Trouble in (Tennis) Paradise

Last updated: January 2020

Anyone who reads my posts knows how much I love tennis and how much it has helped me heal. It is especially wonderful when I go to a special place, the Holyoke Canoe Club, where we play on red clay courts along the banks of the Connecticut River. The tennis pro, George, says he has an “air-conditioned” court: the court closest to the river. Some say it is so magical that it never rains there. Of course, this is not true, but it sometimes seems that it is raining in the town over while the sun is shining at the Canoe Club.

Our weekly Wednesday clinic is like summer camp for adults. We share fruit – watermelon, cherries, blueberries, or grapes – and we share stories. I usually bring cut watermelon. Occasionally, I’ll ask George to bring his watermelon knife and I’ll lug in a whole watermelon.

The other day, a player’s temper tantrum rained on the parade.

A temper tantrum during tennis clinic

Six of us were at the clinic, so George had us play three against three. Obviously this is not normal tennis. But we’ve done it before and it’s kind of fun to do something different. Well, one player, who I’ll call L, said she couldn’t concentrate with three on a side. She got so frustrated it verged on hysterical. Myself and the player on the other side of her called a time out and walked behind the baseline to talk to her.

Bounce-hit for tennis and leukemia

I suggested she try a technique that has helped me in life, leukemia, and tennis. It’s called bounce-hit and comes from Timothy Gallwey’s book, The Inner Game of Tennis.

Tennis.com explains it this way:

Whenever the ball bounces, say ‘bounce’ aloud to yourself. And whenever you or your opponent hits the ball, say ‘hit’ aloud as well. This exercise works because it engages your mind enough to allow the more automatic, semi-conscious part of your brain to take over. That helps return your timing and your strokes to normal. And as a bonus, this drill works just as well when you're nervous or when you feel you're thinking too much on the court.1

Now of course, when going through leukemia treatment, you wouldn’t say bounce-hit. But you might try other words with a similar goal of getting yourself to stop overthinking. For example, if you were walking around, you might say, “lift, step,” when lifting your foot and putting it down.

L reacted to my suggestion by putting her face in mine and shouting, “Don’t tell me how to play tennis! I don’t need your advice!” For good measure, she shoved me.

“Don’t put your hand on me!” I said.

She stormed off the court. George took her place.

Moving forward

Her actions fit the definition of assault and battery. Naturally, I was upset. George said he would talk to her. A friend said to let it go. It wasn’t that easy to do. In an email, I said how upset I was and suggested we talk before the next clinic. We have been playing phone tag. She left a message. At least she sounded sorry.

I left her a message too. I said that during a recent clinic, another friend lost her balance, stopped a fall with her hand, and broke her wrist. I said I didn’t know if she knew about my health history but it wouldn’t be good if I fell. In reality, a shove wasn’t going to make me fall, but just the thought of it was enough to threaten my equilibrium.

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