Walk we must, and walk we should, to keep our mental and physical worlds open and to stop the walls from closing in."
Finally, some really good news for the older Baby Boomer demographic of our area. A Duke University study, led by psychologists Daisy Burr and Gregory Samanez-Larkin, has found that the shelter-in-place confinement is a psychological petri dish for both dread and temptation, but that older people do better than younger ones, and were "… emotionally more solid and showed better mastery of their negative urges."
Practice safe distancing. Wear a face mask when and where appropriate. Stay home as much as you can.
Copyright© 2020 by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
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