I’ve recently taken up tennis. Due to the very process of acquiring new skills (or perhaps due to my unathletic lifestyle), I find I need to break down what I need to do into steps. So while I participate in team drills where we practice our strokes and hear words of advice regarding our form and strategy, it was only when my husband took me out for a one-on-one practice that I realized that before I drive all my energy into hitting the ball, I really need to focus first on getting into position.
When we get to the courts, I see a rainbow has filled the sky. This gives me hope I won’t be as bad as I had been during drills. And then he begins to hit balls to me.
With my husband’s encouragement, I watch closely to see where the ball is headed. And then I make sure I am standing in the right place ready to swing when it arrives. I need for that bit of preparation to be behind me before I can focus on hitting the ball.
I need to be in place.
I know I still need to remember to follow through on my swing. And to pay attention to when racquet and ball meet. And to make sure the racquet is facing the way I want the ball to go. And so many other things. But let me get positioning down first.
Why am I writing about this? Because of a few lessons I can draw:
- Before we can solve a problem, we need to be in a position where we can see it clearly first. I once wrote a piece on LinkedIn called How to prepare to do anything. In it, I talked about looking around, looking up, looking sideways and looking forward. The idea, ultimately, it to widen perspectives, to think about “what if?” and to recognize that others know stuff you don’t. (Certainly, anyone playing tennis for longer than a month knows things I don’t.) The more you see, the more you know.
- Attention that is divided is weakened. The more limbs involved, the less I can focus on any one of them. Okay, so I am on the court. The ball is hit and coming over the net. I get into position and know I can now turn my attention solely to swinging the racquet and hitting the ball. No more worrying about my feet. This frees me to put my concentration where it is needed.
- Only with practice can learned skills become embedded in routine. Okay, I am far from that stage, I know. But I recognize its truthfulness. Practice, practice, practice. It’s the only way to improve and the only way to turn new activities into second nature.