Visualize This

Posted on September 12th, 2019 by

Andreescu and Williams hugging after the match (Photo taken from usopen.org)

When Bianca Andreescu pulled off her amazing U.S. Open finals victory over Serena Williams, and was undaunted by William’s comeback in the second set, she explained it by saying she was not ruffled because she had visualized winning the U.S. Open her whole life (nineteen is a whole life???) and continued to focus on that.  That’s lovely.

I, on the other hand, when I was nineteen, visualized winning Wimbledon and being an NBA point guard.  You can go online and check to see how that worked out.

But, because of that quote of Andreescu’s, now we are going to have thousands of U.S. Open champion wannabes spending millions of dollars on visualization gurus (don’t get me wrong, I believe in visualizing.  And in some gurus).  And guess what?  Only one person each year is ever going to win the U.S. Open.  No matter how much the rest of us visualize it.

When I, at age 48, realized I needed to incorporate a one handed topspin backhand in my game if I was going to compete with younger players who were exploiting my slice backhand with heavy topspin that eventually overwhelmed me, no amount of visualizing was going to accomplish that.

I got on a ball machine multiple times a week and hit thousands of balls.  It took a year to get to the point where I felt I was ready to even show it to another player.  My first step was just to hit it in a few warm-ups, not the match.  The next step was to rally with friends, and during ground stroke games use my topspin backhand a few times per ten-point game.  Just a few.  And only when I was way ahead.

Then it was to hit more topspin than slice in those ten-point games, but again, only when I was ahead.  Then, once I got confident enough in my consistency, I began to try it when I was behind.  (Do you sense a pattern here?).

Then it was, hit it in a match once, when I was far ahead (yes, it appears winning actually is more important to me than it should be).  Once successful at that, I began to hit it in regular point situations during matches.

And finally – after a two-year process – it was to hit the shot anytime, anywhere.

If I had short circuited that practice process at any point, it would have shaken my confidence and I would have given up on the topspin backhand.  But taking these manageable steps helped me to reach a level of confidence where I now will use the stroke as a weapon.

Does visualization play a part in this?  Absolutely.  I wouldn’t have started or continued the process if I didn’t believe I could do it, and I wouldn’t have believed I could do it unless I could “see” myself in my head being able to do it.

But no amount of visualizing is going to make me a U.S. Open champion if I don’t put in the work.

Wait, let me rephrase that.  No amount of visualizing is going to make me a U.S. Open champion, period, even if I put in the work.  Or almost certainly you, too.  Sorry.

BUT, to get to the point where visualization has a chance of helping me to at least be the best player I can be, I have to hit ball after ball after ball until it becomes second nature.  There are no short cuts.

When my wife and I toured the country for 25 years as singer/songwriters, visualizing could not  write

songs, memorize words, create tight harmonies, sing with subtlety.  That took years of work, of rehearsals, of trial and error, of experience on stages, big and small.

Visualizing helped us to be better performers, but we would not have made it in the music business without the daily grind of the work itself.

It is always a both/and.

I’m glad to hear Andreescu won the U.S, Open by visualizing.  But I’d like to give a little more credit to the years of work she put into her monster forehand, her Serena-like serve, and her brilliant shot selection.  That was a life time of work (albeit a short, nineteen-year-old lifetime, some things just aren’t fair) topped off by a beautiful piece of visualization.  Not the other way around.

TLC campers showing good sportsmanship at the net.

And here is the other missing piece in this tale we rarely talk about in the sports world.  It doesn’t matter

if she wins the U.S. Open.  Ultimately.  Or if you do.  Or if your child does. You know what matters?  I think you do.  It’s how you treat others along the way to your goal, which may or may not come true.  Because, let me repeat, you and I will not be the U.S. Open champion.  But we might become an even greater champion.  Without winning a match.

Visualize that.

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8 Comments

  1. Joyce Hagberg says:

    Loved learning what was inside your thoughts
    Thanks honey.
    Is that the Barbara Beck we went to New Zealand and Australian open in 2000?

  2. Billy Bob says:

    Hmmm…the Inner Game of Tennis had a lengthy discussion of visualization to improve your strokes. That’s a pretty important book.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I love the Inner Game of Tennis. I think it is a book that still holds up better than almost any book on visualization I have ever read. It also includes things Steve Wilkinson was proposing before that book was written. I am not advocating for not visualizing. I am advocating for its proper place. In conjunction with the hard work that is necessary for success, it can be a powerful tool and motivator. Separate from it, it is day dreaming without action. But I can be a cranky devil’s advocate sometimes and your point is very well taken. Thank you!

  3. bruce hawkinson says:

    Neal, That is a awesome article!! Though its put in the context of tennis, which anyone who is aware of TLC, (we all love tennis) your message can be applied to so many many other avenues of life. whether it be career, retirement account, a personal life passion for X,Y or Z. the key is to make a plan and follow it up with the work! I personally have to carry with me a 3 x 5 spiral notebook ( like the one Columbo carried around) to jot down the things i want to accomplish each day.
    Thank you and i will pass your blog to others
    Bruce

  4. Neal says:

    Thanks, Barbara.

  5. Barbara Beck says:

    Lovely, Neal.

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