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Tennis Footwork - Doubles

Doubles -  A Finely Tuned Dance 

"Yellow Tennis Ball"

To be honest the yellow tennis ball has been a saving grace in my life.   In fact, the tenets of tennis  provided the essentials for building self confidence, persistence and success. In Junior High School,  I remember riding my bike too and from an elementary school to hit balls against a brick wall.  I played for fun in high school and then at the spry age of 45 picked the sport up again.  Only this time, I was serious, took lessons and joined leagues and USTA teams.  Of course, I enjoy being a captain of tennis squads and continue to do so to this day.  I am not one to just show up and play. I like the gritty, thick and thin of running a team though I can complain with passion now and then.  The skill of organizing and bringing people together over the yellow tennis ball is rewarding.  Leadership is at the core of tennis for me.  However, sometimes we must hand off the baton and let others make their stamp leading us to victory.  

The yellow ball can be a source of joy, frustration and a pathway to building connection and community.  I belong to a Pro Club/Medical, Bellevue, Washington  where tennis is only a piece of the club.  The rest of the facility is filled with amenities that make it a place of energy, friendship and laughter.  Yes, laughter.  The lunches that follow our rounds of tennis are built on solving all the worlds problems combined with serious belly laughs.   Even during our breaks in play, we find the humor.  We are lucky to hit with tennis players who have grown up from all parts of the world.  We realize that everyone is unique, we want the best in life, we want to succeed and love being a part of something involving a yellow ball and a racquet.  Do we all play at an equal level?  Well, no though that makes the game even more challenging and rewarding    Why does a little yellow ball mean so much to the young and old?

What are the Tenets of Tennis? 

First of all, some may say, "You play tennis everyday?"  "It is just tennis after all. Not solving the world order."  "Why do you care so much?"  Yet, is it really just tennis?  Why are so many addicted to the sport?  Tennis is definitely a mental and physical game with mental being the primary component.  Think of all the world leaders who engage in this sport besides the professionals.  They are there to win, to master and to overcome every shot.  Is it an easy sport?   No, not at all. Tennis is not for the feint of heart.  It takes literally years to put all the shots together, to hone your shots, read the opponents tennis racquet in play, know where to hit the ball and to keep it in the court.  Plus, if you play doubles, you need to learn the dance.  You need to know your job and communicate well with your partner.  What makes it so much satisfying and completely addictive?  

Let's break the game down into five rules of engagement.  Without getting into the actual how to play tennis, it is best to understand the core elements from my point of view that make the game a powerful metaphor for building a content and fulfilled life.

Doubles is a TEAM SPORT

I.  THE TEAM (There is no "I" in the word Team):  When playing doubles the most important component of the game with your partner and team members is the understanding that we are a team.   A team with individuals having a specific job on the court.  We each have our role and in order to win we must adhere to our roles.  As in life, many are looking to belong to something whether it is work, groups, sports or anything that brings people together.

With tennis we do not have cell phones available (though the Apple Watch can interfere) or head phones blocking our ability to communicate during play.  We communicate without interruption and this communication builds us up and helps create wins.   The connection between everyone keeps us coming back for more. We are fulfilled with the camaraderie during the play, breaks between points and ending with coffee or lunch.  We are building team synergy and friendships which is the essence of a team. 

In comparison, many today in the work force or in any daily event seem isolated fiddling with gadgets rather than being present in the moment.  They lack team mentality or engagement. How many times do you see groups with everyone on a cell phone? When you take away connection, you inevitable develop the mantra, "My way or the highway", "I am right and you are wrong" or "All about me."  The ability to have empathy is lost if no one is truly connecting.  I remember back in the day of my tech career, we each were in cubicles with walls or offices.  We worked hard, laughed, teased one another, went to lunch, were inseparable, had our own space for privacy and became the ultimate teams with a mission.  Which inspired key components of human daily of connection including communication and working together combined with a common mantra - "We are a one". We left each day fulfilled with all the human emotions of life similar to the game of tennis. Frustration, anger, joy, peace, mindfulness, thoughtful and kindness swirled reminding us we are alive and we are a part of a team.  Doubles tennis creates and demands connection and screams team first.  There is no "I" in team. 

"Make a Personal Commitment, Always Protect the Team"

"No Whining, No Complaining , No Excuses"

"Be Early" 

Pete Carrol - Coach Seattle Seahawks

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Friendship is the Back Bone of Doubles Tennis

II. Friendships Rule:  At the end of the day, the friendships you forge through tennis can be lifelong.  At my club as stated, we play tennis and end with coffee, tea, smoothie or a chat.  We foster a "club" atmosphere.  In fact, every Thursday we have lunch with former players who come to just visit and be a part of the tennis world.  Additionally, after each match we examine what we did right and what we need to work on.  In other words, we are always there for one another through the thick and thin of tennis and life. We also get to know our opponents and make new friends from other clubs that we will see again.

If you have only one select partner or maybe two in doubles tennis you can build harmony in your play.  Trial and error with shots and movements can be corrected and refined.  You know that both of you have each others back during play.  Similar to life with great friends.  They are always supporting you, lifting you up and wanting the best for you.  Jealousy isn't in the tennis friendship equation.   A tennis team can also build the same alliance when pairing with a variety of different tennis divas.  We practice together and breathe tennis.  This too creates a solid and winning team because of the support we give during our play.  Of course, we have matching outfits too.  Yes, like all team sports, we have a dress code.  I remember one team that wore all yellow.  They were called the Lemon Heads. I never forgot this team throughout my tennis career.  The Lemon Heads were winners and oozed a team vibe.

The end goal is always the same which is too build the team, build the friendship on the court and off.  If you can achieve this goal, you will be fulfilled, have connection with others and thrive together as a community.   After all, isn't friendship, connection and community what we crave?

"Some friendships make the perfect match" 

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Learn the Skill of Compromise!

III. Compromise is Key: When playing doubles tennis one learns the essence of compromise.  The ball isn't always yours in doubles.  Repeat - Not Yours!  You need to understand when to run and hit and when to let your partner get the ball and or set it up for them to put it away.  It depends on the angle and the shot.  If one constantly goes after every ball and it isn't coming to you, your partner will become irritated.  Why, because often errors happen and the point is lost. Team synergy is nowhere to be seen.  Doubles tennis is a well choreographed dance between two people who know which shot they own.  They know each others moves and are aware of them on the court.  In other words, team synergy is an unspoken agreement.

This same agreement occurs in a variety of situations of daily existence.  For instance, you need to wait your turn to talk in a group discussion and learn the skill of give and take.  If you just speak non-stop in groups or always want to be the center of attention, you will push people away.  No one ever likes a "no it all".   The art of being quiet  and giving someone else the floor spreads goodwill just as watching the yellow ball on the court with an eagle eye with sealed lips (except for simple communication) guarantees a win win atmosphere. The art of being quiet is essential in tennis during matches and in life situations.  The constant barrage of chatter breaks down concentration.  Are any of us perfect?  No.  Emotions set in and sometimes can run amok.  I know as I have been there.  More often, after a match or about the team.  This burst of emotion, which comes from passion, can be disruptive rather than fruitful.  Learning to sit on something before you say it is indeed an important skill.

1. Know your role and position.2. Understand give and take between points and in conversations.3. Acquiesce to someone else.  Share the spotlight. 

"I fear no one but respect everyone." Roger Federer

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Make Your Words Crystal Clear and with Grace

IV.  The Art of Team Communication:  In both doubles your style of communication is paramount. The verbal commands on the court include mine, got it, yours, short, up and back.  During warm ups or between points the verbiage is more in depth in analyzing the play of the opponents.  The symbiotic communication develops a strategic plan of attack prior to the match.  While playing a game, one needs to mentally not beat themselves up if they miss a shot.  Sometimes, you see players loudly exclaiming their disbelief with their error.  Or they will blame their partner.  If this happens discontentment is apparent during and after the match.  It is always best to focus on the positive, take a moment to understand the error in your head, correct it and move forward focusing on the "next point."  High five each other between points and if you win at the end, celebrate your victory.  Let any discussion on someones play wait until the after-hour time frame. 

Thus, in life learning the skill of clear and concise communication is imperative. Sometimes, more often than not when emotion comes into play reactions can be harsh.  This takes a lot of hand holding to correct the emotional or poor communication to others.   If we learn to take a deep breathe and keep our comments written or verbal quiet rather than going off the deep end, we may find our thoughts clearer and compelling.  Is it easy? No.  After all we are human and emotions run deep for everyone.  It is learning to still the mind's endless chatter that is at the crux of the matter. 

By the way, at the end of the match, project or group endeavor, laughter can provide a breathe of fresh air. Celebrate your accomplishments with kindness and bowls full of giggles.  Life is short.  Don't take everything too seriously! 

"Communicate in a respectful manner - don't just tell your team members what you want, but explain to them why."  Jeffrey Morales

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Competition - A Human Condition - Mind Set

V.  Competition:  Competition is healthy in any enterprise and especially in sports.  The extra adrenaline rush of wanting to win no matter what brings on the most incredible feelings of ecstasy when winning a point, game or match. Even if you lose but had long rallies, great shots and team balance with your partner, you both are elated.  You are growing and becoming a better team.  Yes, losing is not fun but it is a part of everyday life.  You don't always get picked, make the team, get the job or get an A.  What does this mean?  You must work harder, you must compete harder and find a way to get to the next level. 

Don't sweat the small stuff in a match or in life.  Easier said than done for sure.  With every match filled with competition, new skills, new tools all develop a new mindset for doubles.  Competition is the driver, execution is skill and winning is the icing on a cake.  Similarly, anything you achieve in life always has a spoonful of competition to aid pursuit and victory.  Think of interviewing for a job or anything where two or more people must compete to be selected.  The essence of competition makes one persistent, determined, prepared, work hard to achieve and basically unstoppable.  Drink competition up.  When you lose, don't beat yourself up.  Keep on going and learning.

Yes, the little yellow ball has a special magic for those of us who play the game of tennis.  The physical skills and mental challenges can easily be parlayed into daily life.  Team, friendship, compromise, communication and competition are entwined in everything we do.   If you are seeking out connection and community, pick up a tennis racket, start a new endeavor, maybe paint, take up yoga or anything that appeals.  The world is filled with opportunities and all we need to do is try and start.    Along the way, laugh, have fun and fill your world with light and happiness.  What are you waiting for?   The world is your oyster or maybe by chance it begins with a yellow tennis ball.

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence." Vince Lombardi

Be Kind. Be a Light. Be Thoughtful.

Cheers, Kim


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