Monday, June 1, 2009

Facing our Fears

For many years I’ve been in the position of instructor/teacher. There’s obvious power in this as I get to call the shots, decide on process, and it is easy to stay in a comfort zone of familiar. Even when developing or learning new workout formats, mastering new equipment or dance skills there is still a long-practiced base of knowledge and experience that cushions the newness. The confidence level may get shaken, but not broken.
Recently I’ve taken that leap to learn the sport of tennis and after 50 this is not necessarily an easy endeavor. The trigger that sent me on this quest was an invitation to a weekend tennis camp a couple of years ago with friends who were all players, great players. At that point, my level of tennis was to “be present”, run for it and simply hit the ball over the net which I soon learned was way over simplified. In a clinic or camp it is drills, repetition, focus and mastering technique. I was so frustrated and humiliated in not being able to understand the instructions on drills or the corrections when given…I truly needed the 101 on how to hold a racket but that wasn’t part of the rotation. My internal conflicts were magnified by the external factors of everyone else knowing exactly what to do and doing it well. I felt like the leak in the tire slowing down everyone’s perfect day. I have never come so close to walking away, quitting. Pool time, alone, with no pressure sounded safe and inviting.
Then, something clicked. From my studies in college and long career experience I know a great deal about learning differences and I know how MY brain/body connection works best. I learn segmental from one part of the body to the next, and one piece of the puzzle at a time. I need to know exact positioning. Tell me where to plant my feet, where my shoulders should be facing, where I should be looking. I need to understand the physics behind how the racket face should hit the ball, where the racket is relative to the body, where body weight is on impact, what the position or placement is on finish, how to develop the skill and confidence to do that elusive “follow through”. I need to know when I actually do it right since I am unfamiliar with the feel of right or wrong. The more information the better, but a big BUT…I need to hear things more than once, and even when I do hear it, it takes time and repetition to actually get my body to perform. Once I started to gain a few basic skills it has become easier to broaden my focus to more fine-tuning, becoming more aggressive and learning how to best use the strength, endurance and agility that I’ve developed through fitness training. Game strategy and win shots now seem possible. The bottom line is time, patience and practice. I’ve been trained to learn as a dancer learns. This will be a lifetime process, I only wish I had started it a long time ago.

I’ve played my first USTA doubles matches this past month and last week had my first ever singles match. No partner to back me up…the fear was like a bubble, but I knew I HAD to do it, challenge myself to put everything in place and learn from the mistakes. Win or lose, I won by doing it.

Does any of this sound familiar to those of you that have ventured into the gym or into classes as a complete novice?? I still believe if it is too easy the rewards aren’t as sweet. So my message this month….take that step to tackle something completely new. Face it, falter, learn, and achieve. Nothing like it in life…at any time.