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Category Archives: Sports

This is My Life

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You often hear tennis players accuse other players of not having a life. Like the people who go ballistic over a line call. Or the ones who cheat or resort to head games to win. Or the people who so spend much time on the court that they seem to be neglecting their spouses and children.

While I admit that tennis is my life, none of those things are true about me. I have a really positive attitude about tennis. And while I want to win, I do not resort to cheating, head games, or blaming anyone for my losses. And I don’t have any spouses or children to neglect.

Plus, what if tennis is my life? What’s so bad about that? Sure, it’s just a game, but lots of people have jobs that center around tennis. Like tennis players. And coaches. And commentators. And all the people who work for the Tennis Channel. And sports psychologists. In fact, I could totally be a sports psychologist.

In many ways, I am a more balanced person as a tennis player than I am in my real life. For example, in my real life, I will often take on so many responsibilities that I will have mental breakdowns. But in tennis, I have learned to turn down opportunities to play so that I don’t get injured.

And in tennis, I’ve stopped playing with people who suck all the joy out of tennis. Because if I can only play so many times a week to prevent injury, then I need to be selective about who I play with. Whereas in my real life, I am drawn to people who suck all the joy out of life.

When I went to that compassion retreat back in May, one of the teachers said that she thought I loved tennis because it was a great way to practice mindfulness. Meaning I am focused, in the moment, and accepting of whatever happens. And this is true. Tennis is the only activity that can quiet my obsessive brain and help me feel better, now matter how crappy of a day I’m having.  Plus, when I play, I’m practicing mindfulness for 2 hours, multiple times a week. That might be more practice than some Buddhist monks get in a week.

OK, maybe not. But still. That’s a lot of mindfulness practice.

Plus, if it weren’t for tennis, I would have no social life. In fact, I would have very little human contact outside of work. Because this weekend I don’t have any tennis until Sunday at 6, and I already know that it will be effortful to leave my house and go across the street to the grocery store.

When I play tennis, we often eat out afterwards, so I don’t starve like I do when I’m home alone. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, thanks to tennis, I find out about really good deals like Free Pie Wednesday at O’Charley’s. And who doesn’t like free pie?

So the next time someone tells me to get a life, I’ll tell them that I like the one I have just fine.

Is Optimism Always a Good Thing?

 

You know how when you ask people how their holiday was and they say it was good? Well, I didn’t. I wasn’t trying to complain or anything. I just like to be honest.

My back was hurting for 3 weeks, which means I did very little over the break. The worst part was that I couldn’t play tennis. It may sound extreme to some people, but my mental health was severely compromised. I tried to practice gratitude, patience, self-compassion, and all that, but the truth is, without tennis, life hardly seems worth living.

That’s why I spent 2 and 1/2 weeks in denial about how bad my back was hurting. Which means I tried to play 3 times. The tennis sucked and I wasn’t able to move at all. I couldn’t even swing. The last 2 times actually made my back worse.

Why would I continue to try to play, knowing that I couldn’t move? Knowing that it might slow my recovery down? Because I was so determined to get better that I was completely out of touch with reality. I was almost delusional.

Sometimes I beat myself up over this. Many of my relationships have failed because of this same delusional optimism. I’ve relapsed into depression because I was unrealistic about how much I could take on. I’ve wasted countless hours trying to fix some mistake in my knitting rather than cutting my losses and ripping the thing out. (Unless you knit, you probably don’t appreciate how obsessive this is, but it is a serious waste of time.)

But at the same time, my optimism is what allows me to enjoy tennis, even when I lose badly. It’s why listening to people’s problems all day doesn’t get me down. It’s why I’ve been able to knit dresses.

Plus, even if it’s unrealistic, unbridled optimism can give us something to look forward to. Like, even if the chance of winning the jackpot is 1 in a billion, isn’t it fun to imagine what you would do with the money? To debate whether you would take the payout and calculate how much you’d have after taxes or whether you’d spread the payments out over 20 years?

I’ve actually been thinking about buying lottery tickets because the indoor facility where we play in the winter has closed, and without tennis I really do get depressed. So I fantasize about winning the lottery and building a facility, where I would build it, how many courts it would have, whether I would also have outdoor courts. Maybe I’ll even include a pro shop. Then I could buy cute tennis outfits wholesale and save some money. Not that I would need to save money since I would have won the lottery.

Do you see how much more enjoyable this obsession is rather than thinking about how I am going to be depressed and out of shape without tennis? Even if I don’t get to play, either way. And really, what’s a couple of dollars every week if it keeps hope alive?

Plus, someone has to win the lottery. So someone’s optimism paid off. Why can’t it be me?

 

Weakness? I Don’t Think So

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I talk a lot about how I pride myself on being a warrior on the tennis court. Evidenced by the fact that, despite having several conditions that lead me to throw up on the court every now and then, I continue to play. Giving up tennis is not an option.

Admittedly, sometimes I take this to an extreme. It’s probably better to retire from a match when you’re having an asthma attack. But I didn’t say it’s always smart to be a warrior. Sometimes it’s smarter to know when to walk away.

But it’s hard to know when to fight and when to accept defeat. Especially when you struggle with a mental illness. It feels like you should be able to will yourself out of it. Even though no one would accuse someone with pneumonia of being weak when they can’t will themselves out of it. But we are not always fair in our judgment of other people. Or ourselves.

It wasn’t until I started my blog 2 years ago that my family and friends found out how debilitating my depression has been at times. So I was able to hide it somewhat. Still, there were days I would wake up and know I wasn’t going to be able to go to work. No amount of shaming and screaming at myself was going make me get out of bed. So I would stay home and spend the rest of the day feeling like a loser.

If you are an avid tennis fan, then you know that Mardy Fish played his last match as a professional tennis player yesterday. It was particularly meaningful because he has not played for the past 3 years after developing panic disorder. He was unable to leave his house for 3 months. And even though his disorder is better controlled, he still has difficulty traveling and sleeping alone. So being a professional tennis player has not been an option.

Despite how paralyzing his anxiety disorder has been, Fish decided he didn’t want it to dictate how his career ended. So he faced his fears and entered the U.S. Open for one last tournament.

And what a match it was. He was serving for the match at 5-4 in the 4th set but double-faulted 3 times because of nerves. He ended up losing in the 5th set because he started cramping. Not exactly a fairy tale ending.

Still, choking and losing leads are part of the game. It happens to the best of players. Being a warrior doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win–just that you’ll fight until the bitter end. And Mardy Fish did just that.

Fish demonstrated his strength of character when he decided to end his career on his own terms. But an even greater testament to his strength is that he shared his story with the world. Our demons grow in darkness and silence. Only the most courageous are willing to show people their vulnerabilities.

Which is why those who are open about their mental illness are among the strongest people I know.

Wins and Losses, Part 2

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This year I had several people opt to leave my team so that they could join a more competitive team instead. I guess I can’t blame them for that, because most of the players on my 4.0 team are rated 3.5. Which is not a good thing if your goal is to win. But I do have a greater appreciation for the people who play on my teams because they care more about having fun than they do about winning.

Don’t get me wrong; I want to win. I’ll chase every ball down and risk throwing up on the court if I have to in order to win the point. It’s just that, at the end of the day, going out to eat with my friends afterwards is just as much fun as winning. And I’m not willing to kick people off my team just because they lose. Hell, I’d be the first person to get the boot if that were the case.

Still, at the beginning of the year, I decided I was going to focus more on winning. I was going to try to have more confidence in my game. Focus more on my strengths. Tell myself I’m a good player and see what happens.

I’m not sure it’s going so well. I don’t think I’m winning any more than I did last year, but I curse at myself more often, and more loudly, on the court. And I’m a lot harder on myself. And I’m more pissed off when I lose.

Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Despite my increasingly bad attitude, I never get upset when my teammates lose. In fact, if the match was close, I count their loss as a win. Like the other night we lost 1-4, but when I wrote up the summary, I wrote it as though we had won 3-2, since 2 of the losses were in the tiebreak. When one of my teammates commented on how positive I was, I thought, well it’s easy to be positive when you win.

But then I remembered that we lost.

In a previous post I brought up the debate of whether it’s better to love winning or to hate losing. Federer plays because he loves winning. Nadal plays because he hates losing. Things have worked out pretty well for both of them, so I guess you can’t go wrong with either approach.

But I’m not sure either of these statements accurately reflects why I play. I love trying to get better. I love trying to win. I love having a way to exercise that doesn’t involve torturously counting every second while I’m on a machine. I love having something that allows me to forget what a terrible day I’m having and focus solely on hitting the ball. I love practicing and I love competition. I love cute outfits and friendship and food.

And I can enjoy all of these things, regardless of whether I win or lose. I guess when it comes down to it, I really just love playing.

Why I Love Sports

So I’m sick again. Which really sucks. I thought there was some unspoken rule that you can only get sick once per season. That if you spent a week of your Christmas break in quarantine with nothing to do but watch bowl games and knit until you develop carpel tunnel syndrome, you paid your dues to the virus gods. Apparently I was mistaken.

Since it’s just me and my inner critic, I spend a lot of time trying to alleviate my guilt about having to cancel all my therapy appointments and being unproductive. It’s not my fault. I have to put myself first. At least I don’t have a terminal illness. Life isn’t about being productive. At least I get to watch tennis and basketball.

In an effort to obsess about something more positive, and as a tribute to March Madness, I thought I’d share my top reasons for why I love sports.

1. Athletes are the best reality TV celebrities. I have much more admiration for Roger Federer for his athleticism, his demeanor on and off the court, his love of the game, and the way he handles his celebrity status than I do for Kim Kardashian. Who somehow is able to obtain sponsorships and ample media coverage despite having no talent that I’m aware of.

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2. Bonding time with my friends and family.  My brothers drive several hours to come to Charlottesville to watch UVA football games, and we’re not even good. Last weekend my friends came with me to the ACC tournament to cheer UVA on. Even though we lost, we had great conversations, ate a lot of junk food, and have a good picture to show for it.

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3. Rivalries. Ordinarily I am all about compassion and accepting differences, but sports is the one place where I allow myself to villanize Virginia Tech. It’s almost as much fun to watch them lose as it is to watch UVA win. And when we play each other, I have a chance to witness both of these things at the same time. Tech may have won in football, but UVA beat them twice in basketball. So take that, Hokies!

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4. Sometimes I win. When I started playing tennis again 15 years ago, I wanted to find out what I could accomplish if I gave it my all. But I had pretty modest expectations. I didn’t think it was possible to actually win tennis tournaments. I didn’t even know it was possible to compete as a team. And I definitely never imagined that I would be on teams that would advance to districts. For someone who doesn’t consider herself an athlete, that’s pretty darn good!

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5. Sometimes you hit the lottery. Last year, when no one was paying attention, UVA won the ACC regular season and tournament championships. And we got the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year, although sports analysts acknowledge that UVA could win it all, no one has chosen them in their bracket. But that’s OK. It may be a long shot, but that’s why we watch sports: there’s nothing like the thrill of victory that’s against all odds.

So Go Hoos!

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Running My Own Race

I am a terrible runner. That’s why I decided to take up running 16 years ago. I like to challenge myself to do things I suck at. I wanted to prove to myself that I could run for more than 5 minutes. My husband at the time, being the competitive athlete that he was, said he would train with me if we ran a 5K at the end. Which was intimidating, but I liked the idea of having a running partner, so I agreed to do it.

So we started a 10 week program for beginners. By the last week you were supposed to be able to run for 35 minutes. I couldn’t imagine getting to that point, but in the first week you only had to walk for 2 minutes and run for 1 minute for 7 laps, which was totally doable. So I just focused on my goal for that week and trusted that if I did that every week I would be able to run for 35 minutes by the end, whether I could imagine it or not.

We never made it to the last week but we ran the race, anyway. And it was even more embarrassing than I imagined. We were so far behind everyone else that we couldn’t see a single runner ahead of us. We were even behind the police officer who was supposed to follow the last runner, so we missed part of the route and ran past the finish line in the wrong direction. We assumed people were supposed to cheer when you got to the end, but no one did. So we kept running.

The police officer realized his mistake and told us to run around the block to make up for the segment of the route we missed. We came in second to last, and I finished the race in 36 minutes. But I came in 3rd place in my age group because there were only 3 people in it. I love awards, so I was like, woo hoo! When is the next race?

So we ran 5Ks for a few years before I rediscovered tennis. It always hurt, I never got runner’s high, and I hated everything about it except the sense of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line. Sometimes I would place if it were a small race, but I was still always one of the last runners. Women pushing baby carriages would pass me by. Sometimes I was barely in front of the walkers. But I just focused on my goal, which was to run faster than I did in the last race.

I’ve been struggling lately with posts where bloggers say how many followers they have or how many views a particular post has gotten.  It makes me feel like I’m wasting my time. Sometimes it makes me want to give up. But I don’t. Because even if I don’t have a large audience, I know my blog means a great deal to the small group of people who read it. And that small group of people is still larger than the number of clients I see in a week.

Recently I decided that I would use my running mentality whenever I read a post with numbers in it. I will focus on writing and promoting and trust that in the end, I will get to where I want to be. I will focus on my own progress rather than on the people who are passing me by. I will focus on my own race.

So far so good.

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Excuses

I pride myself on being a warrior on the court. However, I’m beginning to realize that having a warrior mentality isn’t always a good thing.

I was feeling tired and run down all last week, which confused me. I hadn’t even played that much tennis. My schedule wasn’t too busy yet. What excuse did I have to be tired?

Yesterday I had no choice but to acknowledge that I’ve been tired because I’m sick. I needed to rest. But despite what I said in my last post about listening to my body when it said no, I decided that I should go to tennis practice, anyway, because I needed the steps.

And guess what? I played terribly. But my inner drill sergeant was relentless. Sickness is not an excuse to play badly. Did Jordan complain when he had the flu during the NBA Playoffs? Didn’t he continue to hit amazing shots? Now quit your whining and play better!

But I couldn’t will myself to play better. And I felt even worse when I got home. Then I started panicking because I was afraid that I wasn’t going to feel well enough to go to work.

My drill sergeant kept telling me that I’m not really sick. That’s just an excuse to get out of going to work. Would your colleges be lame and stay home if they were feeling the way you feel right now? Or your parents? Or your overachieving brother? They would not. So suck it up!

This is the problem with that warrior mentality of “no excuses.” Sometimes you push yourself so hard that you just make things worse.

If I had taken my sickness seriously, perhaps I would have gotten a sub for practice, since it was just practice and not the NBA finals.

And if I were being kind to myself, I wouldn’t let my drill sergeant get away with calling me a manipulative liar who is just trying to get out of work by claiming to be sick. Because that’s really not what I’m like at all. Not at all.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for drill sergeants. Like I said, I am all about being a warrior on the court. But if you treat every practice like the World Championship is on the line, then you’re just going to end up falling asleep on the couch until 3:30 am, having panic attacks, and obsessing about whether you are going to be able to make it to work the next day.

This is a picture of my mixed doubles team, represented by what are supposed to be jungle animals to signify our inner warriors. I am the zebra. Don’t I look intimidating?

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