ETI 039 | Improvise (when necessary) on the tennis court


A few years ago I was encouraged to take a class in improvisational theater.  It took me months to find the courage (stage fright and more) but I finally enrolled and then thoroughly enjoyed this class within the Stanford continuing studies program.

Amazing teacher – Patricia Ryan.  Incredible book – Improv Wisdom.

Improv, as I learned and continue to learn – is about paying absolute attention to everything.  Being precisely in the moment and no where else.  Saying “Yes” to any situation you encounter.  Being willing to fail.  Within improvisational skits and more, the players (actors) enter a scene without preconceptions, and wing it.  Always within an evolving scene, where each response and action builds upon and within the scene,

Truly fun.  Unexpected.  Challenging.

Tennis is very much the same.  We must be paying absolute attention to everything.  A wandering and unfocused mind truly ruins the game.  We must be precisely in the moment.  We cannot dwell on past points won or lost, and cannot jump to the future with expectations of winning or losing, but must play each point one at a time, and really each stroke one at a time.  In order to play well, we must accept the possibility that we may fail (lose) but only know that as a possibility but not something foretold.  But finally, we must play with another and build something with that player in the flow and tactics of the game.

 

 

19 Comments

  • Ray

    Reply Reply May 16, 2015

    yes jim this is exactly what i struggle with over and over again

  • Bob

    Reply Reply May 13, 2015

    Thanks Jim,
    My wife and I read Improv Wisdom after you mentioned it in an earlier podcast, and we love it. You are right, it’s an incredible source of insight for living in the present, tennis included.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply May 13, 2015

      Bob – based on the response to this podcast I have decided to reread it myself
      Jim

  • Patrick Whitmarsh

    Reply Reply May 13, 2015

    Jim, Right on the money! Similarly, concert music fits the improv paradigm. Some would say jazz music as well. For some opening the mind is difficult however it is a track worth exploring.
    Pat

  • Allan

    Reply Reply May 13, 2015

    Hey Jim,

    Think calm. Think awareness. Think Tim Gallwey and the Inner Game of Tennis.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply May 13, 2015

      Allan – yes, but as both a teacher and a player – this “think calm” thing can be so darn easy to say but often so hard to find
      Jim

      • kwok

        Reply Reply May 13, 2015

        I think if we look at everything that we do on the court, either practicing or playing a match’ as a learning experience, but not so much as some form of attaining achievement, it can free up our mind and relax our body. If every maneuver is a learning experience, then it is an open – ended journey – not just from point a to point B, then one can really enjoy all the things or surprises we pick up along the way and that can be an everlasting happy experience, as long as we stay the course. And when we are happy, we tend to play better.

        That’s my two – cents worth.

        Kwok.

  • kwok

    Reply Reply May 12, 2015

    My favorite actor, Gene Hackman once said “relaxation is the common thread that all performing arts share ” ( I am paraphrasing ). I think it is very true. When relaxed, our eyes seems to see things, including the surrounding, better. And when relaxed, our body seems to react better to the challenge at hand ( as in tennis ). And when really really relaxed,as our conscious mind stop to control everything that body want to do ( willing to fail, as Jim said), and the subconscious mind gets more freedom to take over the action, that is when improvisation is at its best.

    That is from my experience.

    Kwok.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply May 13, 2015

      Kwok – nice to hear from you – and absolutely yes when relaxed our vision does expand (when tense it narrows) and more and more it is about letting the subconscious do what it will with the racquet and the ball
      Jim

  • Gregg

    Reply Reply May 12, 2015

    You’re describing the occasional opponent who gets back shiots no matter how off-balance, pressures or fooled, regardless of bad bounces, and the ball comes back in a spot that is hard to handle. They always appear calm on the outside.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply May 12, 2015

      Gregg – key word is the appearance if not the internal awareness of “calm”
      Jim

  • Jeff S

    Reply Reply May 12, 2015

    Jim – Very interesting concept that I in part translate to predictable vs not, and proactive v reactive.

    On the tennis court I think that translates to “time.”

    When some thing or one is predictable I can proactively anticipate (predict) and give my self a little more time.

    When something is unpredictable I need to see, access and react all of which takes time away, makes me feel rushed.

    It can get even worse…. If I work harder to get a shot I prefer (ex; run around a back hand) then, rather than improvise and give my self a little extra time by hitting the backhand, I waste time running around it and end up rushing myself.

    Ah yes, the ultimate comedy of improvisation!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply May 12, 2015

      Jeff – thanks for this – in my neck of the woods it was Whitney Reed who was the master at improv
      Jim

  • Don McDonald

    Reply Reply May 12, 2015

    One of the best drills I know is simply to hit my strokes off the wrong foot. I almost never use it, but when I have, I have always played much better in the match that follows.

  • Robert

    Reply Reply May 12, 2015

    For me that unpredictable player I see is a a very experienced and previously well-coached guy who I rate at 5.0 for his command of every type of shot, his access to power, and his ability to make a winner out of just about any volley he can reach. He can power a del Potro style FH and a BH with real pace, but his next shot will be a FH chip slice with more side spin than most guys can see and handle, or a drop shot that dies in the service box. If you give him pace he lets the air out with a very tricky ball; if you give him anything that floats, it is coming back in a howitzer shell. It is very tough to try to run any kind of tactical sequence on him.

  • Carol

    Reply Reply May 12, 2015

    Wow! I totally agree with this! Just a couple of weeks ago I played a match and since I had been working on my two-handed backhand I was really looking forward and committed to hitting as many of these as I could. However, my opponent had other ideas and was making it very difficult. I had no choice but to “improvise” with my one handed backhand slice. I really believe if I had kept to my “script” of hitting just my 2 handed backhand, I would not have won that very close match. Keep up the great work!

  • Martin Hassner

    Reply Reply May 12, 2015

    Improv theater a clever – and helpful – analogy.
    None of the guys I play with are good enough to be that ‘mechanical’
    and they do return the favors as often as they receive them.
    But the point is well made even as we strive to be ‘perfect’ every time.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply May 12, 2015

      Martin – thanks, in some ways McEnroe may have been one of our best improvisers!
      Jim

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