The Fun Sport with the Funny Name

Here’s a really bad joke I just made up: How do you get Deb to spend more time in the kitchen? Make her play pickleball! HA!

Don’t get it? Then you probably haven’t tried pickleball, the fastest growing sport in the country. I’d heard people talking about this game a year ago, and it has finally arrived at my gym. I attended a drop-in session a couple of weeks ago to see what all the fuss is about. Continue reading “The Fun Sport with the Funny Name”

The Art of the Non-Answer

Here’s something interesting I noticed during this year’s U.S. Open. When the younger pros walk down the stadium corridor and stop for the pre-match interview, they listen to the question and respond appropriately. The more experienced player? Not so much. Continue reading “The Art of the Non-Answer”

Saturday Sartorial Showdown–The WTA Gala

I know you were all wondering what happened to this week’s Friday Fashion Face-off. Well, we have something special for you today–the Saturday Sartorial Showdown!

Moving our fashion fun back one day had nothing whatsoever to do with my post-hiatus fatigue and disorganization. It was all part of my master plan. A new day for a new feature–the evening wear competition! Continue reading “Saturday Sartorial Showdown–The WTA Gala”

Coping with Plantar Fasciitis (with bonus video of my foot!)

We’re back from hiatus! I enjoyed my break, but I have to admit it’s a challenge to get back into the swing of things. A blog post three times a week?! That can’t be right. I can’t possibly have that much to say!

In fact, I was having some trouble coming up with a post topic for today–at least one that didn’t involve any research. But as so often happens, the blog gods took pity on me and dropped a topic in my lap.

I was watching some matches at my tennis club this morning when a friend approached me to ask if I’d ever dealt with plantar fasciitis. (She seemed to already know that I had, which makes me suspect I was a whiny baby about it back then!)

Now, I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But I dispensed the general advice that helped me during my own bout a number of years ago. Since plantar fasciitis seems to be a fairly common complaint among tennis players, I’m going to pass that advice on to you. Continue reading “Coping with Plantar Fasciitis (with bonus video of my foot!)”

Friday Fashion Face-off: Flavors of Fed

We’re well into autumn, what I think of as the long dry season in professional tennis. Once the U.S. Open ends, I find it hard to muster much enthusiasm for the year’s remaining tournaments, at least until the tour finals. I’ve been looking at these players all year. I’m tired of them. They look a little tired as well.

To make matters worse, clothing manufacturers don’t introduce new lines in the post-major dregs of the season. It’s enough to make a tennis blogger question why she started a weekly fashion face-off in the first place. What in the world was I thinking?! Continue reading “Friday Fashion Face-off: Flavors of Fed”

Taming Butterflies

When I think back to my first year playing league tennis, one thing stands out to me more than any other–my nerves. Every match morning would be the same. My brain would be buzzing. My breathing would be shallow. My arms and legs would feel heavy and uncoordinated. Worst of all, my stomach would churn, and I’d make an alarming number of trips to the bathroom.

Not only did I struggle with nerves, I struggled with embarrassment over being so nervous. This was just recreational tennis. All the women in the league have careers, families, bigger issues in their lives. But telling myself that nothing was actually at stake made no difference. Neither my brain nor my gut believed me.

That first year I didn’t tell anyone how nervous I was. I didn’t think anyone else suffered from this level of pre-match anxiety. It seemed beyond pathetic that this silly little match could matter so much to me.

I’ve since learned that many people–including people who were on my team–experience pre-match jitters. I wish I’d known that my first year. Just knowing I wasn’t alone would have taken some of the edge off those feelings. Being able to laugh about it with my teammates would have helped.

By the second year, those nerves didn’t affect me as much. That sounds like I learned to control them, but I didn’t. They simply abated on their own because I’d been exposed to game-day stress so many times. Matches just didn’t trigger the same adrenaline rush they used to.

I’m rarely troubled with excessive nerves now, unless I’m facing a different kind of match, one where I fear I’m out of my league, or one where something really is at stake, such as winning the division. At those moments, I can end up feeling like a league newbie all over again, jelly legs and all.

But I don’t have to let those feelings derail my game. After a little brainstorming and poking around online, I came up with eleven ways to combat pre-match jitters.

  • Accept. Know that everyone gets nervous before matches. Not only is it normal, but a little adrenaline buzz can help you play better. Don’t let the fact that you’re jittery make you even more jittery!
  • Confide. Find a sympathetic teammate and share your feelings. No doubt she’ll be able to relate and may be able to help you relax.
  • Laugh. Listen to your favorite morning deejays on your way to the match. Or hang out with the funniest person on your team while you wait for your match to start.
  • Reframe. Don’t think of the match as a test you’ll either pass or fail. Reframe it as just one step in the process of developing your game. That process will include wins as well as losses. If you never lose, you aren’t challenging yourself enough–and your game isn’t growing.
  • Rebrand. Labels matter, so rebrand your anxiety. You’re not anxious! You’re energized, excited, amped up, eager, psyched… Find a label that puts those feelings in a better light–and then embrace them!
  • Focus. You have the power to decide what you want to think about. So replace negative thoughts about possible failure with positive thoughts about how you’re going to play. Keep it simple. Picture how you’re going to move your feet or get low on volleys.
  • Exercise. Burn off the negative energy. Hit the treadmill or elliptical before taking the court. If the club doesn’t have any exercise equipment, jumping jacks work, too.
  • Stretch. Gentle stretching can help release muscle tension. Find a quiet corner where you can practice a few downward dogs.
  • Breathe. Take deep, slow breaths. Count each inhalation and exhalation. Tune out the noise around you, and keep your mind focused on only your breathing.
  • Sing. Belt out your favorite song as you’re driving to your match. (Don’t worry–no one’s looking.) It’s impossible to stay nervous if you’re rocking out to an upbeat song.
  • Decaffeinate. Go easy on the caffeine. A little will help you stay alert, but too much will contribute to your jitters and your upset stomach.

Have you ever gotten nervous before a match? What do you do to tame your butterflies? And what are the best songs to blast in the car when you’re on your way to your match?

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”

Friday Fashion Face-off: The Micro-Dress

Is there a proper length for a tennis skirt?

Even asking the question makes me squirm a bit inside. I like doling out a little good-humored snark, but playing hemline cop doesn’t appeal to me. Still, I can’t help looking askance when I see the lengths, or should I say the shorts, to which some young women will go. Continue reading “Friday Fashion Face-off: The Micro-Dress”

Winning the Tiebreak

Next week begins our fall/winter league. Last year, my team ended up in sixth place out of ten teams. Not bad, but not so great, either.

Point-wise, there was a sizable spread between the first and last place teams. But having played those teams twice each, I noticed something interesting. Aside from a couple of big hitters, the skills of the first place team weren’t all that much different from those of the last place team. Everyone had game, but at the end of the season, one team had earned the right to play in a higher division this year, while the other team was going down.

I wondered what accounted for the wide gulf in results between these two comparable teams? At least some part of it–probably a large part of it–had to be mental.

I decided to spend a little time looking at my own team’s statistics. Out of 72 matches last season, my team played 25 super tiebreaks. (A super tiebreak replaces the third set in this league.) If you find yourself in a super tiebreak, your opponents aren’t blowing you off the court. You’ve already won a set. You obviously have the skills to win the match. Whether or not you do is mostly mental.

Those 25 super tiebreak matches could have gone either way–they were winnable matches. We won 9 of them and lost 16. If we flipped those numbers–if we had won 16 and lost 9–we’d have finished the season in second place, only a single point behind the winner.

This is a no-brainer. We need to win more tiebreaks this year. But how do we do it? For some ideas, I turned to Winning Ugly, Brad Gilbert’s classic book on the mental aspect of tennis.

Here’s what Gilbert advises:

  • Take your time. The tiebreak is a compressed set, where the consequences of unforced errors are magnified. Pay attention to your tempo to avoid mistakes that arise from rushing.
  • Mentally separate the tiebreak from the set you just played. Take a moment to hit your mental re-set button. Think about your game plan before you begin.
  • At the beginning of the tiebreak, focus on playing clean, steady tennis. Don’t try to force winners.
  • Try to win the first two points of the tiebreak. If you can secure that early mini-break, your opponent may feel pressure to go for bigger shots–and may start donating points.
  • Stick with whatever was successful in getting you to the tiebreak. Now isn’t the time to try new strategies or shots you don’t own.
  • When you have a nice lead, don’t get tentative, hoping your opponent just hands you the match. Continue to play to win.
  • Pay extra attention to what Gilbert calls the “set-up point.” This is the point before a deciding point. In a regular game, a set-up point could be 30-15. In a super tiebreak, the set-up point is 8-5, say, or 8-2. If you win the set-up point, you’ll be on the brink of winning the match. Don’t let your guard down on a set-up point. Play clean, focused, and controlled tennis.

I’ll add two thoughts to Gilbert’s superb advice. One, if you held a significant lead in the match and the opponents turned things around to force the tiebreak, I think you better try a different strategy. Don’t keep losing the same way.

And two, practice tiebreaks. It’s hard to recreate the pressure of a league match when you’re just playing with friends, so consider putting something at stake. Maybe the loser buys the winner a can of tennis balls or has to do ten pushups.

(I won the tiebreak in my social match today, so I’m feeling cavalier about imposing push-ups on the loser. Next time I lose, I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune…)

Do you get tight in tiebreaks? Do you have any tricks for winning them?

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