In tennis, ‘transition game’ usually means shots from midcourt where you turn defense or neutrality into offense. You get a short ball and switch to the attack.
That’s not how I’m using the term here. I’m using it in this context: I’ve come to recognize a painful truth. I’m a very different player when I compete than when I practice:
- I feel like a tennis player when I’m just hitting balls, working on my game, doing drills and such.
- When I compete, I feel much more like a stumblebum. My feet tend not to end up where they’re supposed to and my strokes get tighter and less elegant.
If you were to ask me to give a number, I’d say my ‘compete game’ is about 60% of what my ‘practice game’ is.
It’s almost like I’m two different people out there. Dr. Jekyll, meet Mister Run-and-Hide-Under-a-Table-Somewhere-Because-Your-Performance-Is-So-Damn-Embarrassing …
The reasons for this discrepancy are pretty clear to me. They include things like anxiety about not being quick-footed enough to cover the whole court, having “don’t miss!” as my Prime Directive, and a chronic shortfall of cool, calm, and delight.
What to do about this ? What can I do to infiltrate my black-sheep compete game with my pride-of-the-family practice game? How can I perform a sort of corporate tennis takeover so that the two become merged in a good way?
This is where my notion of ‘transition game’ comes in.
I learned to swim in the following way. I was equipped with an inflatable vest, and as I progressed, air was taken out of it until eventually I was swimming entirely on my own. It was a sort of “learn to swim” sneak attack. I was taken into what seemed like a danger zone in a way that made it not seem dangerous.
I’m visualizing a similar ‘transition game’ to support my learning to compete as well as I practice. The progression would look like this for me:
- Warm up, just hitting practice balls in the usual way.
- Play points without keeping score — feed the ball from the hand, third ball in play, take it from there.
- Play points while keeping score, starting off by feeding the ball from the hand. No serving (yet)!
- The first to ten points wins.
My aim would be to do this until I can play points — meaningless points, the next thing to competition-free points — with as much freedom and clear focus as when I’m just rallying.
Next, transition to ten-pointers starting with the serve.
At this point, we’re not playing real matches, but we’re tiptoeing in that direction. The air’s coming out of the life vest.
From there, move on to the final destination — standard sets, in other words, the game structure that’s embedded in our brains under the adrenaline-inducing heading: “Now this is real competition!”
Baby steps, people — that’s the key. Letting the air out of the life vest bit by bit.
I’m going to give this approach a try over the next days and weeks ahead. I’m cautiously optimistic that it’ll help me overcome my fear of drowning when I compete.
Is your ‘compete game’ dramatically different from your ‘practice game?’ Do you perform better or worse when things get real?