Nearly three years ago, the co chair of the Grand Masters Maccabian team, Marty Bloom, called me to see if I would come on board as the coach of this team. When I agreed he told me that USA Maccabi execs said that coaches could not play. It would be too much work and that playing would interfere with what needed to be done. I had never won a Gold medal in the Maccabian Games. It was a hole in my tennis resume.
So I, of course, had a different story. I could coach 23 slightly experienced players aged 65, 70, 75 and 80 and overs and I could compete as well. If they wanted me to coach then they would have to let me play. A typical story of mine of creating a high bar. People said that it would be too tough to keep my game at the level at which it needed to be to succeed. Not my story.
So today, in addition to the 16 medals won by this amazing bunch of players, I won the gold our team’s 17th medal. (four years ago this team with different players won only two medals)
I was considered the favorite to win the gold from the very beginning. From the outset I needed to fight off overconfidence and complacency. I needed to stay focused point by point. I did it all week and this morning I felt calm and confident that things would go smoothly. But I also know that you can never take anything for granted. I knew Joe Oren, the #1 ranked Israeli player, from some International matches. He is a crafty player. I felt a little nervous excitement that is always there for me on the day of finals. Finals definitely feel different as coming in second often feels worse than losing earlier in a tournament. In finals the spread between winning and losing is greater than in any other match. I was aware of this and used my technique of letting go of counterproductive thoughts. So I was free of mental static. Ready to go to work to bring the best version of Bob to the court.
Things started well as I felt in control from the outset, going up 15-40 on his serve in the first game. And then I missed a few easy shots and he won the game. For the first time in the tournament, I was behind. No big deal or concern as I held my serve. He won another game. I held and was feeling like I was in charge at 2-2. He held solidly again. A little uh oh as I was serving from behind again at 2-3. Hmmm. I needed to adjust my strategy from trying to take out his legs by making him move side to side, as I was cutting it too close and making too many errors. I needed to cut back on misses. I held, broke and held by winning twelve points in a row to get to 5-3. I broke him again as he began to tire from the 100 degree heat and the fact that I wasn’t missing. 6-3 and one set to go. I went up 4-0, played a shaky service game and then, the details being unimportant, I closed it out 6-2 with a forehand winner.
Excitement and relief. The pressure was more than I had let myself feel. I threw my hands up, ran to the side of the court, pulled myself up on the fence and kissed Jo Ann, who has made this journey special and part of the history that we are building together.
Great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment as I continued around the side of the court high fiving my teammates who were so excited for me asI felt indescribable support. Winning and helping my teammates win was a double Gold.
Tonight there was a huge party and medal ceremony for all of the Master and Grand Masters competitors. I got to stand on the top of the podium, just as athletes do in the Olympics. Special stuff. Special once in a lifetime experience. The energy amongst all of the players, medals or not was powerful. Lots of high fiving.
And my teammates, all strangers 6 months ago, all got big hugs from their coach. Joy. Pride. Love. New friends for life.
A special shout out to Lonnie Mitchel, my amazing assistant coach, the Head Tennis Coach of SUNY Oneonta, who was my partner throughout. Together we were the parents of the special group of formerly, semi experienced players who leave with medals, wins and life lessons that they will have forever.
Pix of the medal ceremony will follow tomorrow.
Thanks for following along.
Next stop, Seabright, New Jersey for the National 65 Grass Championships