The Zen of tennis

I’m never sure what is meant by the word Zen–except when I play tennis. Most of the time when playing tennis if I can manage to hit the ball back I just do it without any thought, usually directly towards my opponent. I have no time to think. But just sometimes I do–and whenever I think I hit the ball into the net or out of the court. The thinking gets in the way, causes me to lose the point. Why is this and does it have a meaning and usefulness beyond playing tennis?

About 18 months ago I returned to playing tennis after what was probably a ten year break. I’ve never had a lesson, and I’m not very good. I have bad habits and have concluded that I’m stuck with them–or, another way to look at it, I haven’t the inclination to try to improve.

This morning I was beaten 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 by my son Freddie. During the game I played only one winner. Yesterday I beat my brother Brian/Arthur 6-0, 6-1, and during that match I don’t think I played a single winner. I just hit the ball back without thought directly to Brian/Arthur and waited for him to make a mistake; usually I didn’t have to wait long. This was his first game for ten years, and he’s confident he’ll beat me in the fourth game in this new era.

I don’t hit winners because winners require thought. “He’s over on the left side, if I hit it into the right corner he’ll never get to it.” Result: ball into the net. “He’s behind the baseline, I should just tap it over the net.” Result: ball into the net. I know that thought = disaster, but I can’t not think if I have the time; just as I can’t not think of a rhinoceros if asked not to think of one.

Why does thought = disaster? Freddie’s theory is that there is something I would do automatically if I hadn’t time I had to think–and thought creates confusion between what I would do automatically and what I’m thinking I might do. The confusion means I make an error. But what is confused? My mind? My body? Is this a variant of the mind-body problem?

Are there other activities where not thinking would mean I would do better? There must be, but I can’t think what they are; and as I can’t not think it wouldn’t be useful to know what they are.





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