Kaizen: My Mission as I Ramp Up for Competition 54

Is it possible that I am still thinking that I can raise my game again? It was 32 years ago that I stepped on the court to play my first senior tournament. (I started competing when Federer was in diapers.) My competitive experience was mostly limited to playing high school tennis at Great Neck South with a couple of Long Island men’s open age tournaments that were marked by first round losses.I had tried out for the team at University of Michigan but was humiliated on day 1 when I lost 6-0 to Jon Hainline, the top freshman recruit. I put my racket in the back of my closet and didn’t hit a ball for four years. While teaching at a private school I was drawn back to tennis when I was assigned the job of tennis coach for a non-existent team. Two kids turned up for tryouts. I hit balls with them and enjoyed it. One year later, to make a few more dollars I gave some tennis lessons. One more year later and I was a tennis teacher. I knew nothing about how to teach tennis technique. Little did I know this lack of tennis knowledge would lead me to a path of competitive success.

Thirty two years ago I started on a quest to be a tournament player. Turning 35 I was eligible to play with the older players as senior tennis (at that time it was called Junior Veterans) started with the 35 and over group.

I was a good athlete who had been hitting a lot of balls while teaching tennis. Lots and lots of balls because I taught with 6-9 balls. No shopping cart for me. That just allowed both my student and me to miss too much. So I needed to run for every shot my students hit. Teaching 35+ hours a week led to me being very fit and very consistent. During my 20s I would get a chance, occasionally, to hit with some of the well known local players. I could stay with them in rallys but could never win a set. I was clueless about how to compete. I didn’t understand it. I could play well but I couldn’t win.

I entered the first 35 and over tournament of the year to see if and how I might find the answer to this mystery. The question I had for myself: How can I play when it counts the way I play when it is just practice?

My search had me work on training into my game aspects that seemed unrelated to the sport:

Relaxation, welcoming adversity, meditation, positive thinking, laughing at my errors, appreciating my opponent when they played well, seeing pressure as pleasure, acceptance of my inability to be perfect, freeing myself from self judgment, eliminating excuse making, being a good winner and a good loser, enjoying battling my internal doubts, being persistent, never quitting on myself, loving the process, finding one more ounce of energy when feeling depleted and more.

It is odd, as I look back, that I rarely worked on my physical game. I just played and tried to be better each time. I have changed very little of the way I play. My forehand is still my weapon. I still have a suspect backhand grip that keeps me slicing all backhands. My serve motion is the same as it was. I still swing too much on my volleys. Tactically I do the same. I run down every ball. I play my opponents’ backhands. I come in only when I need to get to a short ball. Over the years friends who are teaching pros would try to get me to change my game. New grip on the backhand. Attack the net more. Take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses. Play patterns.

Never did it for me. I just kept developing the soft skills. The mental side of the game.

Now, 32 years later, I continue to be on the same search as I don’t have the same physical of the past. I have lost a step or two. I can’t serve as big. My energy wanes over a two hour match and my recovery day to day is slower.

I am more excited about my game than I have been for years. My personal mission in my life is defined by the Japanese word “kaizen.” It means daily improvement. In my professional life as a life performance coach I look for ways every day to be a better version of myself. In my personal life each day offers a chance to improve in some way.

And no matter what my successes have been in tennis, I am still on the search for the best Bob that I can be. Kaizen. To that end I took some lessons with Gordon Uehling and his team at Tenafly RC. Using the amazing technology of Playsight, Gordon spotted a couple of very simple adjustments that I could make. With these incremental changes in mind I am jumping at every playing opportunity. Each day I experience little positive changes in my forehand, backhand and court coverage. Kaizen. Who would have thought that at nearly 67 years old this dog could learn new tricks? Actually, I would have.

Tournament in Florida at the end of this month. There will be a new improved version of Bob showing up.

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