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Arias Tennis Wizard One

Playing Against People You Know Well

This lesson, on how to play tennis against people you know well, comes from Jim Grabb.  Below is a brief summary of some of Jim's tremendous  professional career highlights.

Sometimes the most difficult matches are the ones against the people you know best. Playing against someone you don't know is easy, there’s no personal baggage on the way in, and hopefully, if everyone behaves, none on the way out. But when you have to play against someone you know well, something seems to change. You tighten up, stress out, and forget how to do the things that are usually routine.

People you know well generally fall into one of two categories: those you like a lot and those you don't like a lot. If you don't play well against people you like a lot, you have to figure out what is making you play poorly. It might be that even though you are friends, certain parts of your relationship are, dare I say, competitive. If this is the case, recognize it, and move to the paragraph below on competing against people you don't like. If the "weird-competitive" thing is not what’s preventing you from playing well, however, consider the possibility that you are afraid of beating your friend because it could make her feel lousy. You’re lightening up, which means she might get a few more games and maybe even sneak out a win. But is that outcome fair to you? Equally important, is it fair to her? I remember once not bringing my "A-game" out to a match with a friend of mine. When he realized it, he went berserk. He wasn't out there just to win; he was out there to compete. And for the match to be of any use to him, he had to be able to get an honest, objective gauge of how his skills were progressing. By not playing hard, I was giving him a false sense of security. After that experience, I never let up again. Do your friends a favor, play as hard as you can. Both of you will benefit.

Playing against people you don't like is a bit trickier, but let’s try to demystify the experience. When the opponent is someone you don't like, you tend to press or push too hard. As a result, you get out of sync because you want to win so badly!  It might be a little more complicated than this, but the bottom line is that you are more worried than usual about the outcome. And the more worried you are about the outcome, the less able you are to focus on the present, which is when the important stuff is happening. When you realize that you’re out of sorts because you can't bear losing to "this jerk," it’s time to adopt the same remedy you would for choking, or losing your concentration: go back to the basics. Return to your personal remedies, the ones you know will get you back to your comfortable playing rhythm. Breathing is a good one for me. When I go "off," I try to concentrate on how I'm breathing. Just paying attention to it usually calms me down. Smiling seems to work also. Then I go to my physical keys. To make sure I serve well, I think "up." You might think "smooth tossing arm." I use "elbows in front" for the volley and "move forward" for my return. These are the keys to my game, the things that take my thoughts away from the outcome so that I can refocus on what I'm doing now. Take some time to figure out which keys work for you.

So the next time you’re worried about having to play someone you know well, take a bit of time beforehand to understand the dynamic. You might be ambivalent about winning, or you might be overly worried about winning. Whichever the case, go back to the basics, focusing on the things that will help you play your own game.

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