I’ve been fascinated with Bruce Lee since I was a kid. I’m a bit young to remember The Green Hornet or other early movies of his, so I must have watched his appearances on variety shows (didn’t he have one himself?) and probably some competitions.
But one biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), stays with me.
I’m not a martial artist, but as an avid tennis player, I know what games my mind can play on me in competition. In Dragon, I recall hearing a quote or view from Lee that went something like, “Every point is a new opportunity to win.”
For some reason, I can’t find anywhere that he in fact ever said that, but to me, the idea is as good as gold.
It changed my tennis game, how I think about it and myself while competing. When I think I’m out of gas or will, I remember that line and that there’s always a reason to keep pushing, fighting or pursuing.
After all, it ain’t over till it’s over.
The outdoor tennis season is finally upon us, and I’m anticipating my competitive season. For the record, the word “competitive” is relative. I still pay to play, unlike pros such as Spain’s Rafael Nadal, Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Simona Halep of Romania and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
I’ve been warming up indoors, and now outdoors, the last several weeks – drilling and just hitting with other players.
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I find myself practicing as much in my head as on the court, envisioning points in singles or doubles – mostly singles, since the match is all on me.
- Will I be able to negotiate the court with good footwork?
- Will my serve hold up and be a reliable tool?
- Are my knees up to all the running, stopping and pivoting?
- What about my down-the-line forehand – can I get it around a player who’s 6″ taller than me and has the wing span of a 747?
In my head, I can.
And that’s what really matters. Regardless what the activity is – a tennis match, presentation, project or learning a new skill: when it’s showtime, having visualized it is half the work. If I’m going to try it at all, I need to be able to see it in my mind.
By then, enough of me will be convinced that it can be done, and that I am the one who can do it.
The rest – it’s just execution.
I’m an avid tennis player, and I like to work on my game whenever possible. So I practice. I drill. I play doubles and singles – anything to make me a more well-rounded player.
But like anyone who plays sports knows, the game can really get inside my head.
When it’s showtime – during a match – it’s really easy to get hung up on the last error I made. It happens to a lot of players.
Once we screw up, it’s like we can’t forgive ourselves fast enough to move on and play our best, even though, in Someone Famous’s words (Bruce Lee?), every new point is an opportunity to win.
The quote sounds trite, I know. But it completely turned my game around by helping me let go of the last point and move on.
Lucky for me as I get older, a concussion from my junior year in high school makes my short-term memory even shorter, so that’s pretty helpful too.
By the next point, that error is all behind me. Once that next serve crosses the net and kicks off a new point, I’m all there and ready to play, with bells on.
Lesson learned: Every first chance deserves another – in tennis and in life. We don’t always get it right the first time – or there’d be no need for a second serve, right?
So I’m vowing to go easier on myself and on others. We can all use a little a do-over now and then.