A core psychological issue keeps me from being my most uninhibited self on the tennis court. It revolves around fear of rejection by the group. It’s a deep and ancient issue for me — call it my personal demon.

If I could excise it — or, since we’re talking demons, exorcise it — that would open me to being all I can be on the tennis court. And that, for me, would be a beautiful thing.

But how to do it? How to exorcise the beast? And then I came up with an answer — and it was, of all things, a tennis answer. I resolved to visualize the tennis ball coming at me as the demon racing toward me with a ferocious face and its hair on fire.

Today, I gave it a try — and it worked!


I decided to name my demon “Wilson.” I did so for two reasons. First, that’s the type of ball we were using. Second, and conveniently, that’s the name Tom Hanks gave to his washed-up volleyball companion in the movie Cast Away.

Every time Wilson came at me, I gave him a good smack. I was reminded of the rather odd form of therapy that involves punching a pillow to express your anger at Mom, or Dad, or whoever your villain of the moment happens to be. I found myself swinging more vigorously, so much so that my practice partner noticed and commented on it from across the net. My anger — or maybe it was more moderate than that, more like a will to assert myself after decades of subjugation — made me more forceful and less laid back.

And a better tennis player.

Not only did I put more oomph into my swing, but I focused better on the ball. I wanted to catch that bad boy just right — I wanted each and every blow to sting. I wanted to convey in no uncertain terms that he was done, finished, kaput.

I wanted to excel at my chastisement.

How many swings does one take in 90 minutes? One thousand? Two thousand? That‘s how many times I swatted Wilson.

Beyond the comical nature of the exercise, and in total ignorance of whether it will actually produce the desired exorcism, I know this much: Today, it made me a better tennis player.

Do you know who your biggest, baddest demon is? Does it have a name? Might healthy violence like the violence in tennis help you exorcise it?

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