“I look up to the mountains –
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made the heavens and the earth!”
Psalm 121:1-2 New Living Translation
I’m beginning to feel my age. A little anyways. After years of not playing tennis, I decided to bravely face the church tennis outing this past Saturday. Luckily, I lived to write about it!
The day started out well. I got there an hour early, hoping there would be someone to warm up with. And thankfully, there was – Michael. We batted the ball around a bit and at this point, I was actually hitting forehands and backhands within the court and was gratified by that. Michael was hitting the ball very well and pretty hard, too. We played a couple of games, and Mike and I were both astonished that I won them. There was a principle at play here, though, that not all recreational players are aware of and/or can utilize – “It is much easier to return someone’s force back to them than to generate force yourself.” More simply stated, if you hit it hard to me, I most likely will be able to return it as hard or harder back to you with less effort on my part overall. I will use your force against you. The key to using your opponent’s force against him or her is hitting the ball early. You want to hit the ball on the rise. I can do that somewhat, even after years of no play, because I practiced for years (mostly in the summers) and now, if I have no time to think because the ball is hit hard to me, my instinct kicks in and my body remembers what to do automatically.
If I can get to the ball, that is. The principle behind that is, “If you want to run like a gazelle, you must train like a gazelle and not a sloth.” My lifestyle has been a little sloth-like for the past year – at least in terms of physical exercise.
As I was explaining these things to a friend of mine last night, I remembered my Dad explaining these things to me years ago as a young teen. I never really had many lessons with tennis professionals growing up, but I had the benefit of a Dad that bothered to learn these techniques by reading books written by professionals and studying their techniques while watching the big tournaments on television. And then, going out with us and teaching and coaching us to utilize the knowledge.
Anyway, it is much more difficult for me to handle a softly hit ball. The reason behind that is that there is that it takes a totally different skill to generate your own force with accuracy and control back over the net. These principles were proven by me year after year in high school. As the top district player for two years, I would consistently lose to the player who hit the ball the softest during the regular season. She hit the ball with no strength at all and I simply did not have the right combination of technique and strength to be able to win. This past Saturday, this was proven by me again. The players on the other side of the court wisely chose to not hit the ball too hard, and I was not able to come up with the right technique to hit the ball within the confines of the court except once in a while right into the net!
My serve, however, was a success on this day. It felt GOOD to serve after all these years. The technique seemed to just be there. I did not have to think about it much. I just focused on trying to hit the ball early (before it reaches it peak), to bend my knees so I could spring upwards, to hit up with the racquet, and to hit outwards as opposed to downwards. As I was explaining these things to my friend, I again remembered my Dad explaining these things to me many years ago. I remember going out to the courts after watching Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase, Chrissy Evert, Martina Navritilova, etc., and practicing serves with Dad. And I remember him taking me out regularly to pick up a doubles game at any number of local tennis courts where we lived in Falls Church, Virginia. Dad would not hesitate to challenge two men with me as his partner. Thanks to Dad, I grew up often playing tennis against men, which resulted in my developing a fairly strong first serve.
My best game was never a service game, though. If I am not mistaken, my best game was return of serve. As mentioned at the beginning, through the techniques learned from Dad, I was able to return very hard serves with equal or greater force. This was practiced while growing up as Mom and I would often play matches against Dad and my brother Dale, who is a naturally gifted tennis player. There is something about playing with family that really brings out the desire to win – at least in my family!
Anyway, it strikes me today as I write this up that I am grateful to my Dad in Michigan for teaching me sound tennis principles, for coaching me as we practiced, for encouraging me as we challenged other doubles teams, and for pushing me so many years ago to be the best tennis player I could be. I had a distinct advantage in my tennis matches because I had my Dad as teacher and coach.
It strikes me as well how grateful I am to my Father in Heaven for teaching me sound principles to live by, coaching me daily, encouraging me as I face life’s challenges, and for pushing me to be the best follower I can be. Unlike the game of tennis, though, my friend Pastor Bob teaches that we all can have these same advantages in life. At least, those of us who have a Bible to Read, a pen to Journal what it says to us, and a heart to Pray to the Lord of the heavens and the earth. He teaches us these principles in part so that when life’s balls are hit very hard to us, our instincts will kick in and our hearts will automatically remember what to do.
(Written long ago….)