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Chase the Ball, Then Hit It

Julienne Ryan September 7, 2022

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Chase the Ball, Then Hit It

A Learned-It-in-Queens Communications Playbook Life Lesson

The tennis greats of the world are playing their hearts out at the US Tennis Open in Flushing Meadow Queens, New York. Their agility, power, and grace never fail to amaze me. Each stroke shows the results of hours of coaching, training, practice, and competition.

For me, the Open is not the only important tennis event in Queens. Whenever I see an advertisement for the Open, I think of a very different childhood tennis ritual. One that took place on the Jamaica High School tennis courts in Queens, where I learned to embrace the challenge in front of me.

My tiny, oh-so-fit European mother was determined that her children would be physically fit and get plenty of fresh air. She settled on tennis as a perfect sport. So, she would have my father drive her, my pre- teen big brother, and me in our un-air-conditioned car up the hill to the tennis courts to train and play.

The first stage of the training process required us to walk in the blazing sun from our distant parking spot because the school didn’t have a parking lot. The fact that more times than not, we would arrive to see that the nets had not been hung was not a deterrence for my mother. We were there, and we were going to make it work.

So, on netless days, my brother lobbed the ball back and forth with my dad, debating where we thought the imaginary net began. This was a source of much discussion and negotiation as we ran across the uneven tar-patched and cracked surface, trying to keep our volleys in play. Sometimes we could get the ball going a few times. Other times it failed to reach its destination. So, we constantly tweaked our approaches. For example, I found that when I held the heavy wooden racket with both hands and aimed the ball directly at my brother, my accuracy greatly improved.

However, I always paid the price for that performance tactic because my brother would soon retaliate. The tennis ball would fly past and land in the far corner of the court. Often it would bounce out of the court and down the adjacent steps. Then I had to embark on a frustratingly long hot walk to retrieve the ball. But this gave me plenty of time to plot my little sisterly revenge and vow to beat him at this game one day.

When hitting the ball, I felt a sense of control and achievement. Hearing that distinctive “thwack” of the ball making perfect contact with my racket made my heart leap. Even when I saw one of my returns shoot over the tall 10-foot chain fence that encircled the court, my three-foot tall, grade-school self felt strong and empowered. Although it meant I had to take another long hot walk.

My family’s approach to the game of tennis was unusual and certainly not the most kid friendly. But we received our fair share of Vitamin D and exercise. More importantly, the experience did serve a lesson about learning new skills and making mistakes that we all can use:

1.      Sometimes you need to work with you have and work around your “tar-patched, and cracked concrete” challenges.

2.      Understand that you will be – literally or figuratively – a sweaty and frustrated mess for a good portion of the learning experience.

3.      Develop and practice your skills while you improve.

4.      Competing with a more able opponent will make you stronger.

5.      When you finally perform in an ideal seeking, you’ll be more prepared than you realize.

6.      Finally, keep trying. Practice makes perfect, or as the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi would say, “perfect practices make perfect.”

Julienne B. Ryan is a certified AccuMatch BI coach and the author of “The Learned-It-In-Queens Communications Playbook — Winning Against Digital Distraction” and an applied, narrative storyteller, speaker, trainer, and coach. She believes in the power of listening and is on a mission to improve how we communicate with each other, one authentic conversation at a time. Click on this link to learn about her services.

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