Thursday, May 12, 2011

Playing to the crowd temptation

When others are watching, when my team is cheering me and my partner on, hoping for our victory, sometimes I’m tempted to go for a low percentage winner, a shot that would be ill-advised but widely cheered if I make it.  “Go for it!” one hears in one’s head.  Get the glory, a personal glory, for myself (instead of God).

It takes some mental fortitude to ignore the crowd, and do what’s best, in life and in tennis.  The match I described in my last post was filled with those situations.  There were so many times when I wanted to show off my newest stroke, to hit a drop shot to end the point straight off of a return of serve.  I could picture in my mind the awesome result in my head, our weaker less mobile opponent scrambling to try to get to my shot and failing to get there AND the subsequent screams of adulation from my team.

Of course, I could have missed the shot, and my partner and I would have found ourselves down love-thirty “without a fight”, without the long mentally challenging rallies that ultimately won us the match.  But I decided not to.  In this particular match, I was playing the ad side.  I normally play deuce, the side I’m more comfortable with, the side from which I can let my forehand fly – crosscourt or down the line – a shot that produces both winners and setups for my partner to poach.  I didn’t get many of those chances last Friday night; the only ones came when I was serving on the deuce side and got a crosscourt return back to me.  No, this time I needed to be the “pick me up” partner, the one responsible for getting the score back to even, increase our lead to 15-40 or possibly win the game.  I had to exert great mental discipline over my tendency to “go for it”, especially given the crowd – and their (or my) need for an exaltation.  Fortunately, I was able to do this, again and again, let the glory be (God’s and) my partner’s, setting her up for a winning shot (if possible) or at least keeping us in the point, the game, and the match hoping that, eventually, a victorious end would come for us, and our team.

We did win the match and, as it turned out, our team won our division.  For me, it was a lesson that “I” mattered only in the context of team, that if I’d had a short term, selfish mindset and given in to my own desire for praise, the end result may very well have been different; any memory of my own spectacular winners would have been short-lived and hollow.  As it is, “we” can celebrate this accomplishment as we set our sights on our next goal, another city championship!

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