Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Has tennis become an idol for you (too)?

I don’t really know (for sure) whether tennis had become an idol for me, to the point of it being a sin or not, but most likely it did. Therefore, I have decided to give up the one aspect that consumed much of my thought and action over the past several months: the captainship of a team. While the result – on the tennis court, for me and the team – was a positive one (we won an ALTA City Championship), for me personally perhaps it wasn’t.

There is a lot of discussion on the Internet regarding “sports and idolatry”; as a nation, our culture has become obsessed not just with celebrity, but with sport. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that having a favorite activity – either watching or playing sports – is sinful … who am I to say, in any case. But for me, if something becomes that which is on your mind (every night) before you go to bed and every morning when you wake up (and I was waking up in the middle of the night thinking about tennis during this past season), then it’s a problem.

For some, obsessing about their job, family, or anything – except Jesus – may be a problem; whether it rises to the level of sin is not for me to judge. During this past winter season, while I tried to always act faithfully, I still found myself there on Sunday morning – in church – having difficulty concentrating on the proceedings and staying in the moment of worship … because I had a tennis match to play or watch in a couple of hours!

Is playing tennis on Saturday or Sunday a sin, because of the Sabbath? I certainly hope not; again, there is a lot of discussion of this on the Internet as well. Actually, as I’ve contemplated this issue, I kept remembering scenes from the Academy Award winning Best Picture Chariots of Fire (1981), a favorite of mine in my youth because I too was a track athlete. One of the main characters in this true story (British sprinter Eric Liddell) was conflicted and unable to compete on the Sabbath during the 1924 Olympics, having to give up an event in which he was favored to win the gold medal because a heat was to be held on the Sabbath. But I also remember, and have taken to heart, a quote from the film that this character spoke to his ‘even more conservative’ fiancĂ©e regarding his passion for running:
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Indeed, I have felt God’s glory when I’ve played tennis. There have been times when I’ve made a shot that I truly didn’t have time to see the ball, let alone think or know where to hit it, but it came off my racquet perfectly, I reacted, as if the Holy Spirit intervened on my behalf. In fact, I have felt many fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – while participating in sport. And, given all that had to happen for us to win our titles (and more) this past season, even a non-believing skeptic would have a hard time denying the hand of Higher Power's involvement.

Some might call this entire line of thought piffle while others might say that this blog glorifies me – not God – and is therefore sinful in nature. There may be something to the latter, which is why I will be cutting back on my posting (which has been biweekly since January 2011) starting today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Still basking in the glow of tennis victory as the new seasons begin

After earning our Atlanta City Title last Saturday, most of us go our separate ways to begin men's and women's ALTA seasons, and USTA Mixed Doubles. While some of us will remain teammates throughout the spring season, it will be June before all of us can rejoin forces for our next challenge - not to defend our title but to compete at an even higher level - this summer.

Tomorrow we will celebrate two Division Titles and a City Championship at our neighborhood's courts and clubhouse, toast our success and at least partially recreate our festive table from last weekend. Will the confidence earned during this past winter season translate into better performances for us this spring, have a positive impact on our 'new' teams, and inspire them to greater heights by season's end. Only time will tell ...

Monday, March 12, 2012

We are ALTA City Champions, in more ways than one?

Even before the on-court competition started last Saturday, our ladies were busy putting the finishing touches on our table for the contest. Apparently, this is something everyone knew about except me. I told you that this was my first trip – as a captain or a player – to an ALTA City Final. If like me you’ve never been, you are supposed to decorate your “food table” in some theme (tennis, patriotic, etc.) and ALTA selects a winner, whose table then gets featured with a photograph in their magazine. I guess I’ve seen these before, but never realized it was a judged event, just thought “wasn’t that creative” when I saw the pictures.

In any case, I think – based upon the number of blue shirted ALTA officials (ladies) that stopped by to admire and photograph our spread – that we probably won that contest as well. Not sure when the winner is officially announced though; perhaps we have to wait until the next issue of Net News is published?

What a beautiful day it was. The sun was full in the sky and we all had to strip down from our winter gear; spring had sprung in all its glory. Plants blooming, seeds sprouting, and that's just what was happening on our festive table;-) Husbands, wives, teammates and their wives, parents, friends, a sibling, a boyfriend and a son turned out to support us.

On the courts, we ran into another opponent that put their best man at line 2 (I guess they’d have to play that way all season per the league’s sandbagging rules) but because of our depth, it didn’t matter. It just made all the other matchups favorable to us. Our line 1 & line 3 pairings won quickly, each finishing in under an hour. While the 3’s were finishing, our 4’s had just lost a tight first set in a tiebreaker, and my partner and I (line 5) took to the court. While our 4’s rebounded to take the second set, we won our first. Then it was much the same as our semi-final match the week before: both matches were in hand, the only question was who would finish first. This time our 4’s won while we were still two games away from finishing our match … and our team earned our neighborhood’s first City Championship!

I hope to have some pictures to update this posting with soon; perhaps this Thursday's blog entry will be nothing but photos from last Saturday.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Egoscue Method - help for tennis injuries: back issues, tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis and more

It was last year sometime while visiting with family out west that I heard about a book and an exercise method that helped golfers like Jack Nicklaus with pain relief. I made note of it but, since up until that point I’d experienced very few sports related injuries and (except for some arthritis in my big toe) have been relatively pain free for most of my life, I didn’t rush out to buy the book despite the glowing review I heard.

However, after problems with tennis elbow last fall, when I found myself in a bookstore a couple of weeks ago, I decided to seek out the aforementioned book. Initially I couldn’t find it but, with help from the information desk person, I was able to locate the follow-on book by the same author, Pete Egoscue.

Egoscue, an anatomical physiologist since 1978, has devised a method comprised of exercise therapies for treating chronic musculoskeletal pain attributed to workplace and sports injuries, accidents, aging, and other conditions, and has been consulted by some of the biggest names in sports.

I leafed through Egoscue’s book Pain Free – A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain, which describes how our bodies were designed for motion and that, because of the way our culture has evolved, sitting at a computer all day is not very good for our musculoskeletal health long term because we aren’t adequately using our muscles or stretching our tendons, to keep our complex body systems in optimal operation. It further details how a symptom (e.g. pain) in one area of our body may actually be caused by an entirely different, seemingly unrelated problem elsewhere.

Not really having any pain anywhere at the time I bought the book, I put it down and decided that I’d at least begin his regular “maintenance” exercises soon, perhaps at the end of the winter tennis season. However, about 10 days ago, while losing a match I should have been winning, I decided to put a little extra on a serve and – “ouch” – suddenly I’d pulled something in my back. Later that day and especially the next morning, I could hardly walk … I was definitely in pain! So, I picked up Pain Free and turned to the chapter on “Backs”.

With an important semi-final playoff match in 6 days, I quickly incorporated the 5 first step exercises into my daily routine. The result was/is amazing. Not only did the pain start to dissipate (the very first day), but I was able to play (and win) my match last Saturday. Of course I also needed and took Advil, just to be sure, but I too now highly recommend the Egoscue Method, and have even bought several copies to give to friends I know that experience some of the common tennis related physical challenges.

Monday, March 5, 2012

We are ALTA City Finalists!

For me, it’s the very first time, as a player or a captain. For 11+ years of playing ALTA, a personal goal for me has always been to make it to the final weekend of a season, and here we are. Having made it to the semi-finals before, no team that I’ve been on or have captained has ever made it over the final hump to earn a plate: ALTA City Finalists earn a plate, a big (dinner size) “silver” plate for winning it all, or a smaller (salad) “silver” plate as a consolation prize. So, in addition to half a dozen bag tags, I’ll finally have a plate; which size is to be determined this coming Saturday at Blackburn Tennis Center.

There was quite a bit of drama during this past week. Because of a lack of attention to the necessary maintenance of our neighborhood’s tennis courts, our HOA board finally arranged to have our courts resurfaced between seasons, and the work was to begin this past Monday. Of course, last November, there was no way of knowing that one, or that both of our mixed doubles teams would win their divisions and host home playoff matches. Still, each team would have to win 1 or 2 playoff matches before there would be a conflict. As I have written, our regular mixed team won both matches last weekend, and if the weather was perfect – note the optimism at the end of last Monday’s post – we would have played this past Saturday on newly resurfaced courts. Unfortunately, it rained a least a little bit each day this past week and, given the nature of Premier Courts, they have to be completely dry in the rubber layer underneath the acrylic layers before resurfacing can begin.

So here it was Thursday night and nothing had been accomplished. After talking with the coordinator on Tuesday about this issue, I had made an arrangement with our opponent to have courts available in case ours weren’t finished in time, and they were glad to be accommodating. But the conversation had been one of “if by some miracle at least two of our courts are playable, then we’ll still host the matches here”. There was no way to know that all four courts would be available because the resurfacing hadn’t even begun, so after calling the vendor to make sure they wouldn’t be doing any work on Friday, I called the somewhat dismayed and clearly disappointed opposing captain to tell him we would be hosting them.

After violent and deadly (at least in other parts of the country) storms Friday night, the rain on Saturday morning stopped a couple of hours sooner than predicted; by 9 AM, and with the clouds breaking by 11, it was clear that we’d be starting at the appointed time of 1 PM. Although their line 1 man was a few minutes late (past the default time), we remained calm and unstressed. Per the way our amenities are laid out, court 1 is closest with courts 2-4 progressively further away from the seating, so the crowd attention is usually focused on the nearest (line 1) match. Even though it initially appeared that our opponent had a stellar lineup - their line 1 man who hadn’t played against us during the week 3 match looked very strong and their week 3 line 2 man (that teamed to beat our line 2 the last time) was playing at line 3 this time, the first sets were breaking our way. As it turned out, we won the first set at line 3 first, then on the near court at line 1 because of some exceptional play by our pairing. Our line 1 lady was digging out tough shot after tough shot – frustrating their line 1 man - while our line 1 man was putting the ball away with efficiency when he got the chance. Line 2 was very competitive; both sets were long, but unfortunately we eventually lost them both. However, long before that happened, line 3 wrapped up their match – they must have played exceptionally well, but I didn’t see it per the distance from where I was seated.

The 4’s, who had already begun warming up on court 4, moved to court 3 and the 5’s – my partner and I – then began warming up on court 4. Unfortunately, line 1 was still engaged in a thrilling battle, having lost the opportunity to hold serve to take the second set 6-3. However, my partner and I made the same agreement we had the Saturday before, vowing no scoreboard watching; just concentrate on the task at hand and try to win our match. Fortunately, just as we were finishing our warm-ups, we heard the cheers and knew that we’d taken line 1 … so it really was up to us, or line 4 (already underway) to clinch it. Not wanting to make the same mistake I did last Sunday, when we moved to the open court 1 to appease the fans, I didn’t even bring it up with my partner or our opponents. Instead, we remained focused and I can honestly say that I didn’t look over to court 3 until we’d won our first set 6-1, when I noticed that we’d taken the first set there as well.

Which would be the clinching match? Given the brilliant play of my partner and because of our continued focus on every point – we were ruthless; didn’t want to give an inch (lose a game) – we found ourselves up 3-0 with chances to go up 4-0 in the second. The next thing you know we were breaking our male opponent to take the second set by the same tally as the first. I believe that our 4’s were tied 5-all in their second set at that point, and would no doubt have closed it out if needed. Yay, celebrations all around!

So we’ve earned a chance to play in the ALTA City Finals, only the second time a team from our neighborhood has made it that far, with a chance to be the first to win it all. Wish us luck!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An ALTA coordinator’s job isn’t an easy one

Firstly, I want to thank all the ALTA volunteers; without you, this Atlanta tennis league – which boasts some 80,000 members – wouldn’t be possible. This includes you team captains, which is perhaps the most thankless job in ALTA. Unless you’ve been a tennis captain, you can’t appreciate what goes into it. The best players to have on one’s team are those who’ve previously been a captain: while they may offer an opinion if asked, they’re generally happy just to be put in the lineup … and they won’t complain when they’re not. But I’ve digressed …

This week I had the pleasure of talking to the coordinator of our particular league and, while I had a sense of ‘her’ duties, I gained a greater appreciation for the demands and responsibilities of the ‘job’. For example, there are more than 23,000 players in the mixed doubles league and some 1,200 captains. However, there are only 40 coordinators, meaning that each one is the first line of defense – a firewall, if you will – for 30 or so captains. Now, this might not sound like a lot but at crunch time – when there are rain-outs, playoffs, or rained out playoffs – that’s a lot of phone calls to return and/or e-mails to respond to in order that the VP doesn’t have to get involved (the fear of all coordinators).

While handling week-to-week conflicts may be manageable (I assume these are fewer and far between), once the playoffs are underway a coordinator has to check and approve lineups for each first, second and (in some cases) third place team that qualified. This of course can be exacerbated if week 7’s play is rain delayed. I don’t know if ALTA’s website software makes checking playoff team’s lineup easier, but I doubt it given the site’s publicly available capabilities, or should I say lack thereof. So, whereas each captain has to make the calculation – found in the handbook –to ensure that their lineup doesn’t violate the league’s somewhat overly complex “sandbag” rules (which change once the playoffs begin!), the coordinator has to verify them for 8 (or more) teams, and the deadline during the first week of playoffs is very challenging, even without weather related issues. For weekend leagues, the matches on Saturday have to finish, and the lineups of the teams that advanced to play on Sunday have to be submitted and then approved by the coordinator in a fairly tight window that night. Again, even without a rainy situation, competitive matches played at 2-court facilities might not finish until after 6 PM, and the winning captain could be delayed for any number of reasons including post match celebrations, players that were injured that afternoon, or players that are now potentially available for Sunday (if ‘his’ team made it that far) that ‘he’ needs to contact before making the calculations & submitting a lineup.

Factoring in the fact that there are new captains every season, those that are more likely to need a rules clarification, and captains whose teams make the playoffs for the very first time each season – in other words, inexperienced captains – an ALTA coordinator’s job is a challenge, not one for the faint of heart.