At my last Tuesday Intermediate ladies tennis clinic we had this warm-up drill at the net where we hit the ball back and forth, in the air, without letting it bounce. The ball goes kinda fast because it doesn’t have far to travel and there’s momentum and stuff. The point of the exercise I suppose is to get us to watch the ball and hit and get back to ready-for-anything position relatively quickly, all while breathing in and out. And at the net the thing is to get my body and racket in the right spot and then just kinda touch the ball and the strings do the work of bouncing it off. My job is to be where I need to be, not to move the ball. The strings are bouncy, the ball is bouncy, so put them together the right way and boinggggg, it’s gonna happen. It’s not a big effort, or it shouldn’t be, if done right. Just get there and touch, get there and touch, touch, touch, touch. Easy.
I cursed pretty loudly, a big one, but only once during the exercise. Inside I was probably cursing the entire time. It doesn’t feel like touch, touch, touch, touch for me. It feels more like, “Omig-d! Omig-d! Aaaargh! Crap!” And, “Don’t eff up, don’t eff up, you effed up! You effer!” And my partner’s doing her more ladylike version of it, apologizing with every other hit. “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.”
And we’re giggling while feeling so awkward and chatting and everything, and even though a lot of the time the ball actually is going back and forth up in the air, looking all fine, we’re both jangly. We’re agitated.
We’re not like Laney, who’s selected to demo. She’s totally touch, and back to ready, touch, and back to ready, fast, smooth, smiling. She’s making it look doable. She’s one of us Tuesday players. “Watch Laney,” Coach Crandall says. “Does she look stressed? Is she in her head at all?”
So after the exercise and the Laney demo the ladies and I are all standing around, them in their little skirts and visors, me panting and sweating only a little in my black leggings and trucker cap, and Coach Crandall offers up a nugget: He tells us that Roger Federer, the greatest tennis player of all time, before each stroke, tells himself to, “Swing Free.”
“Don’t think about it so much, just swing free,” Coach Crandall tells us. I feel an urge to swing free at his head. But I don’t. I breathe in and out and look around at my tennis babes who all look pretty pissed off, or at least confused, about how we’re supposed to not think and still actually make contact with the ball and get it over the net and all that. It’s not like we’re the Thursday Advanced Group.
So I ask the question that must be asked: “Coach, I get what you’re saying and thank you for that,” I begin, “but the thing is I’m no Roger Federer, I’m several thousands of hours of experience short there so how can I do what I need to do and be where I need to be without thinking about it?”
And he’s like, “You can think about the shot after the shot, but during the shot, it’s about awareness of feel.” So now I’ve got two things to think about, or to not think about, which are swinging free and awareness of feel.
But I love the concepts and I’m willing to give it a whirl this feeling thing, feel it, how does the hit feel? Like an easy boingggg or something else? And then after the shot, the analysis, the what did I do to feel what way? And adjust for the next hit, rather than thinking, doing, and adjusting all at the same time. I guess the En Vogue song really sums it up, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.” I’ll give it a whirl.