My friend John Tashiro, a wonderful tennis player who trained seriously as a junior, told me a story about his Japanese coach that has stayed with me. The guy had him do drills until he was totally exhausted — and then made him keep going. At some point, he told John, “I want you to be smiling throughout this.”

He wasn’t a sadist — he was a teacher. For one thing, when you act like you’re fine, it boosts you energetically. ‘Fake it till you make it’ has some truth in it. For another, it gives you a psychological edge over your opponent. “Geez, I’ve had the guy on a string for three hours and he’s still smiling?”

I was reminded of the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who recommended consciously turning the corners of your lips into a smile. “It makes you happier,” he said, or something along those lines. “It gives you a more positive attitude.”

There’s science behind this as well as spirituality. From the website “Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate, a well-regarded pleasure-inducer, cannot match.”

Let a smile be your umbrella! And also your competitive advantage.

Do you wear a smile on the tennis court? Do you do it as a matter of principle, as a matter of commitment? Would you consider trying it? Do you think it might work off-court as well?

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