The Ugly House

A few weeks ago while jogging on a familiar street in our neighborhood, my head turned suddenly to catch sight of an ugly Double-wide mobile home, plopped caddy-corner on the lot. There was no siding on the house, and a flapping blue tarp was on the roof. Where, just days before there was a wooded lot, the trees were now pushed up into a heap behind the house. Since we had been getting rain here in North Carolina for months, the front yard was a big red muddy mess. “What an eyesore for the neighborhood”, went through my mind as I kept on running.

We’re all a Work in Progress! On or off the tennis courts.

Several days later I noticed the blue tarp was gone and a freshly shingled roof was in place. It was then I realized that somewhere, someone was looking at this lot and home very differently than I was the first time I traipsed by. No doubt they envision a plush green lawn, with flowers set in place; maybe some cedar shake siding and a sprawling wrap around porch. Another thought occurred to me later — perhaps inside this currently unattractive structure, is set up an immaculate home decorated with the latest and the greatest!

As tennis coaches we sometimes have players show up for lessons or join our school teams and we find ourselves viewing them as “an ugly house”. Perhaps they have very little athletic ability and struggle just to make contact with the ball. So often their focus is definitely not on the tennis court.

What does it take to flip the switch in our own mind’s eye to envision this player at a match, serving, placing balls where they want them to go and totally enjoying the sport? At what point do we disconnect our focus from perfecting their strokes, to helping them get the glimpse of what “the beautiful home” is going to look like and feel like?

“Mon, I’m ready for tennis!” Kate, Age 2

Our tennis players may show up to practice or lessons, and compare themselves to better players on the team or in the clinic, viewing themselves as the “ugly house”. I’ll never forget a doubles match I was playing in with some ladies that were much more experienced than I was myself. I came onto the court with this apprehension all bundled up inside me, comparing my shots to their’s, worrying about what they were going to think or say about my level of play. After we lost the first game, due to my errors, I just asked myself the question, “Why am I comparing myself to them? They get up and put their panties on just like I do. Just hit your shots, Flo.” No more games were lost in the match, due to my errors, and we won!

All it takes is a snap-shot view, with a little imagination. Each time I run by the Ugly House now, I can see this home, no longer on wheels, but with a solid brick foundation, an award winning yard and kids romping in the grass. Coaches, let’s take time to get a glimpse and share the vision!

Connecting the Dots With Phoebe

Phoebe, who is 8 years old, walked onto the court last Saturday for the first time and her body language said to me, “I do not want to be here today. But they made me come. I don’t plan to participate or have fun. I’m only here because they signed me up.” Her twin sister, Faith, who is a bubbly, energetic little girl, came last week for the first time by herself and left with the tennis fever! She walked on the courts today with confidence and a big smile.

Faith helped Phoebe through the warmup session, kindly showing her how to do the Weave first, then the Hop, the Shuffle and lastly the 5 Step Drop with a Split Stop. Her gentle helpfulness carried on into the introduction of the forehand shot. I soon realized that all week long, Faith had been practicing at home. I wasn’t sure how much she had tried to share with Phoebe, but I heard enough to know that some work had been done to get Phoebe on the courts today.

Phoebe’s head continued to hang as she attempted to make connection with the ball, but with little success. When it was Faith’s turn, she stepped up with a readiness to learn. She was having remarkable success, considering this was only her second time on the courts! It was a rather hot afternoon, and Faith asked to take a water break. Phoebe stepped up for her turn again to attempt her forehand shot. Before she swung, she looked at me and said, “Do you know who’s the number one tennis player in the world?” I hesitated to answer, wondering if I should ask did she mean, male or female. I decided just to go for it, and we both said at the same time, “Serena Williams!”

This really sat me down in my chair!  This girl, who I thought didn’t have one bit of interest in tennis, knows who Serena Williams is!  Amazing!  My next question to her is, “Do you watch Serena play?” Her eyes have lit up and there’s a big smile on her face. She commences to tell me that she is her favorite player and she loves to watch her play.  She tells me quite a few things about Serena, one being that she was born in Michigan, but she got hung up on what city it was. “I actually wrote a book about Serena” she said. Well, Blow Me Down, I thought!  Let’s just use some imagination here and see what happens.

“That’s really awesome, Phoebe. Let’s pretend we’re Serena. Watch this shot really closely. Look at how I do this,” I said to her. In slow motion, I showed her a forehand shot, smoothly sending the ball over the net with about 6 inches clearance, landing in the singles, cross-court. Up to this point, if any of Phoebe’s shots went over the net, they were definitely moon balls and most didn’t land in the green court on the other side.

I reminded her again how to hold her racquet with a 20 degree angle, to step with her left foot, draw the C, and follow through over her shoulder. And then I said, “remember what that shot looked like I just showed you and try to make it look like that.” The first 3 shots were not successful. But the 4th shot she hit smoothly, sailing it over the net with 6-8 inches clearance, and into the singles, cross-court!  I turned and looked back at her. She had amazement written all over her face. Something had just happened in this little girl. Through the use of imagination and concentration she did what she didn’t believe she had the ability to do!

During this entire event, Faith was getting a drink of water and socializing with what was happening on the other court. When she returned, I sensed that Phoebe wanted so badly to share with Faith what had just happened.  I wished I could push the replay button for her on a video. However, I saw a marked change in her confidence and self-esteem from that point on. When asked at the end of the lesson, “Did you like it?” I saw a big smile and heard a hearty, “YES!” The next question was, “Do you want to come back next week?” Another big, “YES!” She too has caught the Tennis Fever.  And I have discovered it’s all about CONNECTING THE DOTS with kids.  This makes my heart happy today!