I would think by this time I might have gotten the hang of this thing called tennis lessons. I have been taking them almost 50 years! But no, I still get annoyed, still do the same wrong things after all these years. And I should know all this.

My challenge is: how to learn and improve when you “know everything already”? How do I just be “in the moment” and play, just play… and leave my ego at the door? Leave it where exactly?

A typical day in tennis camp goes as follows: the pro asks if my husband and I play together, and my husband hurriedly replies, “my wife is about 3 levels above me.” The pro usually looks a bit shocked and then asks about my playing ability. I attempt to say something honest but modest, such as “I was a ranked junior, played in college, and now I’m an old, creaky, middle-aged woman who plays for fun.”

During a private lesson with a 25-year-old pro, I asked for help on my serve.  The pro took a picture of my faulty serve and explained my problem, trying to be empathic. But I already know everything he is telling me. I was a tennis pro for 10 years for goodness sake! I tell myself to calm down, and remember that the main reason I am here is to learn some new habits to prolong my tennis career and have some fun.

I need to lighten up. Let me try some self-coaching, since I AM a coach: Why am I being so hard on myself? What is the should? I should know how to hit a serve after 50 years!

OK, so how about a new should? Maybe I don’t know everything… maybe learning something new might simply be fun, and re-energize my game and my passion for it. Maybe the real should is: I should try to adopt the beginner mind. I am doing exactly the opposite of what I advise my own clients: if you are compassionate towards yourself, you can learn anything. But, when you are expert-level and the tennis pro who is telling you what to do is a 25-year-old “kid,” my own expert ego gets in the way.

The book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” The book talks about how hard it is to keep our mind pure and open. Since I am not attaining enlightenment anytime soon, I need to explore new ways to think about learning, though I am very knowledgeable.

As my shoulders started to droop, the “kid” tennis pro said, “One small change can make a BIG difference. BIG!” He gave me a few tweaks: hold my left arm up longer when my right arm is hitting a volley, which will give me more power and control. And keep moving my feet and step into volleys otherwise, the ball is playing me. I try these two little changes and my volleys improved immediately. Hmmmmmm…?

Maybe for me, the beginner’s mindset is believing that there are small changes I can make which will have a big impact. Instead of beating myself up for an unrealistic “Buddhist standard,” I can start looking for minor adjustments that will make playing easier on my body and more enjoyable.

I wake up the next day with enthusiasm, vowing to focus on enjoying the game with more self-compassion, and see if I can learn a few new tricks.

On Day Two of camp, Martin, a pro from Western Canada, wanted us to  experiment with finding the openings to hit the ball past the players at the net, telling us to get nasty!  Finally, a place where I can play hard and take out my aggressions—and won’t get complaints! 

At the end of the morning, I had another private lesson with my “kid” pro, Rodrigo from Brazil. I worked on my serve and volley again. Rodrigo noted that my serve had improved within 24 hours! This reminds me the clear advantage older and experienced people have in learning new things—they can assimilate and change faster if they are self-compassionate and open to it. I feel so energized by Rodrigo’s feedback and see that my serve and volley have improved just from two days of practice and instruction!

I don’t know if I will ever master the beginner’s mind, but I have not become an old stubborn know-it-all who can’t learn new things. I made a couple of tiny adjustments to my tennis game, and it made me want to play again tomorrow and the day after that.

I feel young and alive when I am learning new things. I still have it, the “mojo” which makes me want to take on other new adventures. Bring it on… what’s next? Travel, write and publish my book, and more.


2 Responses to Becoming Undone and Finding My Mojo

  1. Sandra Carey says:

    Great insight. I too find it hard to let go of what I know and be a beginner. I will apply your experience to my life.

  2. Celia Knight says:

    This blog post brightens my day. Very amusing and wise. Thank you.