A tennis pal of mine recently said he‘s looking for matches with “good players.” That got me wondering: How do I define ‘good player?’ Is it —

  • Someone who could or should beat me?
  • Someone with solid or enviable technique?
  • Someone who hits a big ball?
  • Someone who challenges me and is fun to play with even if I’m clearly the better player?

This isn‘t an idle question. How we answer it tells us a lot about our own tennis aspirations — about why we spend time on the tennis court. Do we want to be a better tennis player? A more elegant tennis player? A more powerful tennis player? Are fun and lifelong learning why I spend time on the tennis court?

Down which of these lanes do your tennis ambitions travel? To be better? More stylish? More powerful? To keep learning? Are there other definitions of ‘good player’ that work better for you? What does this tell you about who you want to be in your life?

Among other things, tennis is a dance — and it’s a dance that starts with the feet. Like many people, I tend to forget this. I focus on the ball coming at me, getting into position for it, and striking it well and correctly. That’s all good and necessary, but inside the busyness of all that, I tend to forget the power and importance of what I’ll call The Dance.

When I consciously decide to play from within the mental construct of ‘Dance with the ball, Carl,’ good things happen. My feet get more life in them — they become quicker, more engaged. My timing improves, as well it should — hey, I’m dancing! The aliveness tends to extend to my knees and above as well — I play with what the celebrity tennis coach Patrick Mouratouglou calls a “lower ceiling.”

Last but by no means least, I tend to have even more fun when I play. Of course I do! I’m dancing!

There’s another great reason to roll out the dancing carpet when you play. If you want to get into a groove — or flow, or the zone; call it what you will — entrainment helps enormously. And what is that? Here’s a fancy scientific definition: It’s a “temporal locking process in which one system’s motion or signal frequency entrains the frequency of another system. This process is a universal phenomenon that can be observed in physical (e.g., pendulum clocks) and biological systems (e.g., fireflies).”

When women who like each other and aren’t on the pill hang out together, their menstrual cycles tend to align — that’s a wonderful example of entrainment. They don’t decide to do it, it just happens.

When Sufi whirling dervishes do their thing, they’re consciously pursuing entrainment. Why? Because it takes them into an altered state — in their case, ecstatic transcendence.

Similarly for pursuing entrainment on the tennis court: When you get into that very special rhythm, or rather when that very special rhythm takes you over (you’ve been there, right?), it’s a magic carpet ride that can take you straight into the zone.

How aware are you of your twinkling (or less than twinkling) toes when you play? Do you consciously do The Dance? Do you practice the rhythm method? Is it something you might bring to the rest of your life, spiritually and metaphorically speaking?