California, Here I Come 23

For those of you who have been following my tennis journey over the last 16 years (yup, the first blog I wrote was in 1999 from Amsterdam, my first time on the senior Davis Cup team), you are probably expecting to read about my annual ambivalence about putting in the work again. Each January I have shared my feelings about doing what it will take to compete in the upcoming year. I set my bar high and I don’t simply show up. If I am going to compete I will be telling stories that drag me to be the best version of myself. On Sunday I will be playing my opening round of the ASICS World Tennis Classic on the hard courts in Palm Springs, California.

I have trained hard for tennis and it helped me build the strength to change my career from that of a tennis coach to a business/life coach. The training helped me through the toughest match of my life, when Carol lost her battle to cancer. It has helped me get through the next tough challenge of my life: finishing the book that I have been writing for not only the last five years, but for much of my adult life. Live the Best Story of Your Life: A World Champion’s Guide to Lasting Change will be released on May 31.

This year I have no ambivalence. I am in a different place in my life, both in my spirit and geographically. The move to Colorado has opened me up to a whole new level of shoshin. Of seeing things through child’s eyes, beginner eyes. To see things as if for the first time.

In the past I would have had some bad stories to rewrite about playing on the hard courts. After all, my entire life of competition has been almost entirely on clay courts. All of my practice, the way my game developed, my strokes, strategy and mind set has been clay court developed. Hard courts are hard on my body. I have an artificial hip. There is no sliding on the courts. My game is built on point development, not quick strike. The faster hard courts mean I have less time to defend.

That is a bad story. In my work as a coach and player I have always encouraged others and myself to write a new and better story.

This year, though, is different. The old story, the bad story is not there for me.

I have been living the new story. The better story. I have spent the last six months joyfully learning to play a new game. A game that works on the hard courts.

I have been returned to being a beginner in tennis even though I had already become an expert. I had to let go of what I knew and go into a world of newness. Child’s mind. Every day of playing has been an exciting adventure. Each day of being free of result concerns. Learning to hit more balls up the middle so as to not compromise my position on the court. Picking up the visual cues earlier so that I am not trying to catch up to the ball. Slowing the game down even though there is less time. Playing lots of young big hitters who are faster and stronger with more topspin than I am used to has forced me to be smarter, to think more tactically even though my physical used to be enough in many matches. I can’t out-physical these guys. I can outthink them. I can use my experience of letting go of results…of welcoming uncertainty and unknown.

I am so excited about the newness of playing a new game on a new surface. I am a kid again. I last played a hard court tournament in California in 2007. Returning there I now get to face players I haven’t seen for years on courts that I have not stepped on since I got a new hip. I am so pumped.

The newest and most exciting part for me is that the new view that I have been working on for the last ten years is now a part of me. No longer something that I am practicing. The practice has become who I now am. I have come to know that I play because I love to develop my craft. To be a better person. To honor my opponents. Winning is important to me, too, but it is now, truly, just one part of the experience. My biggest successes take the form of the great John Wooden’s words: “success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

When I walk on the court I know, more than anything, that I want to just be the Bob I have become. To bring the best version of myself. I don’t need to be better than I am. Being Bob will be enough. At the end of the match the internal review will be one of asking if I was the person that I wanted to be. Nothing else is more important than that. That I have worked my craft. That I have let go of counterproductive thoughts.That I find the golden nuggets on the path. That I have given full effort. That I was fair. A good humble winner or a good no excuse congratulatory loser. To feel no regrets.

No less important is the excitement that I feel in playing doubles this year with one of my closest friends, Charlie Hoeveler. Years ago when I was a rookie on the senior tour and Charlie was the top player in our age group he practiced with me. I was in awe of his record, his accomplishments. But on that day I got a glimpse of what it is to be the kind of person that I wanted to be on the tennis court while competing. To be someone who could keep winning in perspective. We have won a couple of National titles and that is nice. But nicer is the lifelong friendship that has grown out of our time together. Playing doubles with him is a gift. Being with him raises me.

So do I have any ambivalence about lacing up my sneakers for one more year?


California here I come. With child’s mind, I am going to Disneyland. To play. To discover. To experience newness. To renew and deepen my friendships. To feel the wow of the game that I love.

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