You‘re playing a match that you’ve gone into with a clear strategy. The competition sucks you in and when you emerge from the vortex, you realize that as things got hotter, you totally forgot about your strategy.
Sound familiar? Hell, I’ve even written instructions on my sweatband and forgotten they were there!
Why does this happen to us, over and over again?
Tennis drags you into what I call the Immediate Now. It’s where you go when your fight-or-flight instincts have been activated and you experience yourself as in a life-and-death struggle for survival.
When a guy comes at you with a knife, all you can see is that knife. All you can think about is staying alive. You‘re in the Immediate Now.
Tennis matches simulate fight-or-flight battles for survival. That’s what makes them so absorbing. They are battles to the death where the blood is only metaphorical. They‘re like medieval jousts, only without the horses and with rackets instead of lances.
You can’t strategize from inside the Immediate Now. Strategizing requires you to look at patterns and tendencies over time, and that can only be done from a hilltop above our survival-driven absorption in the present moment. This is why we forget about strategy in the heat of competition.
In order to stay strategic while competing, we need to duplex our consciousness so that it stays active both at the level of the Immediate Now and upmountain a piece, where we can think more strategically and inclusively.
This requires us to inhabit a paradox — we have to stay detached while also being fully engaged. We need to be here now, as the expression has it, while also maintaining a certain distance and perspective. This doesn‘t come naturally to most of us. But it‘s do-able.
A great time to bring your strategizing self back online is during the break to change court sides. There, at least theoretically, you have a chance to regroup, remember, and climb back up the mountain until the time comes for the next change of sides, and the next remembering.
But you have to remember to remember — and therein lies the challenge.
Do you get sucked into the Immediate Now in ways that don’t serve you? Do you use your capacity for different time perspectives to your strategic and emotional advantage?