5 Months Off - Becoming Bionic

So... my profile here is "Figuring It Out" - this is going to be in that vein. I hope this is somehow helpful to others who might read it down the line...

Early NOV 2022, I was getting bagel-ed and bread-sticked. My eyes were giving me fits. I dreaded my scheduled matches. My whole body hurt. Tennis had stopped being fun or even an interesting challenge - I resented my USTA Captaining of 2 Teams, my schedule, my opponents, myself.

So, in no particular order, here's what I've Figured Out and learned:
  • While it might not be a big deal to far superior and experienced tennis peers, I wanted to get to 3.5. Created a 2022 plan to get me there. STUPID goal. Play for FUN. Pressure to win led to me choking. Read Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw in which he takes a look at Jana Novotna's epic chokes - Gladwell says that PANIC is not thinking, CHOKING is over-thinking. PANIC is not having enough experience to rely on. CHOKING is trusting too much on experience (read "feel") of the stroke and not humbly revisiting fundamentals to get one's strokes back.
  • Next, my ego (read "childhood wounds", "identity", "standing among men") was too involved. I was so focused on winning, I didn't have the interest in enjoying my opponent if he was a good guy. My loss. And probably dinged my own reputation as being an arse.
  • Next, there are a TON of men I met just last year who have the same issue. While I was aloof, they were outright aggressive pr*cks. I honestly think if I ever play USTA Leagues again, if someone starts uncorking that mess at me, I'm gonna just leave. It's not worth it. I'm a tender-hearted man, and after a long day as a licensed clinical mental health counselor, I don't need another 2 hours of crazy-town in my life.
  • Next, I'm not playing anywhere where pickleball is in the vicinity. Too noisy, different culture, boom boxes, yelling, etc. I like tennis, in part, because it's quiet, me and my thoughts, and the guy sending the ball back. Life is too short to knowingly head into environments I would otherwise never willingly enter.
  • Next, I WAS FREAKING DELUSIONAL. I fancied myself a 3.5 player. Reality is, no matter how good I may look during warm-up, I'm truly a 2.5. If win/loss ratios set NTRP ratings, DEAL WITH IT. I made so many excuses for myself. It doesn't matter if I can hit 6 spots on my serve, drill a backhand down the line, and have incredible feel at the net (all true) - if none of that is accompanied by good shot selection, good footwork, and a strong mind, IT DOESN'T MATTER. I can lose games 0-40, or opponent's ad-in, but a lost game is a lost game. No one cares if the 0 and 1 loss had 83 Deuce games. I needed to learn to SHUT UP and PUT UP instead of whining to anyone who would listen about how EVERYTHING is stacked against the world realizing what a BRILLIANT amateur tennis player I was. Good God, my ego.
  • I TRULY thought I'd get bumped down to 2.5. I DESERVE to have been. I BARELY made 3.0 at the end of the year.
  • I decided to embrace the TRUTH:
    • I hired a Sports Psychologist so that my EGO and DADDY ISSUES don't play out on the court.
    • I went to a Sports PT, got dry-needled to death (actually, back to life), rested my body, stretched alot.
    • I SLEPT. May not seem all that hard for most people, but my VISION PROBLEMS were the result of being SLEEP DEPRIVED. When Fall Leagues ended and I didn't keep playing, but attended to everything else instead (including increasingly pruning demands on me), I refound my ability to get RESTFUL sleep - not just 7 hours lying in bed in some form of unconscious rest that I THOUGHT was sleep.
    • I hired a coach. I said, in sum, to him, "I'm going to keep my mouth closed and do whatever you tell me to do". He watched video of my last match. We started studying footwork. I did so many freaking footwork drills - I DIDN'T like them, they WEREN'T fun, and I really didn't even need my racket in-hand half the time. I had to TRUST THE PROCESS.
    • I let him rebuild my forehand. I hit so many freaking forehands - breaking so many old habits. Building in new ones. Practices, 1 a week, were NOTHING but forehands - for weeks.
    • My precious backhand, which I'm so proud of, was not off-limits. If he said to do something, I did it - mouth shut. "Yes, sir".
    • I had to stop thinking like an idiot. Just because it might be a winner, and impressive, if I hit, from the right-handed backhand corner a dipping cross-court shot into the sideline corner of the opponent's service box, doesn't mean that's the wisest shot to hit. There's no freaking highlight reel going to be given me at the end of a match. What the HECK am I doing imagining THAT shot at THAT moment? That's the shot I should be dreamily drifting off to sleep with, not hitting during a match.
  • I stopped watching YouTube instructional videos. Holy Crap, do that and you'll run across someone telling you clench your ********* while inhaling through your left nostril to get 3 additional miles per hour on your serve. I listen to my coach - and my body.
  • I stopped being on these Boards trying to find other Whiners to commiserate with OR better players willing to somehow "welcome" me into their ranks through something as indirect as an on-line forum. WTF?! If I want to be around better players, I should BECOME A BETTER PLAYER.
  • During these 5 months, something else interesting happened, though, too... I found a Pro player who is, on court, like I am. Sabalenka. Yes, I know - she's a woman. And she's got 5 inches on me. BUT - she plays aggressively as a default mind-set AND is emotional, and quirkily emotionally expressive, between points and on change-overs - but then gets herself composed and plays the next point. Everything I ever read about competitive mindsets, from Rotella's How Champions Think: In Sports and Life to most recently Clarey's The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer, advised calm, cool, collected. I can tell you, first-hand, for some of us?... that emotional energy bounces around inside us until we are nigh-on to having a nervous breakdown inside - but be dam* sure, no one could tell. We just lose our ability to play tennis during a match and then go home and comfort eat or drink - or both. So - glasses up to Sabalenka who has given me permission to be human, expressive, and a fierce f***ing competitor all at the same time.
  • I had originally thought I'd play Summer and Fall Singles in 2023. Nope. I'm going to take ALL of 2023 off and just work on myself as an athlete, make my new footwork & forehand second-nature, and get my confidence back as a decent human being and as a racket-slinger.
I hope this helps someone, or many someones, who need(s) to hear that a death and resurrection - on a lot of fronts - may be a very good thing, indeed.
And that the answer may not be in adjusting your semi-western, eastern time-zone, continental breakfast forehand one 1/128th degree counter-clockwise towards the second sun of Tattooine.


Talk Tennis Guru
I thought the "bionic" in the title would refer to hip and knee replacements.

Well, it sounds like you found the sources of your troubles, which is the majority of the battle. Good luck on your new-found journey and enjoy the experience!


Based on the long message I would conclude you are an over thinker. If you haven’t already, The Inner Game of Tennis is the book for you. When you play, focus on keeping your mind clear with “bounce, hit” and nothing else. Good luck, and enjoy tennis!


I see from your tag that you're 50 years old. What you have to realize is that no matter how hard you practice and train, depending on your natural athletic ability, given your age your ceiling is likely, at best, the 4.0 level. Perhaps only 3.5. It sounds like your ego is simply much bigger that your game. So, I suppose my point is, who cares if you win or lose? Go out and lose 20 or 30 matches in a row. Either your ego will, at some point, throw in the towel and - lo and behold - you start to win, or, you'll become so frustrated, disillusioned and crushed that you'll quit the game.
Try to just enjoy the process; the practicing, the playing and the people you're playing with. That's what counts.