September Challenge: Standing Tall

Did your mother tell you to stand up straight when you were a kid? Mine did. A lot. Height-challenged, she nursed a lifelong grudge about having been denied tallness genes. She always stretched her spine as long as possible, trying to get the physical stature to match her outsized personality.

As a teen, I found my mother’s preoccupation strange. Who cared about being tall? I had mousy hair, acne and braces. Posture was the least of my worries.

When my mother caught me slouching, she’d step up behind me and latch onto my shoulders with her long bony fingers, digging them hard into my flesh and pulling them backwards. “Straighten up!” she’d command. God, she was annoying. I’d shrug her off and twist away—but I did head into early adulthood with decent posture.

In later adulthood, not so much. Thanks to loss of muscle strength, an uncomfortable couch and endless hours spent hunched over a computer, I’ve become a round-shouldered schlump. The acne and braces are long gone, but my interest in posture remains limited—or at least it did until yesterday afternoon. Continue reading “September Challenge: Standing Tall”

April’s Challenge: Batman Yoga

A while back, I took some time off from tennis. Three years, actually. Hard to believe I didn’t play for so long when nowadays even a week without tennis makes me cranky.

For exercise during the hiatus, I ran and did some weights, as I had already been doing. And I added something new–yoga.

When I returned to tennis, I was surprised that not only did my game come back pretty quickly, but in some ways I was playing better than I had before. My strokes felt longer and more fluid, and I more easily handled balls outside my ideal strike zone. Continue reading “April’s Challenge: Batman Yoga”

March Challenge: A Focus on Strokes

I planned to write a glib monthly tennis challenge, but I can’t muster my usual enthusiasm for glibness. Luke Perry died this morning from a massive stroke. He was 52.

It’s always a bit unnerving to hear someone exactly your age has passed away. After five decades of living, I’m still secretly convinced of my own immortality. Like a child, I can’t conceive of a world without me in it.

But Luke Perry’s relative youth aside, stroke has a unique way of grabbing my attention. My father suffered a massive stroke in 2011. It happened right in front of me, over lunch at California Pizza. Continue reading “March Challenge: A Focus on Strokes”

February Challenge: Planks

In tennis, your shots are only as strong as your core.

Okay, I just made that up. But it sounds true, doesn’t it? Your core is key for stability and transferring energy from the legs up through the torso. More importantly, without a solid core, we’re not going to look as good in our tennis outfits. Continue reading “February Challenge: Planks”

January Challenge: Meditation

It’s a new year here at LittleYellowBall (and everywhere else, too), and I can’t think of a better way to kick it off than with some David Foster Wallace. Here’s a snippet of brilliance from his essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart”: Continue reading “January Challenge: Meditation”

December Challenge: Shadow Swings

Here’s an actual transcript from every tennis lesson I’ve ever had:

Me: [hits the ball in the net]

Coach: Watch the ball.

Me: I did watch the ball.

Coach: No, you didn’t.

Me: Yes, I did.

Coach: Did you see the ball hit the net?

Me: [Thinking to myself, “Yup.”] I’m not sure. Maybe.

Coach: Then you weren’t watching the ball. Continue reading “December Challenge: Shadow Swings”

November’s Challenge: The Split Step

I can always spot a tennis pro on the court before she even hits the ball. How? She split steps. More than power and spin and aces, it’s that little hop that distinguishes the serious player from, well, me. (The power, spin, and aces just confirm it.)

I have no trouble chasing down lobs or sprinting to cover a drop volley. And I can usually master the little adjustment steps needed to set up for a groundstroke, at least on a good day.

But the split step, the smallest of the tennis footwork repertoire, always trips me up. For the life of me, I can’t remember to do it. Even if a coach prompts me to split step, I feel clumsy and stupid. I’m sure I look ridiculous as well. Continue reading “November’s Challenge: The Split Step”

October’s Half-Challenge

I just returned from my annual physical. I love my physician–she’s thorough, respectful, and engaged. Routine physicals can sometimes feel, well, routine, with the same questions asked in the same order, year after year. Do you use sunscreen? Do you smoke? How much do you drink? Despite the script, my doctor still manages to make me feel like she cares.

She already knows about my tennis addiction, so when we got to the exercise question, she asked what else I did. I went through my usual spiel. “Well, I really like to run, but I don’t do it very often. And I know I should be lifting weights, but…” I trailed off with a shrug and a smile and looked at her expectantly. This is the point when we normally share a chuckle over my all-too-human failings and move on to other business. Continue reading “October’s Half-Challenge”

Dumbo at the Net

A number of years ago, I had a standing weekly date to play singles with my friend Megan. She was a lot better than I was (still is), but I did my best to keep up with her.

Being at heart a doubles player, I’d come to the net at any opportunity. Coming to net was rarely successful against Megan who could rifle passing shots from even the most improbable positions. Unfortunately, rallying with her from the baseline wasn’t a good strategy, either, so I just went to the net and got passed. Over and over. Very discouraging.

One day during a water break, after she’d passed me yet again to win the game, she said, “It’s so funny. You’re not a big person, but when you rush the net, you sound like a herd of elephants.” Continue reading “Dumbo at the Net”

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