Shoshin and The US Open 5


Shoshin from the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki.

It means child’s mind. Seeing things, as a child does, for the first time.

To experience what is happening totally.

I wonder if there is a word for seeing things for the last time. It seems similar to me.

This year I will bring shoshin to watching the US Open.

After all, any match played by Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Venus or Serena could be their last.

Will we really get advance warning? Would any of these players want a farewell tour? Who is to know but each of them?

I don’t want to miss the chance to see their greatness by thinking that they will always be around.

I don’t want to think I know that they will just keep playing. Sometimes it is just one match and done.

Borg. There in the US Open finals and then…done.

I watch these and others with shoshin so that I can learn the lessons that provide.

I have gone to the US Open every year since 1970. I was in the tennis business, a tennis teacher at a club, with not much real knowledge about the game of tennis.

The US Open was my school. I was watching the greats and seeing their style, strokes, strategy, movement, attitude, focus, determination, loose minds in difficult moments, how they kept it together. The way these top 100 in the world had put themselves together in some amazing package whose output was just right for the bars they set for themselves.

There is so much that these players teach us that, if we can find a way to be a little more like them we, too,can hit our marks more easily.

I watch to learn. To model what I see that I want to be. To make some positive changes in the way I go about trying to be a better version of myself.

I add these lessons to my daily to do list.

Federer: I am in awe of him, year after year. His confidence, both the external, when he factually states, “I am playing great tennis” and internal, as he demonstrates he knows who he is. He knows what he can expect of himself. He demonstrates a quiet confidence. He shows me how he can be within himself, calm, watching the game unfold and then turning it up when he knows it is the moment. I add to my list his respect for his opponents, his dignity in winning and losing and ability to play in joy as he adds new wrinkles to his game. I aspire to his detachment of watching shots that he hits with knowing and wonder at the gifts he has been given.

Serena: Belief in who she is. Yes, most agree, she is the greatest woman player of all time. Many feel she is the best woman athlete ever. More than anything, though, is her belief. She is like Muhammed Ali. “I am the greatest.” That statement, when an athlete believes it, not the ego of it, but the internal, rock solid feeling of absolute certainty, leads to consistent ongoing excellence. It isn’t about how the world views her. It is her view. Can we learn it? I really think so. We need it in our story of the way we view the world. She became that belief. I will work on that. Ego free certainty about being the best that I can possibly be.

Djokovic: Some players start off with lots of strong traits and then, physically grow into extraordinary players. Novak has been a joy to follow over the last five years because he seems to have added extraordinary characteristics to his being on the court. The lessons he gives are those of flexibility, resiliency and fearlessness. Flexibility and resiliency are not limited to the body. Novak shows mental flexibility over and over again. He finds the solution and adapts his game as the match goes on. He tweaks little parts, angles, pace, serve location, coming in. He is willing to go to his plan B or C in order to get the job done. I am not sure how I can learn to be resilient like Novak but it is surely on my list. There are many players that never quit, but resiliency is different. Novak has the ability to be down and out, barely able to stand and then, when the point starts he has energy that is not human. Give me some of that and I can conquer just about anything. His fearlessness in big moments, to take risk where others would say “who would hit that shot?” may be one of the most exciting lessons to learn. To let go of the very of losing to take the chance that may lead to victory. How do we do that? Practice. Like everything else. Take the chance. Take the loss. Get the win.

Murray. He is strong and yet somehow, despite his bulky body, is able to have a fluidity that creates power from simple movement. Starting with his powerful legs, he holds energy in his muscles and then releases. It comes out of him like a wave building off the shore. Different from Federer who is so loose that energy just moves through his joints with no resistance and explodes through the ball, Murray’s is barely noticeable. Even a physical lesson can be learned.
Of course, there is more with Andy. He has been criticized for being tough on himself. Before Wimbledon I wrote that his perfectionism is an obstacle for him. But in the last few tournaments I have shifted a bit and learned that he has taken the being tough on himself and found a way to motivate from it. He has found a rhythm in between points of berating himself, but only for a few seconds, then finding calm in the focus as the next point is about to begin. Be tough, be calm, be focused.

Nadal: Effort. No quit. All id. Just present. Will there ever be another player who teaches us more about effort than Rafa. Even in this current difficult time of his career, he doesn’t change. He is all id. The id knows no judgements of value: no good and bad. He is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world.Totally present in his effort for each and every shot. No quit. If I could add one tennis lesson to my life it would be this one. It is never over. There is life in the effort to succeed. No time invested in the past or concerns of the future. Put it all out there, moment by moment. Rafa, thank you for bringing this lesson to the world.

Nishikori: Of course the pundits keep saying that Kei will get his Slam. His game seems complete. With Michael Chang on his team, though, we are learning from Kei that it is important to keep searching for the missing piece. He is diligent in his approach, using his strengths of speed and angles. He makes sure his vulnerabilities, like his serve, are much more than just functional. And he keeps looking for another missing piece. Just as Chang used an underhand serve to beat the #1 player in the world on his way to win the French Open, Kei is likely to find one more piece that can get him a Slam. Always good to be willing to know that we can always find another piece.

Raonic: Although he has fallen off just a little since last year, I still think that he is going to get a Slam. I believe he is searching for the right balance of emotions. Maybe just a one per cent tweak of external energy. He is so even and that is a great strength but I just wonder if that is taking too much effort for him. For Borg it was his natural state. Sometimes we need to let a little of our true selves surface. The lessons, though, that are there from Milos are his ability to move on, regardless of the outcome of his shot and his attention to this rituals. Watch him on the changeovers and learn.

Venus: Her dignity. She came first and watched her sister take over. She is always there. Loving and supporting her sister. Family first. Dignity. Playing over the last few years with Sjögren’s syndrome, pushing herself to play for the fans and for her opponent. No complaints. Her acceptance of the isness of her situation. She fights against those she might never had lost to. Her internal strengths of dignity and acceptance are out there for all of us to work towards.

In every match there are lessons for us. Markers along the road of what it takes to be extraordinary.

I want to be these lessons. How about you?

When watching the Open this year, let’s keep our eyes open, use our child’s mind to see these lessons as if for the first time.

Shoshin.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 thoughts on “Shoshin and The US Open

  • Jon Lurie

    Excellent insights: being in the present, fearlessness, detachment, acceptance, joy in playing. We may not be able to hit or run like the pros, but the principles that we can work on are the same.
    In George Leonard’s book, “Mastery”, he talks about being on the path of mastery which means enjoying the process and looking to improve instead of obsessing over losses or not playing up to an expected level. Especially in tennis, where improvement is measured in years rather than weeks.
    When the Zen Buddha was asked what he was going to do upon reaching enlightenment, he replied, “Chop the wood and carry the water”. No matter what the outcome, it always goes back to doing the things we are passionate about.

  • judy r. goldsmith

    It is so good to have your writing back again. I hope your life in the West is wonderful, and you are enjoying it. And thank you for
    writing. Also, glad to have you writing about Serena and Venus. They are worthy subjects for your thoughts. There is a feature article in today’s NYTimes Magazine Section on Serena. And I was thinking about what I can learn from her: that no one else is me, and the pride and challenges in living my life, and making of it that of which I am proud and happy. That I have the strength to keep working, and to keep having the work have meaning, and joy. It’s now been a lot of years that you have been teaching and motivating me ! I love it.