sports psychologist & clinical psychology

THE ADVANTAGE OF SENIOR TENNIS

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – May 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – I enjoy assisting performers of all ages in all sports, but the majority of my work is admittedly with kids and young adults. It’s a shame that most people in the United States play competitive sports in their youth, only to later replace their cleats, helmets, bats and rackets for an easy boy chair, TV, fast food and another helping of hamburger helper. Finger muscles develop from pressing the remote control, but other muscles atrophy as the body enlarges.

Living vicariously through sports and Hollywood heroes, it’s no surprise that Homer Simpson typifies the average American male with the middle age bulge. Just as our metabolism begins to slow, we reduce our physical activity. Smart?

The physical damage caused by lack of exercise is obvious, but what about the psychological carnage? Sadly, couch potatoes miss a great source of satisfaction, socialization, excitement, and relief from life’s daily grind. Although team sports may be too time consuming, organized tennis is available at any age! Here is my favorite tennis quote from chapter 1 of my book Smart Tennis:

“Tennis is the most beautiful sport there is. It is also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that strange mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables.” David Foster Wallace.

Tennis can be played at any age from 5 to 105. By the time you’re 106, it’s time to gradually replace your diving volleys with more cautious footwork! I was thrilled to read recent articles (Tennis Magazine, USTA Magazine) about the remarkable Dodo Cheney, the most successful tennis player in history. Playing now in the 70’s and 80’s divisions of the USTA, she will have won over 300 national titles by the end of this year. Age is not a barrier! Even wheelchair players will find plenty of tournaments! Although my ravings will hardly make tennis the national sport in the US, it’s not such a bad idea. Rather than watching the NFL draft for 2 straight days, we’d be out on the court, with the best camera angles in the house, pushing ourselves toward improvement, enjoyment, competition, and fitness. Homer Simpson would love it.

Add Mental Equipment to your game and you’re in an even better place to thrive on the senior level. Let’s take a look at some tips for players wishing to gain a mental advantage, even if the back aches, the reflexes are slowed, and the vision is not what it used to be:

Start slow after a layoff. It’s never smart to rush back into physical activity after being away. Spend the first couple months getting into the rhythm. Stretching exercises are a must. If you’re playing for the first time, take lessons and take your time. Before long you’ll have a new hobby and a healthy challenge.

Keep a long-term perspective. Congratulate yourself that you are out on the courts! Rather than gauging your progress by how well you do in the first few matches, realize that you have already won by participating. Whether you are 50, 70 or 90, the majority of your peers have not even made it to the courts. Think of each match as a joyful celebration of life and fitness, and aim for improvement over the long-run, compared with others your age.

Rejoice in all your accomplishments. Winning the women’s 65 doubles title in your local area may not seem like such a big deal – but it is! Comparing yourself to someone 45 years younger is ridiculous. Your relative success may be just as meaningful as winning Wimbledon.

Use all the mental skills: There are very few mental limitations. Practice the mental skills just like the champions. Learn to develop world class focus and confidence, and manage your intensity levels precisely. Set and achieve meaningful goals and use visualization like an academy award movie director.

Spread the word around your club, neighborhood and city that tennis is a great way to keep the mind and body healthy. Who says that sports are only for youth? Why give up on the fun, health, fitness and challenge that you had as a child? Sport can be enjoyed throughout life and tennis is a classy vehicle!

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