15 July, 2009

Endless Possibility

I avoid meme's pretty religiously, but this is a special occasion. This is a celebration of the return to the Web of Rich Pearce and Ken Story's Realm of Possibility. If you don't know about the Realm, let me just tell you they're a couple of the most delightfully playful people I know.

So, out of the pure overflow of joy, here are Kevin's meme answers.

1) Movie theater Junior Mints vs. Movie theater Goobers
Dude! At those prices? You can't be serious!

2) Trip to the Beach vs. Trip to the Mountains
For hours, the beach. For days, the mountains. The beach is more fun to play on, but the mountains let me think.

3) Elliptical Machine vs. Treadmill
Clearly the elliptical. The treadmill pounds my knee joints and the elliptical puts my heart rate about 20 beats higher without feeling like I'm working any harder at all.

4) Spring vs. Autumn
Spring. I used to be an autumn person, but I'm really learning the optimism of youth. (I'm 45, so it's about freaking time.)

5) Milk Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate
Dark. Intense beats mellow.

6) Interstate vs. Scenic highway
Interstate. When I drive for pleasure, it's no more than an hour. If I'm headed somewhere that could call for an interstate, it's because I want to "get there."

7) Savage tan vs. SPF50
Oh, SPF50. I don't spend enough time in the sun to maintain a tan. I'd burn every couple weeks.

8) Being sad vs. Being scared
Sad. I've learned to manage sad, but being scared shuts me down.

9) 2 ten dollar bills vs. 1 twenty dollar bill
1 Twenty. It's that little bit harder to spend, and I'd rather hold money than spend it.

10) Birkenstocks vs. Crocs
Birks. Plastic shoes make no sense to me at all.

11) Bad odor vs. Bad taste
I'd rather wear unstylish clothes than smell bad, if that's what you mean. If you're asking about food, man, I'll eat it if it won't kill me.

12) Ripped pants vs. Wet shirt
On whom? And how many jokes do you really expect me to overlook here? Anyway, as a Floridian tennis player I'd better be OK with a sweat-soaked shirt, so I'll go with that.

13) Belching vs. Flatulence
My ex gave me a life-long terror of belching, so I'd best go with flatulence.

14) Chicken salad sandwich vs. Tuna salad sandwich
I'd never willingly do that to a chicken, so tuna it is.

15) Classic styles vs. Trendy styles
Classic is my only hope, since I'm still catching up with the trends of the '70's.

16) Old friend vs. New friend
Hmmm. Worn gold coins or new gold coins? Give me proven friend.

17) Dolphin vs. Porpoise
I know dolphins are learning evil from humans, so maybe porpoises?

18) Water slide vs. Roller coaster
I last did a water slide; it was a blast.

19) Jules Verne vs. Robert Louis Stevenson
I've only read Stevenson. I like humanity in my stories, and I enjoyed the humanity in his.

20) Goatee vs. Soul Patch
Never versus absolutely no way on the face of this planet. I guess the goatee.

21) Being the recipient of a thoughtful gesture vs. Being the recipient of a compliment
Give me the relationship that led to either.

22) Nap on the couch vs. Nap in a hammock
Hammocks are surrounded by interesting stuff. I have never successfully slept in a hammock.

23) Holidays vs. Vacation
Holidays. Vacations are scary to me. They're huge setups for failure. So are holidays, but I feel like they're the devil I know.

24) Aisle vs. Window
Window. I want to see the world roll under me, and don't ever really need to get up.

25) Slapstick vs. Wit
Wit. Slapstick usually makes me uncomfortable.

26) Logic vs. Emotion
I neither trust nor am comfortable with logic. Emotion is real. Logic is put on.

27) Whipped cream vs. Cool Whip
Whipped Cream is food. Cool Whip is a chem experiment playing out on a planetary scale.

28) High School Reunions vs. Family Reunions
Family reunions. I've never attended my high schools reunions and never intend to. School was one huge steaming pile of embarassment for me, and I don't ever want to face it again.

29) ALF vs. ET
ET, since I never saw Alf.

30) Canadians vs. Australians
Aussies owned tennis for decades, and I love their sporting mentality. I've never seen the joy of hockey, though I've been at live pro games.

31) Gifts vs. Gift Certificates
Gifts. I'd much rather win or lose at choosing something that says how I feel than try to say how much the person is worth to me.

32) Jet skiing vs. Water skiing
Water skiing. If it ain't hard, it ain't worth doing.

33) Yardwork vs. Housework
Housework. I live in the house, not the yard, so everything I do in the house feels like it pays off.

34) Ostentatious vs. Precocious
? Showy verses talented beyond his years? Um. Let's go with Precocious.

35) Phone call vs. Email
Email. A phone call stops me from whatever I'm doing. Email lets me answer more quickly and when I'm available. Hence, I really love to text (SMS) the message, "Call me when you get a chance to talk about ...." and supply sufficient details that the person is prepared for the subject.

36) Winning the lottery vs. Finding buried treasure
Finding buried treasure. It's much more realistic and dependable.

37) Sweating vs. Shivering
I do both without much noticing.

38) “Oh no, you di-unt.” vs. “Don’t even go there.”
Do these sound like sayings from the '70's? I don't THINK so!

39) Blue ink vs. Black ink
I'd love to use blue ink, because it stands out against black toner, but somehow, something always makes me remember why blue ink doesn't work for me. I wish I could remember what it was, because every 3 years or so I have to get myself a blue pen and toss it after a couple weeks.

40) Ukelele vs. Bag pipes
The PIPES! The pipes are a martial and religious experience evoking passion, terror, patriotism, grief, and pride from the first sounding of the drones! A ukelele says, "What are you doing awake? Come back out to the beach at sunset and we'll drink the night away."

41) Rainbows vs. Sunbeams
Either can make me cry.

42) The sound of your own voice vs. The way you look in photos
I'd rather hear my voice. At least I can focus on what I was saying. When I see myself I just wonder why God made everyone else look at that.

43) Extremely firm handshake vs. Extremely weak handshake
Extremely firm. When a thing is so easy to do right, it scares me that a person would decide to do it wrong. When a person is overly firm, at least I know they know they game and are trying to play it in some way. An overly weak handshake tells me I'd best not invest any trust in that person.

44) Runny nose vs. Nagging cough
Runny nose. A runny nose doesn't feel like it's going to pull rib muscles or blow the top of my head off.

45) Packing vs. Unpacking
Unpacking. How I wish I could do it. 90% of the 33% of the things I was able to keep and move have been packed for 6 months now.

46) A hole in the toe of your sock vs. A hole in the seat of your underwear
I can repair a hole in my socks. The underwear's got to go.

47) Zoos vs. Botanical gardens
You know? I like animals much better than plants, but I'd rather go to the botanicals. I wonder why?

48) Trip to the dentist vs. Tax day
The dentist is no big deal. I had full braces and headgear for 5 years, so no cleaning or root canal or crown is upsetting to me.

49) Awkward comment vs. Awkward silence
Awkward comment every time. I fill in blanks much more negatively than I should, so an awkward comment is invariably and vastly less disturbing to me than a silence would have been.

50) Too much Rich vs. Too little Rich
I've done too little for a couple years now, and am pretty jazzed about trying out too much. :-)

09 July, 2009

The Next Time you Watch a Tennis Match

35 years playing this game, and I just learned an absolutely fundamental point. You can hit inside-out, inside-in, or straight, but you cannot hit outside-out consistently. I watched a couple matches at Wimbledon with this in mind, and it enriched the matches unbelievably. It helped me win a match the other day, too.

It's easy to explain, but this video may be even easier to understand.

An outside shot is one that crosses your body as it's on its way from the opponent's racket to yours. It's called an outside shot because the ball is moving away from you as it reaches the strike zone. An inside shot is one that is moving toward your body as it's on its way into your strike zone. Hitting "in" is hitting across your body, and hitting "out" is hitting away from your body.

So, if you have two right-handed players, when they're hitting forehand to forehand, they're both hitting outside-in shots. And when they're hitting backhand to backhand, they're still hitting outside-in shots. If Player 1 hits his backhand down the line instead of crosscourt to Player 2's backhand, the other player is going to be hitting an inside forehand. If he hits his forehand crosscourt, then he's going to be hitting inside-in, which works. If he goes back at Player 1's backhand again, he'll be hitting inside-out, which works.

The situation that bites most of us is when Player 1 is standing deep in his forehand corner and hits a ball down the center of the court. Player 2 will take that shot on his forehand side, and be tempted to hit it to Player 1's open backhand court. That's an outside-out shot and it doesn't work.

I had no idea!

The magic here is that it's not the ball's relationship to the court that matters, but the ball's relationship to your body.

The simple rules are:
+ Never change the direction of a deep inside shot. Hit it back where it came from.
+ Usually change the direction of a deep outside shot. If it came from the backhand, hit it to the forehand.
+ Hit a short ball straight down the court to minimize risk, instead of hitting for lines.
+ If you're standing in your backhand corner, use the inside-out forehand as a weapon.

When you hit "in" across your body, you're using the natural rotation of your body. When you hit "out" away from your body you're working against the natural rotation of your body, so that's always a less safe shot. When the ball coming toward you is an extreme "inside" shot it will naturally come closer to your body allowing you to rotate through an "inside-out" shot naturally, so you can use the inside-out forehand as a strong and safe weapon.

So, the next time you watch a match you will be amazed as you watch the pros follow these 4 simple rules. And you'll be even MORE amazed as you watch them break them ... and be punished! You've heard players described as "steady" or as "gamblers". It all boils down to how often they try to hit an outside-out shot to the open court, and more often than not I watched the pros who tried to go outside-out miss.

I expected Federer would break these rules constantly, but he actually followed them more closely than anyone against whom I watched him play. He hit the ball where he should and with conviction over and over until his opponent decided he had to gamble.

I was awed. I hope you will be too.

Highlight videos are not really good for seeing the normal flow of play, but this one is interesting. The first 3 misses off ground strokes by Soderling are 2 backhands and 1 forehand attempting to hit outside-out to the open court.

07 July, 2009

The Narrator

You may have heard Roger Federer played a little tennis this weekend against Andy Roddick. After knocking the ball around for 4 1/2 hours, Roger had more little numbers on the scoreboard than Andy, and that difference was worth an extra 425,000 British pounds (which is like $70,000,000,000 or some such after applying the exchange rate; I don't know) and a chunk of history because it was the 15th time Roger has won one of the big 4 tournaments. Nobody's ever won the last point at a major tournament so many times.

The match, though, has given us, "The Narrative." For a prime example, see this article by Boris Becker, "Roddick Stopped Believing.

Boris was a brilliant if unstable tennis player and the youngest Wimbledon champ ever. I listened to his commentary on the BBC broadcast of several matches and found his commentary misleading over and over again. This article is no different. And in the scheme of things it doesn't really matter, but if you happen to bat the tennis ball around for a hobby commentators like Boris Becker can ruin your day.

The Narrative goes like this. Roddick never believed he could win that match, and he revealed that deficiency over a 3 minute span toward the end of the second set. He built up a 6-2 lead in the tiebreak, and only needed to hit one more good shot take a 2-0 lead in sets against Roger. But, you see, Roger has beaten Andy 19 of the last 21 times they've played, and Andy's 2 wins were in relatively unimportant tournaments. On this big a stage, Andy knew deep down in his heart he never had a chance.

That deep inner doubt is why, when Roger hit a duck of a high forehand at 6-5 in the tiebreak, Roddick shanked away his chance at greatness.


Wrong because it's a narrative after the fact. Wrong because that thinking won't help Andy win the next match. Wrong because it misses the point of what was really happening out there. Wrong because when us average Joe's get out on a tennis court and try to win an important match all we're going to remember is that we have to believe to win, and that's a lie. The truth is more complex, but TV commentary can't really do complex.

At 6-2 Federer pulled Roddick wide to the forehand and Roddick replied with a flat shot down the line. That put the ball on Federer's side of the court very quickly. In fact, Federer received the ball while Roddick was still standing about 15 feet to the right of where he needed to be to continue the point successfully. Federer simply hit the ball 30 feet to Roddick's left and the score went to 6-3.

The commentators (Becker not among them) praised the brilliance of Federer's backhand shot. I don't want to take anything away from Federer, but once Roddick went down the line, the "winner" was a routine stroke. No brilliance was required. Literally, any of 100,000 top club players could have won that point from that position. Maybe Federer used some special sauce in hitting the simple winner, but Roddick gifted him with that point. (See for yourself at the 5:00 mark of this video The Tiebreak.)

The correct shot was crosscourt, but Andy hoped to surprise Federer with the unexpected gamble. He figured he could "beat him down the line," but actually Roger was in control of the point. Andy brain-cramped and paid for it.

Roger then hits two good serves. After the poor play he demonstrated at the beginning of the tiebreak, it was about time he hit a couple good ones.

At 6:30 in the same video, you see Andy hit a second serve that Roger returns passively. Andy decides to attack the net. He hits the right shot and he hits it adequately, then Roger tries to go down the line with his passing shot when crosscourt would have been a better decision. Federer's forehand is mishit and goes much higher than he really intended, putting Andy in an awkward predicament. The high backhand volley is one of the hardest shots in tennis and Federer's ball may be going out. Andy's in the driver's seat, but he's not sure where to go. He decides the ball is probably going out, but that he'd better hit it anyway. That's always a tough decision.

When you swing at a ball you believe is headed out, it's almost a guarantee you're going to hit an inferior shot. Roddick pushed his backhand volley wide. It happens to the best of them, and in fact it did just then. You can rewind it and watch it happen over and over and over again. I'm sure Andy is not doing that, but the commentators have all christened that the stroke that decided the match.

Yes, that mistake was unfortunate. If Roger hits a better pass, I'm betting Andy hits a better volley. But tennis is like that.

Under pressure, Andy reverted to his most natural game. He'd been playing a new style all day, and doing a fantabulous job of it, but in the pressure of a tiebreak he reverted to his old style. The knock on Andy has always been gambling too soon and being afraid to move up to net. He gambled badly at 6-2 and he lost his feeling for the net at 6-5. Andy played a brilliant match to get himself to that point, and to give himself the chances he did. Andy played the right match to get to where he was, and it was not a natural style for him. What he'd done to get to 6-5 in the second set tiebreak was nothing short of amazing.

So what happened to end the dream?

There is a magic juice in tennis. If you've got it, you're going to win the point and if the opponent has it, he's going to win. That juice is called focus. Focus is what allows a man to return a 140 mph serve. Literally, between the time a 140 mph serve leaves the racket and the time it whistles past your ear, you cannot blink twice. In order to put a tennis racket in the path of that ball, at the exactly angle required to make the ball travel back into the far court, you must have focus. It's an almost inconceivable degree of connection between the eyes and the hand, leaving the brain almost entirely out of the picture.

Focus consumes energy like like a Rottweiller eats Scooby-snacks ... and you only have so many Scooby-snacks in your lunchbox. When you start a tennis match, you have a level of energy. Burn it too quickly, and you'll find yourself out of gas. You can tell when a player is out of gas, because he takes unjustified risks and misses. You can tell when a player is focused, because he does exactly what he should do and does it with a margin of safety, even when it's almost physically impossible.

Roddick showed every sign of losing focus in that tiebreak. He brain cramped at 6-2 and he shanked a makeable volley at 6-5. At 6-6 he dropped the ball while bouncing it prior to his second serve, approached on a weak shot, and missed a slightly difficult half-volley. At 6-7 he drove a backhand long. Federer, on the other hand, displayed perfect focus in the second half of the tiebreak. He did nothing amazing, and he did everything with a margin of safety.

Certainty that you are hitting the right shot can increase your focus. Fear that you might be making a mistake can dispell focus. The confidence of having beaten a man 19 times can increase focus. Having tasted defeat at your opponent's hands pressures your focus. Having a voice in your head narrating the hideous, secret, real reason you're making human mistakes can bleed focus dry. All those things were weighing on Roddick, but he was managing them successfully. Clear up to 15-14 in the 5th set tiebreak, Roddick managed all those things. The one thing Andy could not manage was fatigue.

Fatigue makes cowards of us all (Lombardi and Patton), and Roddick was significantly more fatigued than Federer. On Wednesday, Federer demolished Karlovic. On Wednesday Roddick poured his heart into a 5 set match against Leyton Hewitt. On Friday Federer embarassed Hass. On Friday Roddick played 4 crisis sets against Andy Murray and all of England. Federer came into Sunday's match with a full tank and a reserve of confidence Roddick could not begin to match.

The Narrative is that Roddick choked at the threshold of greatness. The reality is that fatigue caused him to lose focus. The man's problem was being human, not some intangible lack of belief or cowardice. The difference that distinction makes on the court on July 5th is nill, but come the US Open the difference will be massive. If Roddick believed The Narrative (he won't), he'd go out on court and at the critical moment there would be one more burden on his shoulders as he struggled for focus. He'll already have to fight fear, fatigue, and pressure, but The Narrative adds to that already herculean burden the special fear that he must be a choker. If, however, he believes the truth, that he fought to the limits of human endurance over 5 days and almost pulled off the upset of the championships anyway, he'll head into Flushing Meadows with an increased confidence that might actually sharpen his focus at just the right moment.

Life is like that. We all have a Narrator in our heads, the Boris Becker of our minds. When Roddick drops that ball at 6-6 just before serving Becker exclaims, "Oh my God!" We've all heard that frightened, little squeal in our minds over nothings. The Boris in our heads is misleading us, and when we follow him it's down the path of our own failure. At the moment of truth, his voice can be the thing that finally blurs our focus.

This little game we call Life is played with people's hearts, and every mistake costs someone - sometimes dearly. We need that focus every time we struggle to love an annoying relative, to overcome a besetting addiction, or to give when we'd much rather grasp greedily our gifts.

127 men lost Wimbledon, and I think most of us lose at life, too. It's just a matter of degree. Roddick lost after winning 6 rounds, and he needs to remember his success. When we lose, it's important to hear the Spirit's healing voice in our ears, because every time we lend our ears to our inner Boris, and thereby expose our hearts to Satan's lies, we weaken ourselves against the next match.

Today's lesson is that we need to make sure we're not misled by the Narrators all around us, and especially not by that one in our head.

May the Spirit guide you.