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Tennis and change management

Change means challenge, challenge means insecurity and insecurity means discomfort. As humans we like to remain within our comfort zone and are adverse to change. On the other hand, breaking out of our comfort zone, id est taking risks, is what really makes us learn. It is both exciting and frightening, but once you overcome these feelings and succeed, it is a feeling second to none. This is a personal example of change management and risk taking, taken from my (at best) mediocre efforts on the tennis court.
I have always been a tough competitor on the tennis court and I have often beaten opponents of a higher quality. However I tended to be a pusher. That means trying to keep the ball in play, running a lot and chasing balls, playing moon balls and waiting for the opponent to make mistakes. This only got me to a certain level. Once I came up against players with a solid serve and strong groundstrokes I got found out and was easily beaten. 
This year I decided that is was time to change. I started taking classes and play at least three times a week. My teacher was very keen to drag me out of my comfort zone and wanted me to take risks on the court. He urged me to dominate play instead of just reacting. Suddenly I was changing my mindset, first in training but bit by bit also in matches. I was trying to hit winners and play aggressively while still focussing on my technique. It is more, once you hit the ball with a strong intention, your movement improves as well. 
First of all I was not comfortable. I was playing a match against an even opponent. Although I won a hard fought match in two and a half hours after a great physical effort, I was not happy because I was playing badly and I was playing with fear. I hit very few winners and my service was especially weak. That was not was I wanted. 
The next three matches I lost but I was improving and therefore I was pleased with my effort. I found that my forehand and my service were most likely to win me points, whereas my backhand was still a bit off the mark. Sometimes I was playing the perfect ball, feeling totally "in the zone" during the preparation and execution of the shot: an ace with a risky second serve or a crosscourt forehand winner zipping past the edge of the opponent. Even when I was loosing I tried to remember these points and how I played them. I was also happy with my effort because I changed my stance - no longer was I trying to win a match. Instead I was focused on prepare for every ball, trying to make the right decisions and trying to play better tennis. All this took a lot of pressure off my shoulders and let me play with ever more freedom.
Then came the perfect match. Not only was I winning, but also against a strong and experienced opponent. He quite frequently used to challenge my calls and we had a few arguments over ball marks. I noticed that this did not inhibit me. Instead this fired me up and made me play better, with intention and aggression. After a hard fought first set, which I bagged 6-4, I broke his resistance, storming to win the second 6-1. I did not over celebrate winning the match, I was just feeling extremely relaxed and calm, thanking my opponent for the good match. 
Half a week later I broke my ankle while playing tennis. The pain was not only physical. Part of the pain was knowing that for three months I would be unable to hit a ball on the red clay. Although my level is hardly average, I am thankful for this experience, going into the right direction, at least for a couple of months and at least a little bit. Special thanks go to my coach Marcelo who made me not only play better tennis but who changed my mindset on the court. I hope I can apply the same learning effect in other areas of life and break out of my comfort zone from time to time. Of course I would love to play tennis soon, searching for that one moment in time.
2.12.13 22:15
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