Playing the Percentages

tennisI think of tennis as my sport. I love the dark green courts and crisply painted white lines. I love opening a new can of balls and hearing the sound of the built up pressure hissing out. I love to breathe in the smell of that fuzzy yellow ball and feel like I’m eight again, standing on a sun soaked court in my worn out Tretorns. And I’ve always loved the feeling of smacking that tennis ball as hard as I possibly can.

The problem is, as much as I love tennis, I always seem to leave the court drenched in sweat, rubbing either my back or shoulder, sometimes both, and shaking my head because yet again I’ve lost to a player I was sure I could beat.

“How does this woman or that hit those soft shots and continue to beat me?” I’ve asked coach after coach for years.

“Put more spin on your second serve.” “Get to the net sooner.” “Work on your consistency.” Are just a few of the advice catch phrases I’ve heard over the years.

Recently, a new pro offered something I hadn’t heard before, “60%,” he said. When I tilted my head in confusion, he clarified, but not much. “Just take something off the ball. Don’t go at it 100%. Just 60.”

“Ok,” I said with a smile, but was thinking Why would I go out on the court and half-ass it?  No way!

So I continued to go out and give it everything I had – 100% – leaving nothing behind and still leaving the court with my same old frustration due to another injury or loss.

And then I got it.

I was upstairs in the restaurant that sits above the tennis courts. From my bird’s eye view, two men were playing a singles match on the court below. I recognized the younger 20 something guy. He’s a power player with a huge serve and ripping ground stokes. His dad is a pro at the club. His opponent had to be well into his 60s. I wondered as I looked at the older man’s braced knee and taped wrist if he knew what he’d gotten himself into. “What a mismatch,” I said under my breath.

But to my surprise, I watched the younger man race all over the court, hitting every ball with all his strength, while the older gentleman utilized the younger man’s power, returning his shots with grace and ease, controlling the match and winning nearly every game. I realized what I was watching – a match between 60% and 100%. Guess who won?

The next day, I returned to the court a different player. I was focused and steady, hitting most of my shots cleanly and consistently and for the first time in years, I walked off the court without any pain, feeling like a winner.

Then an interesting thing happened. I got in my car and noticed I was driving more slowly and deliberately. I wasn’t trying to get to the kid’s school as fast as I could, pushing the speed limit, repeatedly checking the clock.  60%.  And while making dinner, I noticed I wasn’t rushing, grabbing food from the fridge while stirring onions and loading the dishwasher virtually all at the same time.  60%.  I didn’t try to carry two loads of laundry bigger than me or speed clean every room in the house. Even during yoga, I wasn’t pushing myself harder and deeper into every pose.

And I wondered Why had I been killing myself?  60% allows me to get the job done well, really well, maybe even better than my crazy, give it everything I have and then some 100%.

So, I think I’ll continue to give this 60% thing a try. Except…I’m definitely not sharing this one with the kids. I can already see it.  “But I did empty the dishwasher. That’s 60% empty.” “I did clean my room – that’s 60% clean.” No way.  This is one lesson I’m keeping to myself.