As human beings, we have many motives for the things that we do. We are not immune from having fragile egos nor inoculated from social pressures. These things shape our lives in sport and at play.
A couple of months back, I took the Marshfield Tennis Club up on their invitation for me to join their Sunday morning tennis matches. A bit more exercise would serve me well and I am a tennis player. It is probably how I most strongly identified myself for about half of my life. This being said, I did have to dust off the rackets, dig the sneakers out from the back of the closet, and buy some Tourna grip in order to get back to the court.
I am a handful of weeks out of tennis “retirement” and was particularly struck by this past Sunday’s match. Of the four people on our court, I am not sure anyone could consistently remember what the score of the match was. After a few moments of deliberation and consultation, we figured it out… only to forget it a handful of points later. We are not well aged and of questionable memory. The score mattered - each player seemed to find a few more MPHs on their serves or deviousness in their shot selection when games were on the line. Yet time and time again we grasped to remember the score.
I can only truly speak for myself, but I do believe we all got in a good workout, played a nice level of tennis, and genuinely enjoyed ourselves. If we were not playing to win, I do not think we could have enjoyed the morning so much. Yet, winning never seemed to be a great concern. I managed to use my frame rather than the strings on a handful of relatively straightforward volleys – I was humbled but managed to smile was ready to play the next point. If anyone put on a particularly hideous display of tennis aptitude, I think the club would invite them back to play again. Winning mattered, we all have egos, and tennis is social, yet none of this seemed to take the "play” out of playing tennis.
In sports, so much time is spent searching for the elusive “zone.” Yet turning over unturned stones and peering down dark corridors in search of mystical experiences on the playing field seems quite silly, when one realizes that a good workout, a good performance, and some good fun lies in plain sight. Eastern philosophies of non-judgment and selflessness may be onto something when considering exercise. In his research over the past handful of decades, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found that “flow” is possible regularly when one engages in an activity that intrinsically enjoyable. The more we can let go of “looking good” around the playing field and striving towards some ESPN created, athletic standard, the more we can thrive.
We played a lot of tennis. I still remain a bit unclear on who won what and when. I do plan on trying to win the next time we play… but I really hope it is not at the cost of the workout, laughter, and good strokes that I managed to find on Sunday.
Note: If you are on the South Shore and want to be part of a nice tennis community check out the Marshfield Tennis Club and support the Peter Igo Park Initiative.
Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos Sport Psychology Consulting and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Boston University’s School of Education. He has a decade and a half of experiences working with professional through amateur athletes – of note: US Open competitors, NCAA champions, Olympians, Stanley Cup winners, and UFC martial artists. Beyond sports, over the past five years he has served as a corporate performance and wellness consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.