5 Things Tennis Taught Me About Life

Posted on August 16, 2012

About 3 years ago an acquaintance moved to Minnesota and was looking for someone to play tennis with occasionally. Having never played tennis as anything more than a joke, I volunteered to play with him one day- provided he had a racket I could use of course. I fell in love that summer, at the ripe age of 26, with a new sport. We probably played an average of 10 hours a week, sometime starting at 6 a.m. and playing until midnight (after we had driven around for hours looking for a course with lights). I was totally hooked! I was having tennis cravings I was so addicted. In 3 years, we have never actually ever played a single set, we simply volley for hours on end for practice. Which sounds odd, but his serve is a million times better than mine so I still wouldn’t stand a chance against him.

Unfortunately, we live in Minnesota so we can’t play year round without paying an arm and a leg, and the responsibilities of life got in the way.  But after many long hours at the tennis court together, this acquaintance has become a great friend that I anticipate will be in my life forever. We still play whenever our schedules allow, but here are some lessons the sport has taught me about life along the way:

1. You’ll learn a lot faster by playing people who are better than you.

2. You get out what you put in. When we first start a tennis ‘session’, since we don’t play sets, we start out with warm ups and let the ball bounce a few times if we don’t feel like hustling quite yet. The way I see it, the longer we let this go on, the more calories we’re leaving on the table. Instead of maximizing every second with good exercise, we’re slacking off. In the rest of my life it translates into asking myself questions like, ‘How can I get the most out of the task I’m doing right now? How can I do it more efficiently?’ etc. I’m sure you get the point and have heard this in every self-help advice every written, but for me it helps to have a visual ‘let down’ that makes me feel that tinge of guilt that I am leaving calories, efficiency, time or money, on the table.

3. You can only volley so much before you have to start competing. As much as I love playing ‘tennis’, I know I’m just a faker since we never actually compete with each other. Just like in life, you can only practice so much before you eventually have to jump in and run with the big boys. You can only read so many books about business and fixing your life before you have to actually act on it. If you’re fortunate enough to find somebody way better than you who has the patience to mentor you, they will get tired of you very fast if you take too long to step up to execute the advice they’re giving you.

4. It’s not how hard you hit the ball, but how you hit it. Now, I realize how similar this sounds to the well-known saying about something else regarding the motion in the ocean, but it applies to tennis rackets too. Every tennis novice has hit a ball over the fence at some point and can testify to how true this is. Not only is it not about power, but I’m starting to learn how to hit the ball with finesse and put some sick spins on it that will confuse your opponent. I can’t wait until I have a great example in my business life that I can compare to hitting a great shot with sick spin that psyched my opponent out- but until I do, I just try to do everything with finesse.

5. Acclimate to your surroundings. Just like in golf, you have to factor in the wind direction and speed in every shot you make. The biggest difference between the two sports, is that golf is a lot slower and requires you to give your surroundings the attention they deserve. Tennis is fast, you have to make a split second decision about how hard you need to hit the ball with a 15 mph wind at your back- which can change speed or directions at the drop of a dime too. We rarely get to make decision in ‘golf time’ in life, learning how to make decisions in ‘tennis time’ is a lot more useful.



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