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Wed, Oct. 16

Column: Get right in the head before getting on the court

Do you ever wonder why some of the better players on the tour get taken down in a tournament by a no-name player when they seem perfectly healthy? It may be attributed to just a bad day, while the lower-ranked athlete is having a great one. But then again, we aren't privy to what's going on in either of their lives.You've heard people say, "They had everything to gain and nothing to lose." So just maybe the lesser player could play with abandonment and let the chips fall where they might, never worrying about the aspect of not winning because they weren't expected to anyway.Coming in to a match or tournament with a clear mind can at times be almost impossible. Things like the clutter of an argument with a loved one, work problems, finances or a relative or friend that's sick can be weighing too heavily to find a mental shelf to place it on for the moment.As much as we want to leave all our problems at the gate when we serve up the first ball, it isn't always that easy.There will be days when you decide to go ahead and play because you committed to - realizing that now it was a bad decision. You may be there physically, but mentally you're in another galaxy. If you're with good friends, they'll probably understand if you beg out of playing, but if you don't know the people well, you'll probably say nothing and suffer through it.The nice thing is that with time it will pass, life will go on and so will your next tennis game.I had this happen to me once in a major way when I was going through a divorce. I had signed up for a singles tournament and decided to go ahead and play.My opponent was a guy that normally wouldn't have had much of a chance against me, at least by previous results. After we finished the first set and got into the first couple games of the second, I just came to the net and told him I needed to stop. He was very baffled by it all but accepted the win. I had never done anything like that before, but under the circumstances just I couldn't be there another moment.Occasionally you'll see someone blow up on a court with no real pretense. Don't you wonder what's going on in their life that had them on such a short fuse?Now some people happen to just naturally lose it easily and have gained a soiled reputation. We all know they need some professional help. Playing with those people lends to feelings of trepidation, knowing a close call is going to set them off. Unfortunately in a short period of time these particular people find it difficult to round up a match or a foursome and can't quite figure out why. Most of them seem to be completely oblivious.Does the name John McEnroe come to mind when you think of irrational outbursts in the game of tennis? I'm sure he's had his ups and downs, but I'm not sure the context of this column and what he seems to do more often than he should isn't just life issues bending his mind, but that he believes everyone has it out for him. He's always right and everyone else better listen - or else.The moral to this column is to have a good time playing the game of tennis. Exercise normally makes us all feel a little better. Add in good friends and the social aspect of a couple good sets on the rectangular court and life can't get much better. But if your frame of mind is preoccupied with heavy stuff that isn't going to be filed away before you play, beg out of it and go on a walk, get a massage or go talk with an understanding friend.And for those of you who have scary issues to deal with ... it's time to look in the Yellow Pages for some real help.(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 30 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 445-1331 or
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