Tennis as Refuge

Picture this: You’re having a terrible week. Your kid’s failing algebra, your assistant at work quit, and your sister just announced she’s coming for the weekend, along with her three obnoxious children. You arrive at the tennis courts, frazzled and unfocused, certain you’ll play horribly. Ninety minutes later you walk off the courts and you realize you haven’t thought about your problems the whole time. Your mind’s refreshed and your troubles seem just a little bit more manageable.

I’m guessing you can relate to this experience, that temporary transcendence that comes from immersing yourself in a passion. It’s not unique to tennis, I’m sure, but tennis is where I’ve found it most reliably.

Between the painted white lines lies a refuge. Within those lines, we focus our minds on something small and tangible, something we can control. In its discipline and repetition, tennis provides both a respite from our problems and a lesson in solving them.

This belief lies at the heart of The Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center in Dorchester. Founded 57 years ago, Sportsmen’s seeks to offer refuge and skill-building for the area’s low- to middle-income youth.

As many of you know, tennis great James Blake will be visiting Sportsmen’s on May 10. Blake will be running tennis clinics, playing an exhibition match, and participating in a Q&A reception. Tickets are still available for the morning Women’s Doubles Clinic, afternoon Adult Clinic, and the reception/exhibition match starting at 5:30 p.m. All proceeds go to support Sportsmen’s worthy programs. Go to sportsmenstennis.org to find out more and buy tickets.

Finally, April is National Poetry Month, so we’ll send the month off in style with this wonderful poem by Andres Castro, poet, educator and USPTA-certified tennis instructor. Many thanks to him for allowing me to use his poem on my blog. (Poem best viewed on a laptop to preserve formatting.)

 

A Tennis Poem: Old School Sweating

I was trained to watch the ball—

the back in the day
########white tennis ball—

Watch the ball’s spin—
########the ball’s bounce—
Watch the ball leap
########into my gut strung racquet face.

I was trained to run and watch—
############to sweat and watch—
################the ball’s flight over a torn public park’s net—
See a straight line drive—
############See a spinning arcing parabola—
################See a mountainous flight reaching for the clouds—

Follow its descent.

I was trained to keep precisely fixed—no matter what—on

the ball—
####forget the South Bronx burning all around me—

and only love it.

First published on Castro’s blog The Practicing Poet and in the journal Montreal Serai.

13 thoughts on “Tennis as Refuge

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  1. The focused experience you’re describing is called Flow. It’s particular to repetitive activities. It was named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced ME-hie chick-den-ME-hie) in the mid-seventies. If I remember correctly, it is considered a type of meditative state, very focused on the present, in the zone, almost transcendental. It is associated with positive feelings and good performance. Athletes strive for it. It’s very good for reducing stress, which is good for your health. So now you have more excuses to play tennis!

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    1. Great info! It didn’t occur to me that there’s an actual person who coined the term “flow.” I’ll have to look him up. But I often forget about my day-to-day problems on the court even when I’m not “in the zone,” when I’m just playing my more typical game. I wonder if there’s a word for that–or maybe that’s just called “having fun.” 😄

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    1. If only we could achieve “flow” at will. Actually, I’m sure there are things we could do to increase our chances of getting in the zone. There’s a blog post in there somewhere…

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  2. I’ve always loved the game. Deb, your blog inspires me to get back out there and “beat the ball”. This is the year!

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  3. You are spot on. That little yellow ball can give me so much relief. It is a moment when I serve just me. Even if I don’t bring my game on a given day, just being on the court can lighten my mood. I love the poem too. Can’t imagine a white tennis ball. Would give me another excuse for missing the ball, and we can never have too many of those. Great post.

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