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?

I recently started teaching tennis at a nearby adult-getaway tennis camp. I’m feeling my way into the work, and I’ve noted some good things and some bad things about my level. I know the game and I have, I believe, an interesting take on it — that’s a positive. As for the negatives, I seem to be distressingly impaired at two things — remembering my students’ names, and keeping score when I’m on the sidelines coaching my four students. 

With my most recent group, these shortcomings were downright embarrassing. We started at 8:30 in the morning and at 11:30 I was still calling Jason “Brian.” As for my scorekeeping, it was so appalling that I couldn’t keep thoughts like this one from scrolling through my brain: “They’re thinking, ‘This guy is showing his age.'”

I drove home pissed off at myself and resolved to do something about it. I bought two mechanical counters for keeping score (still gotta figure out if I can use them while holding a racket and feeding balls!), and I also decided to write my students’ names down on a Post-It note and somehow attach it to my sweatband until I was quite sure who was whom.

Actions taken! Good for you, Carl! But I still felt ashamed.

And so the next day, when our next session started, I found myself talking about my embarrassment and sharing my resolve to do better. I had their names down by now, so that was history, but the first time I called Jayson ‘Jayson,’ he shook his head and said with a straight face, “It’s Brian.” My heart sank — and then I realized he was ribbing me. We agreed to go with “Melvin” from that point forward.

As for the scorekeeping, I definitely did better on Day Two, but there is still progress to be made.

My point, though, is how good it felt to share my embarrassment. It worked, I think, because I did it with bemusement and humor I didn’t ‘leak’ from a place of cringe-y weakness. I laughed, and they laughed too, and then it was over and no longer a shadow over my time with them.

I find it so easy and so healing to share embarrassing feelings that I am continually bewildered by peoples’ inability or unwillingness to do the same. It’s my take that most people who feel bad about something they’ve done try to squash it rather than bring it out into community. This is what a culture of shaming will do to a person, and it’s why I find my willingness to bring my deficiencies and self-doubts into the light not only a step in the direction of personal health and well-being, but also a political act. I’m modeling a better way to be in the face of a culture that says, “Don’t do it!”

Do you suppress the embarrassing stuff or do you bring it out into community? What has your experience been if you’ve done the latter?

When I play a match against someone whose game I’m familiar with, I go out with expectations.

“I should beat this guy two and three.”

“I’ll be lucky if I get to four and four.”

And so on.

It’s my version of what Gambling World calls the over-under: “A bet on whether the outcome of an event will be above or below a number established in advance by the bookmaker.” It doesn’t thrill me that I do this, and it thrills me even less that it feels damn near as difficult to avoid as breathing. It’s a hardwired exercise in hierarchical thinking: Where do I fit in? And, more finely-grained still: Is where I believe I fit in where I actually fit in?

As mammals, our social world is inherently hierarchical. We are wired to know who’s above and who’s below.

As conscious beings, we are endowed with the capacity to override this. Most of us have access to an inner world where we’re all equal. The biblical maxims “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “the meek shall inherit the earth” invite us to take up residence there.

Much of the political strife in the world is between advocates of these two camps. Consider our changing attitudes toward people with disabilities. People used to say about a person in a wheelchair, “He’s a cripple.” The current “he’s disabled” is kinder, gentler, less dismissive, and more fundamentally egalitarian and non-hierarchical. This suggests that the arc of progress is taking us in a good direction.

Like most of us, I straddle both worlds. I aspire to respect and appreciate all people equally, and I am also wired for hierarchy. For me, this isn’t an “equality good, hierarchy bad” situation. We need standards in this crazy world of ours, and standards are inherently hierarchical. But we can overdo hierarchy or embrace it for the wrong reasons (think mocking the disabled), and we can also overdo the open-hearted “we’re all created equal” thing — the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche coined the term “idiot compassion” to describe wretched excess in that direction.

To put it in plain English, you can be a hierarchical ass, and you can be an egalitarian ass, too. How do you not fall prey to either of these traps? The best answer I can come up with is this: Whichever aspect of yourself you embrace in any given moment, take care to do so for the right reason. and that is — to bring more of the Big Three (truth, beauty, justice) into the world.

Playing the over-under game on the tennis court is, for me, a vestigial hierarchical tic. It’s silly, it’s stupid, and it’s counter-productive. It sets me up for shame and it sets me up for vanity. Either way, I lose.

This isn’t the only problem with the over-under game. Life is alive, fluid, always in motion. It’s lived moment by moment, point by point. We thrive the most — we live most deeply — when we engage that reality fully. The over-under game pushes us away from that. It turns ourselves and our opponents into concepts, into notions, who are fixed in time and fixed in ability. It concretizes us — and I, for one, am not into concrete, whether it’s concrete boots or all of me.

I don’t believe I’ll ever get that bookmaker entirely out of my mind. Maybe, over time, I can grind him down, though.

Do you play tennis matches with ‘over-under’ in your mind? How much hierarchical thinking do you bring into your transactions with other people, and do you do so in a way that makes the world a better or a worse place?

I had a pretty wild vision the other night. I was listening to a brain-entrainment program from IAwake Technologies, and as it was doing its thing, feeding my hemispheres with specialized brainwaves, an immensely clear understanding announced itself to me. I saw our normal selves, our normal egos, as — cue the wordplay — a many-storied house.

‘Many-storied’ as in, floors of a house, and ‘many-storied’ as in, ‘many narratives’ — as in, the skins of an onion.

To elaborate: As we grow and evolve through our life, it is in our nature to develop new stories. A typical progression for a straight man in our culture might look like this:

  • “The world revolves around me’ becomes ‘the world revolves around my family.”
  • “I want to ‘score’ with as many women as I can” becomes ‘I want to love one woman as well as I can.”

And so on.

Sometimes these narratives evolve in a healthy direction, i.e., toward wisdom. Sometimes they spiral in the opposite direction (think of the cranky old man shouting, “Get off my lawn!”). Sometimes the new narratives go neither up nor down but stay relatively flat and bite, so to speak, their own tail.

Now imagine a house of virtually infinite stories that keeps climbing upward toward forever. This is who we are as we navigate this weird mystery called life. Wise, foolish, or indifferent, every one of these stories has something in common — they all are explanations that our minds, which specialize in making meaning, come up with to explain what we’re experiencing.

And enlightenment? That’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the One True Reality that exists out there in the gloaming beyond our house of many stories. As best as I can make out — in other words, it’s my best current story — the only way to achieve enlightenment is by having the roof blow off that many-storied house of ours.

Enlightenment is ultimately physical and energetic. It is, in other words, an embodied experience. You can’t think your way to enlightenment. Thinking only adds another story to that never-ending house climbing upward toward the stars.

This is why some Eastern traditions integrate kundalini energy into their pathway to enlightenment. Kundalini is a latent energy that exists at the base of the spine that, when released, uncoils up it like a snake and then blows up and out the brain.

A full release of kundalini isn’t for everyone. It’s too intense — for people who aren’t psychologically ready for it, it can take them into delusion and psychosis. But for those who are ready, it can take them from explaining the nature of reality to experiencing it directly, at the cellular level.

And that, my friends, takes you into enlightenment.

IAwake Technologies (now available at your friendly Tennis for Good shop page!) has a kundalini rising program that I plan to try soon. At the age of 73, I’ve climbed a lot of stories in my many-storied house, but I know all too well that there’s still a roof over my head. I look forward to doing kundalini work with an admixture of eagerness and dread. Frankly, I’m not sure I want it to succeed. When your house explodes, it’s a form of death, and even though it will be a good death, no one looks forward to dying.

Now let’s bring this meditation around to tennis. When you’re in the Zone, you’re experiencing the tennis equivalent of enlightenment. You’ve spent your life having other people tell you — and telling yourself — how to be a better tennis player. You have all sorts of stories about how to perform at your very best.

“Racket back early!”

“Quick feet!”

“Still center!”

And so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

This is your tennis house of many stories. None of that will get you in the Zone. And neither will kundalini rising. So how do we explode the roof off the many-storied house of our tennis game and achieve Zone enlightenment? Here’s the good news — there are techniques for doing it. My friend Scott Ford actually teaches this — his book Welcome to the Zone (available soon on your friendly Tennis for Good shop page!) lays it out for you, yellow brick by yellow brick, fuzzy yellow ball by fuzzy yellow ball.

If you do the work, the reward awaits you. Not that there any guarantees: As Adyashanti notes in the attaached quote, achieving enlightenment is an act of grace, but you prepare for it by doing what he calls ‘inquiry.’ What he’s saying: If you prepare the table, the divine just might stop by for dinner.

Similarly with tennis: Do the work, and the Zone may decide (and will decide, if Scott is right, as I believe he is) to pay a visit.

Is enlightenment a subject of interest for you? Do you believe it’s reserved for a special or ‘elect’ class or can normies get there, too?

I had a bad day at the tennis office yesterday morning — and it felt great.

I’ve been working on playing more freely when I compete. You may recognize yourself in this: I tend to get tight and play conservatively in matches. When I do go for it, because I’m tight, I muscle up and often miss for that reason.

I usually play ten-pointers with my practice partner Jim. Before we started yesterday, I announced, “I don’t care if I lose love, love, love, love and love today. I’ve got to learn to hit out, and today I’ll be working on that.”

The first two ten-pointers weren’t close. He wasn’t missing and I was. Then I scraped one out, but mostly because he started missing. I was still at ‘4’ on a scale of one to ten.

Before we started our fourth round, I called him up to the net and said, “You remember what I said about not caring if I lose to you badly? I was only kidding. You know why? Because losing badly brings out my deepest fear. It comes from my childhood when I was two years younger than my classmates and always concerned that I wasn’t welcome. I’m afraid you won’t want to play with me.”

“I have the same issue, too,” Jim said. “And I will want to play with you.”

Being able to say that to him, combined with his receiving it so graciously, turned a corner for me. Although I was still executing badly, now it felt like I had my sights set on a target that, if I hit it, could help me meet the challenge I’d set for myself. It was suddenly clear to me that if I could overcome this ancient insecurity, I’d be much better able to hit freely under pressure.
“If I miss, you won’t want to play with me.”

That was my demon, my inner little devil. It’s bigger than my fear of losing. Paper wins out over rock — ostracism wins out over mere defeat.

It felt like I was aiming, at last, at the heart of darkness.

You may be familiar with the metaphor. It’s the title of one of Joseph Conrad’s most famous books and the theme of Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary movie, Apocalypse Now. It’s also the central theme of every story about the harrowing of hell, whether it’s told by Dante or the folks who wrote the Bible.

The basic principle is this: You’ve got to go down before you can go up. You’ve got to die to be reborn. You have to plunge into the heart of darkness before you can be fully present to the light.

I finished the practice session feeling much more squared away and confident about my ability to make the breakthrough I’ve been striving for. Although I felt off my game till the very end, it felt like I’d emerged with a really big win — I’d found the courage to confront my Demon King head-on.

Our demons don’t die easily. But they will if we keep confronting them — if we stay focused and persist.

What is your biggest demon on the tennis court? How about off it? Have you mustered the courage to confront it?

You’re probably familiar with the standard operating procedure for tennis clinics. If it’s for beginners, the teacher feeds balls, keeps the energy level high, and — if they’re doing their job — provides individual feedback. With more advanced students, they typically focus on strategy with the occasional personal tip.

This approach, while familiar, fun, and reasonably effective, overlooks an important aspect of group activities — entrainment. In community, people can tune into each other energetically and start inhabiting a sort of group intelligence that enhances individual performance and, often, teamwork as well:

  • Navy Seals are more than big-muscled sharpshooters with balls of steel. They receive intense training in entrainment. A Navy Seal team on a mission is a case study in the best sort of group-think. This is one of the main reasons they’re so good at what they do. Because each individual is a single cell in a collective multi-celled intelligence — think an ant colony with a really, really high IQ — their ability to read and react to their environment can become so enhanced that it seems straight out of The Matrix.
  • It’s not just the military that’s mastered group flow. Churches have been doing it for centuries. Those Baptist revival meetings? Speaking in tongues? That’s group flow, people, experienced as ecstasy.
  • And meanwhile, on the secular side, we have raves and trance dancing.

In terms of brain function, what happens when entrainment occurs is that the frontal cortex shuts down — it’s called transient hypofrontality — and the rest of the brain takes over. Processing speeds increase by orders of magnitude when this happens. This takes us into a state called flow (basically, our peak-performance self), the apex of which is the Zone.

The famous Zone, the beautiful Zone.

Entrainment can also happen on the tennis court. A person can self-entrain simply by being in dynamic, unencumbered relationship with the ball and the beautiful rhythms of the game. But we can also entrain with others. This is where group entrainment come in. When this happens, you become part of a rising community tide that lifts everybody in it.

The result: The potential for an ecstatic community experience (think Baptists and ravers) along with dramatically enhanced performance (think taking out bin Laden) — along with a deep and abiding soul-lesson about how good it is to be in flow.

Seems like quite a payoff, right? So why are the principles of flow and group entrainment not currently brought into tennis clinics? There’s a simple explanation, I think. The prevailing attitude is, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Which is true enough — but it’s also created a kind of stuckness.

There’s a lot more out there, tennis teachers, than is dreamt of in your clinics.

In a recent meditation, I wrote about the difference between Tier One and Tier Two coaching. Tier One coaching is ‘flat.’ The student receives instructions and does their best to implement them. Tier Two coaching brings three-dimensionality into the equation. It does so by asking the student to note the quality of their mental operations — it invites them to get better by also observing the observer. And so the Tier Two coach invites their student to run experiments with their attention. For instance, “What happens when you watch the ball with soft eyes?” Or: “What happens when you focus on footwork and the rhythms of the game?”

A Tier Two clinic would have all the group members focus on the same thing collectively:

  • “Today, we’re all going to focus on exhaling loudly when we strike.”
  • “Today, we’re all going to focus on swinging freely, not hard. “
  • “Today, we’re all going to work on keeping what the French coach Patrick Mouratouglou calls a ‘low ceiling.'”

When you have a shared intention, a shared object of attention, and a shared activity, that’s how you create entrainment and group flow, with all the attendant benefits.

I’m not out on the court running clinics, so at this point this concept is only theoretical. I’m quite sure, though, that, in addition to being heaps of fun — there is such a thing as community ecstasy — clinics built along these lines would pay big performance dividends.

How often have you experienced group flow and entrainment? Was it magical for you? Do you seek it out consciously?

I’m not a big Facebook fan — in fact, I’ve avoided it with a passion for much of the last decade. It was my love of tennis, along with the desire to share my views about the game, that inspired me to grit my teeth and cross the line that for years kept me clear of the “madness of crowds” that seems to be a feature, not a bug, of social media. Yet here I am, active on Facebook as the admin of my own group.

Why did I duck-and-cover when it came to social media? For two reasons, really: Because the virtual nature of the interactions makes it so easy for people to behave badly, and because it easily degrades into the worst sort of us-versus-them tribalism. “We’re wonderful and they’re terrible” — that’s the social media song of the day, and the week, and the year, and perhaps (but I hope not) forever.

My immersion in tennis-focused Facebook groups has helped me find the positive in social media. Dozens of countries are represented among the members of my Facebook group. I’ve seen pictures of tennis courts carved out of savannah, tennis courts surrounded by palm trees, tennis courts that are little more than a patch of dirt with lines drawn on it. It’s a beautiful thing, how the love of tennis shows up around the world.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize from my immersion in tennis social media: We tennis players are a tribe, but we’re a tribe with a difference. The vast majority of tribes define themselves in part by what they’re not. “I’m Jewish, not Christian.” “I’m Black, not White.” “I’m a Tottenham Hotspurs fan, not a Manchester United fan.” And so on.

Our tennis tribe is different. We’re joined by a common interest — tennis — and by a shared sentiment — love of the game. We don’t self-define through differentiation. “I’m a tennis guy, not a cricket guy” — you won’t hear that sort of thing because that’s not how we roll. There is no “other” in the tribe of tennis.

In fact, our shared love of the game overrides all the differences — and distrust, and hostility — that might arise if we got into the nitty-gritty about our other tribal identifications. When you look at a photo of a smiling person holding a tennis racket, do you care that they’re not your ethnicity or perhaps not your religion? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. It’s probably just a happy face to you, and a member of your global tennis family.

Which brings me to my final point. If you were to take a 30,000-foot view of life on this planet, you’d see an endless swarm of tribal rivalries — nation against nation, religion against religion, ethnicity against ethnicity, and so on. We put the vast majority of our attention on our differences, yet beneath it all, we are all members of the same human family with the same needs, the same longings, the same pains, and the same pleasures.

We are, in fact, a single tribe, a fact that frequently goes unrecognized.

I am a “universalist” down to the core of my being. I believe we should be focusing on what makes us similar, not on what makes us different. Down the one path lies connection and community — down the other, hostility and competition.

Our tribe of tennis is a single, universal “us” — and, even better, in this time of climate change when widespread global consciousness is so imperative, it is a single, universal, global us.
We are a role model for how a tribe can be a force for better in the world. We model love, delight and co-learning without the need to scapegoat or vilify. We model love without hate, “yes” without “no.”

Something beautiful is happening here. The game of tennis is truly remarkable.

Thank you for being part of the tribe called tennis!

On the court and in your life, are you attuned more to similarities or to differences?

Christian Eubanks in a 6’7″ beanpole out of Georgia Tech who’s been an ATP second-stringer since he turned pro in 2017. He always had a big game and all the tools, but he was the sort of player you’d see at Challenger events and the qualies for ATP events, and you’d wonder why he wasn’t doing better.

This year, he’s finally put it all together. He just won his first ATP event and he’s gotten to the third round at Wimbledon, where his match is currently on rain delay. His ranking has climbed from its usual place in the low 100’s to #43.

He was interviewed on The Tennis Channel last night about his success, and this is what he said: “I’ve started paying attention to the little things. You know, things like seeing my physio even if I’m not hurting, getting enough sleep, making sure I eat a serving of protein fifteen minutes after I play or work out.”

That’s all it took! Tightening the bolts at the edges has been enough to lift Christian Eubanks from also-ran status to the heart of the ATP big-time.

Now let’s turn to Exhibit B, also known as — moi. I got a test result recently that suggests I’m considerably more at risk for heart problems than I’d imagined. My situation needn’t affect the quality or length of my life, but I’ll have to manage the situation — this isn’t something I can blink at.

This unexpected news has done unto me what the desire to achieve his full potential appears to have done unto Christian Eubanks — it’s caused me to ‘tighten my bolts at the edges.’ What I need to do, so far as I understand it, is give my heart lots of healthy exercise while also keeping inflammation at a minimum, and so I’m doing things like the following:

  • I have a home infrared sauna — I’m trying to use it 4-5 times a week instead of the previous ‘when I’m in the mood for it.’
  • I also own a pulsed electromagnetic frequence (PEMF) machine (yes, I’m into wellness gadgets!). These scientifically-proven devices reduce inflammation and improve cardiac performance — I’m now using it daily rather than ‘when I find the time for it.’
  • When I play tennis, I’m tracking my heart rate with a Fitbit. I now have two parallel goals when I play — hit the ball in the sweet spot on the racket, and keep my heart rate in the 110-130 BPM sweet spot when I play. This translates into small changes like staying on my feet and maybe even bouncing around a bit when my partners take between-game breaks.
  • Zero gluten, zero sweets — we’ll see how long these dietary commitments last!

It’s actually been fun doing these things. It’s required some reprioritizing (a lot less goofing off, a bit less getting-other-stuff-done), but there’s been a huge payoff not only in terms of feeling good about my self-care, but because it’s taken the lazy out of my game, and that is inherently gratifying.

It’s easy to slack off without really realizing that you’re doing it. This is what Christian Eubanks realized, and the insight has brought him a top-50 ranking. It’s what I’ve realized, too, and I’m hoping that it brings me another 20 years-plus of healthy, active life.

How tight is your game at the edges?

I learned about a specialized form of chiropractic medicine recently. It focuses on the C1 vertebra, which is the one closest to the skull, and it’s called Atlas Orthogonal because, well:

  • Orthogonal is a synonym for perpendicular — unless you get that C1 bad boy properly aligned, all kinds of problems can ensue. For instance, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid can be affected.
  • Atlas because that’s the dude out of Greek mythology who was condemned to hold up the universe forever — and the C1 holds up our head, which is our personal equivalent.

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to flip that image onto its, er, head when I step out onto the tennis court. Basically, I try to visualize the head as the axis on which my body rests and around which my body turns. Think ‘upside-down Atlas’ … everything reversed.

Obviously, I don’t want the head to stay perfectly still. It needs to pivot left and right on groundstrokes and volleys, and to tilt on overheads and serves. I don’t want my head getting in the way, though, and it’s very easy to let that happen. Among my sins: Excessive bobbing when I move, leading with my head when I strike, and trying to supply power by jerking my head when I want to really let ‘er rip.

I’ll leave it to the great philosophers to decide if I have special problems with my head on the tennis court because I tend to be in my head so much. For now, let’s leave it at this: You want your head to be the captain of your tennis ship, both mentally and technically, and this means being both unflappable, which is inner-game stuff, and physically calm, controlled and on the level, which delivers a huge technical edge.

It’s certainly true for me that I play decidedly better when I focus on my head, specifically on things like:

  • Launching my serve by turning my head.
  • Doing a sort of two-step on groundstrokes — first pivot my body, then turn my head so I’ve really zoomed on on the point of contact.
  • On all my strokes, keeping my head still and pivoting around it with my body when I swing, i.e., head as upside-down Atlas.
  • Keeping my head as level as possible when I run.

In football, a weakness of quarterbacks is what’s called ‘happy feet.’ It’s a sign of nervousness about getting hit. There isn’t a term in tennis called ‘happy head,’ but there should be. I see it on the court all the time, and I’m a perp, for sure. It’s a telltale sign that my head gets ‘happier’ when I compete. It’s a sign of stress and a big reason why I unnderperform by my personal lights.

Still head, still core, quick appendages and extremities — that’s the ticket. It’s the tennis ticket, and it’s also, as it happens, the martial arts ticket — still head, still spiritual center deep in the gut, and quick-quick-quick at reading and reacting.

Here, again, the two sports meet and marry.

One of the main reasons Roger Federer was so gorgeous to watch, especially in his later years, was because he kept his head so level. His head was the axis upon which his tennis world turned.

Jack Nicklaus’s quote about golf is also true for tennis. So pity — and applaud! — us poor tennis players. Because we have to do it while we’re running.

How level do you keep your head when you play tennis? How level a head do you keep in the rest of your life?

When I go for a drop shot in a match, I invariably undercook some and hit them into the net. That‘s a double sin to me — I should at least make my opponent hit it.

When I feed a ball between points to the doubles player who’s at the net, I never hit the ball into the net. NEVER. The odds of my hitting it directly into their pocket feel roughly equal to the odds of my plopping it into the net.

The difference is striking, and extraordinary. How can I hit such feeble ‘real’ drop shots yet feed the ball to within a foot or two of the ideal drop shot landing place pretty much every time?

I‘ve identified three reasons.

First, playing a ball that my opponent just hit at me is more difficult than hitting a ball off my own toss.

Second, the fact that ‘real’ drop shots have consequences makes it harder to execute them at a high level.

Third — and now I come to the heart of this meditation — I have a living, breathing human target when I feed the ball between points. When I hit a drop shot in a match, I’m aiming at empty space — and this, for me, seems to make a huge difference.

This isn’t the only situation where I find aiming at empty space more challenging than hitting to a person. Let‘s say I‘m playing singles and serving to the ad court. I hit a good kick serve that pulls my opponent wide. He chips it back short to my forehand. It’s my point to win or lose. All I need to do is finish with my forehand.

Welcome to Carl’s Confession Hour: I tend to miss that shot too much. Over time, I’ve concluded that my discomfort with hitting into space is the main reason why. If you were to set up a person like a bowling pin in the bull’s-eye of that empty space, I’d have a better success rate.

This has been confirmed by trial-and-error. I do better when I visualize an imaginary ally in the open space I’m aiming for. It feels more inviting … easier.

The reason for this may have to do with my feelings about solitude and community. But that is an aside. The main takeaways here are two:

  • You can use your imagination to your advantage on the tennis court.
  • Visualizing an imaginary ally instead of empty space may help you play better, just as it appears to be helping me.

Inserting an imaginary ally can be useful in off-court situations, too. Let’s say you‘re squabbling with your spouse. By imagining that you’re talking with their best version, not the jerk who’s annoying the hell out of you right now, it might help you navigate the spat with more ease and kindness.

Do you see yourself as a people person? If so, does that help or hinder you on the tennis court, and why? Would you benefit from partnering with imaginary allies, either on the court or elsewhere?