The Meditation of Tennis

Posted on October 28th, 2020 by

TLC campers practicing a Gratitude Minute during a lesson.

I’m not a good meditator.  I know I’m “supposed” to be.  We hear all the time how meditation will calm you and make you a more centered person.  I have tried.  And tried. And tried.  But “centered” and ADHD aren’t usually two concepts you use in the same sentence.  So tennis becomes my meditation.

On the court, I lose myself.  I am swallowed in the moment.  For an hour or two all my troubles melt away, in a way meditation has never been able to accomplish.  My mind is relieved of its constant duty to keep watch, and plan, and be “successful”, and have everything in order.

The only thing I have to do is hit a little yellow ball over the net.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  It is hypnotic in its own way.  When I am done, win or lose, my mind is clear.  Or, I should say, clearer.  Because my mind, though many things, is never “clear”.

TLC instructor, Tom Williams, high fiving a camper after a doubles point.

And the beauty of tennis is that you are not “meditating” alone.  There is always someone across the net partnering with you in the meditation.  Perhaps that is one reason it is no fun to play against someone who stomps around the court, who makes excuses, who gyrates and gesticulates as though the world is ending with every lost point.  Who cheats to throw you off balance, or cheats because their ego can’t stand the thought of being beaten by you, or by anyone.

Maybe that is one of the best reasons to practice TLC’s Three Crowns℠ of Positive Attitude, Full Effort, and Good Sportsmanship.  Because when we do, we are actually helping our opponent to “meditate”, to leave their troubles behind for a space of time, and to clear their mind.

When we engage in the behavior above (stomping, excuse making, cheating), not only are we thrown off our own ability to be lost in the moment in a grateful way (in fact, we leave the court more troubled than when we arrived), we are preventing our opponent from doing the same.

There will be some who say, that’s the whole point.  To throw your opponent off their game.  And, yes, tennis is a game where you try to keep your opponent off balance.  It is like physical chess.  But it is much more than that.

At the end of the day, do you want to have made someone’s life worse or better?  I know we may answer that some people seem bent on making other people’s lives worse, and we demand that be addressed. But right now, I am not talking about them.  I am talking about you.  What do you want?  To make someone’s life worse or better?

TLC campers building rapport after a lesson.

Because tennis is a game where you can “meditate” to make your life better and simultaneously make someone else’s life better.  What could be more satisfying than that?

So, “meditate” away.  And recognize the power you have to help others leave the court with a clearer mind, a lighter heart, and a fresh start knowing they are not alone in this world.  You are here for them.  Just as you are here for yourself.

 

And both of those are necessary if we want a better world.

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17 Comments

  1. David C Sommer says:

    Well, Neal, I’m not ADHD, and I can meditate. I don’t like it though, and have never taken the time to get “really good” at it. Like you, tennis works to get my mind clearer.

    “The great thing about playing tennis is that you forget your troubles for two hours and when you’re finished, everything you do is better. Even the beer tastes better.”
    —Bill Talbert, U.S. doubles champion, U.S. Open director, and author

  2. Elly Black says:

    Hi Neal!

    Greetings from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

    Once again your article completely resonated with me. I played a fabulous, laughing my guts out, game of tennis just yesterday and once I was finished… I had to ask myself… Ok.. what day is it? What do I need to do next? The game of tennis transforms me into a different realm, one that I am very grateful for.

    I wish you you and your family all the best! Especially next Tuesday. It’s a very very scary world at the moment. As a Canadian, Rial and I and family are hoping the right choice of President will be made. Fingers crossed.

    By the way, traditional meditation sucks for me as well!

    Elly

  3. Diane B Marsh says:

    I don’t know what I would do without my tennis!

  4. Sara Roang says:

    Just reading this is calming. Thank you!

  5. Steven Wollman says:

    In Mary Burns world, the game starts: Love Everyone!!

  6. Nell Smith says:

    Your message of losing yourself in tennis is right along the lines of another story that came into my inbox today. I’m not sure if it’s ok to post a link, but I’ll try it, because it’s such a moving tennis story (and I think Dimity who hosts this website went to TLC with me in the 80’s).
    anothermotherrunner.com/seven-months-into-the-pandemic-and-im-loving-learning-to-play-tennis

  7. Beth Gilbertsen Betts says:

    Maybe this is why tennis feels like an addiction to me…? It’s the only game I play in my life and I love it. You can’t think of anything much while playing. I’m currently in Hawaii and we had two several month tennis shutdown periods this winter cause of covid. I was extra stressed when tennis wasn’t in my life. Thanks Neal!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      You’re welcome, Beth! Miss seeing you at TLC but I’m glad you’re enjoying Hawaii! I think of tennis as a “safe addiction”, too, lol.

  8. Mike Senescall says:

    Thank you Neal. During my Saturday morning doubles I continue to remind myself how grateful I am to be part of this group and what fantastic guys these are…everyone of them. For me it’s like a 2 hour “gratitude moment”. Sure, there are times I get frustrated with my game or mistakenly make a bad line call or maybe get too competitive…but I work to not do that and focus on the joy of the game that starts with” Love, Love”.

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