THE SUM TOTAL of my tennis knowledge prior to my spring lesson at the Rosemary Beach Racquetball Club fit neatly into one fuzzy green ball. Love means zero. Hit the tennis ball over the net. Hope the ball bounces in bounds and then sails out before the opponent volleys it back.
Arriving at the Panama City, Florida clubhouse as a sponsored media member, I removed any and all expectations, and walked away with a few gems of knowledge that I think will serve me well for some time to come.
Get a grip
Brian Wilson, our tennis pro, started with the basics. I listened to his lesson in gripping my racket and parroting a few swings. We split into teams to practice hitting the balls over the net.
One misplaced backhand caused the ball to sail over the back fence. I looked at my grip. My hands overlapped. I had choked up on the racket. My baseball bat grip ensured the ball would hit a homer. The grip however was unlikely to keep the ball in bounds on the tennis court.
I lacked any feelings of frustration, which surprised me. I simply adjusted to the two handed grip with fingers slightly touching but not overlapping low on the racket handle like Brian taught. The next ball landed neatly on the court with a reaffirming bounce.
Mimic people that you admire
On the gritty clay tennis court, my eyes wandered over to the others in the group as we rotated for each drill. As their turns approached, I watched their footwork, dissecting each step. Their bodies profiled the ball before swinging low to high above the shoulder. I captured each moment while mimicking their movements with a few practice swings. Jerky at first, the pantomime paid off when my turn approached.
The presence of other more talented players accelerated my learning of the more complicated steps.
Accept help from others
We started a new drill hitting the ball halfway to the net. With the shorter distance, I kept arriving too late to hit the ball. An endless array of balls bounced under my racket as I swung at big whooshes of air.
Beverly, who played regularly with her husband, pulled me aside to offer some help. I readily accepted her offer as I had watched her consistently hitting the balls to the proper destination. I abandoned by pride, which seemed to allow me to learn from someone I had just met.
She showed me how to execute a complicated cross step. Learning from Lesson #2, I copied her cross step in preparation for the drill to come.
I began getting the timing down. The first few tries, I stumbled while executing a pirouette to avoid hitting my butt into the clay of the court. Beverly reassured me I would eventually get it. I continued to practice with sheer determination, and my feet finally cooperated. I hit a ball. I turned to Beverly and smiled with gratitude and simultaneously let out a whoop.
Cold water barreled down my throat as we paused to take a quick break. Brian mentioned a survey he read on ESPN. Ranking every sport’s skill difficulty level, the article named boxing the most difficult sport to learn. Tennis ranked seventh despite requiring higher eye-hand coordination, speed, and agility according to the survey.
Brian continued by commending me on attempting to learn such a difficult sport. He spoke of his own struggles to improve even practicing for hours a day and the importance of building good habits to improve my fledgling tennis skills.
The water break strengthened my resolve to learn with an almost childlike enthusiasm and allowing improvement to come through.
Put it all together
We began with a forehand drill. Then a backhand drill. The longer balls became shorter drawing us into the net slowly and steadily until we volleyed and spiked the ball on the court. The drills felt easier as we progressed.
Either I was improving or the longer forehands and backhands from before were the most difficult to control. For me it was the latter I think but my confidence soared nonetheless. Each drill built on the last, relying on mastering the previous skillset. Our final drill combined each step into a series that resembled a well-choreographed dance.
A left and right volley reminded me of the cha-cha step before we finished with an overhead swing.
It was a finale that had made me realize how far I had come in learning tennis and how there was more to go, if I remained open to it.
Feature Image: Sashomasho
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