Tennis Lessons Learned: The road to the Jewish Olympics

Post 1: All of the reasons not to do it.

(Posted 9.9.2023)

I have a big new goal I've been coveting, and I thought I would document my journey from the very beginning.

I recently learned of the Maccabean Games or the Jewish Olympics. It is the third largest sporting event in the world, after the world cup and the actual Olympics. 10,000 athletes go to Israel every 4 years to compete in Olympic events. And the best part is there are age groups!

Ever since I learned about this event, I've wanted to try to go. Having never had a chance to participate in sports as a kid, and really enjoying both sports and competition, this feels like a perfect goal.

Goal: To try to make it to the Maccabean Games (by qualifying for team USA) in tennis. 😮

Now. Here are all the reasons I've been telling myself to forget it.
1.    I started playing tennis this year 😂. And the level I have to get to is likely that of a collegiate player.  Is that even possible??
2.    I had breast cancer surgery last year that sliced through my pectoral muscles. Could I ever get them back strong enough to be competitive?
3.    I'm 42 and already experiencing some pain in my knee and hip after exercise. Can my body even handle the training it would take?
4.    I've never actively played a competitive sport in my life. And those of you who know my funny high school basketball tryouts story know that I would basically be starting from scratch 🥛🥛🥛.

And here's my short list of why I should do it:
1.    I think I can do it.
2.    It would be fun to try ❤️.
3.    I love playing tennis and can't seem to get enough of it.

Ok. Tell me everything I need to know!

Post 2: 🎾 How I Set BIG Goals.

(Posted 9.16.23)

I think it's easy to look at a big, audacious goal and think, "Where do I even start?"

As someone who thrives on challenges, you may have seen my new goal: Improving my tennis rating from 2.5 to 4.5 within a year and qualifying to represent Team USA at the Maccabiah Games in Israel!

Here's how I approach such monumental tasks:

1. Break it Down: Big goals can be intimidating. I start by breaking them into smaller, more manageable tasks. In terms of tennis, it's about improving specific skills one at a time - be it the serve, the volley, or the footwork.

2. Seek Expertise: It's important that I (a person who knows almost nothing about tennis) am not in charge of creating the game plan. That's why I got a coach. He knows what we need to work on to achieve the goal and he provides deliberate practice (the kind of practice that improves skill).

3. Find The Believers: In moments of doubt (and they come often), it's the cheerleaders in our life who reignite our flame. I'm grateful for friends and fellow enthusiasts who remind me of my potential when it seems like an impossible goal. (HT to Adam Smiley Poswolsky for teaching me about the importance of Believers).

4. Identify the Good, Better, Best Goal: I got this strategy from Jon Acuff. It helps you not set yourself up for failure when attempting something really ambitious. I'm creating three options of what I'd like to achieve: Good: I train for a year without hurting myself and significantly improve my rating to 3.5 or higher. Better: I place in a competitive tournament. Best: I place in the US qualifier for the Maccabiah Games.

5. Measure Progress: I'll be setting milestones along the way and sharing them publicly. By tracking where I am vs. where I need to be, I can make adjustments.

6. Don't Over Do It: Passion is a double-edged sword. While it drives you to train, it can also cause burn out or risk injury. So I've recruited a physical therapist to the team to make sure I'm not taking myself out of the game by going too hard to fast right off the bat.

To my tennis enthusiasts out there, I'd love any tips or insights you might have. And to everyone else, what big goals are you setting for yourself? Let's Go Big together! 🌟

Post 3: The Power of Questions in Pursuit of Big Goals

(Posted 9.23.23)

When we set big goals, our natural impulse often urges us to dive in headfirst, relying on sheer force to propel us forward.

However, I believe in the value of sitting with a problem and asking a lot of questions up front to help you chose the highest ROI for your energy.

The biggest challenge with doing something new is innovation waste, or using all that energy in ways that don't really move the ball forward.

Take my own objective: I've set an ambitious target to achieve a 4.5 tennis rating in a little over a year and qualify to represent team USA in the Maccabiah Games.

Rather than blindly enrolling in intense training sessions, I'm pausing to ask all the questions:

Foundations & Basics:
- What are the fundamental techniques every tennis player should know? (Below is a video of me spending a day learning the volley).
- How do I avoid typical beginner mistakes?
- What equipment do I need? (did you know there are actual tennis shoes?? And they aren't your sneakers 😂)

Training & Practice:
- How often should I practice to achieve my goal and not injure myself?
- What drills are most effective for building foundational skills?
- How will I know when I'm ready to compete in tournaments?

Mentorship & Guidance:
- How will I know when my coach has topped out at what they can teach me?
- Are there different coaches that specialize in teaching various fundamental skills? Or those that teach singles vs doubles players? Or even those that teach women vs men?
- Who can I talked to that has not only qualified but done well at the Maccabiah games so I can learn from them?

Physical & Mental Conditioning:
- How can I improve my agility, strength, and stamina for tennis?
- What kind of content would be most helpful for me to consume in between lessons? Books, Youtube videos, Instagram accounts.

Feedback & Improvement:
- How can I get regular feedback on my techniques and gameplay?
- What's the best way for me to record my practices?
- Are there other tools or technologies that can assist in helping my performance?

Tournaments & Competitive Play:
- Which local tournaments or leagues should I consider joining?
- How should I prepare for matches, and how do I best learn from each competition?

Community & Networking:
- How can I build relationships with players at or above my skill level to challenge myself?


Do you see how starting with questions can help you save a lot of time and effort?

My hope is that this curiosity fueled approach will set me up for success.

And to anyone embarking on a new ambitious goal: Don't start with a plan; instead, start with a list of questions you want to figure out!


Post 4: The Power of Deliberate Practice and Coaching 🎾

(Posted 9.30.23)

In my journey from a 2.5 to a 4.5 tennis player, I've learned a profound lesson that goes beyond the tennis court: The immense value of deliberate practice.

It would be easy for me to spend hours on the court, hitting ball after ball, hoping to improve. In fact, that's how I spent my spring and summer.

While time and effort are commendable, they alone aren't enough for substantial growth.

That's where the magic of deliberate practice comes in.

Deliberate practice is a concept that was popularized by Anders Ericsson, who studied the habits of top performers across various fields. Ericsson's research showed that with the right type and amount of practice, most people can achieve exceptional levels of skill and performance in almost any domain.

But it only works if you follow this very specific kind of practice (I outline the steps in the comments below).

I had my first lesson with a coach about 3 weeks ago, and my body was so sore after that I kept saying, "what have I been playing all this time???" My body was just not used to the movements he was asking me to do!

That's my coach Elliott, in the picture.

🌟 Improving Alone vs. With a Coach:
When trying to improve on our own, we rely heavily on self-assessment, which can often be clouded by our biases or limited perspective. In contrast, a coach provides an external and experienced viewpoint. They see the nuances in our techniques, the small yet significant errors in our form, and the habits that hold us back.

I've grown more in my abilities over the last 3 weeks than I have in my first 6 months of playing tennis! 🚀

Here's how:

With a coach's guidance, our practice sessions become more targeted. They guide our focus, correct our mistakes in real-time, and introduce drills tailored to our needs.

This structured and deliberate approach ensures that we're not just practicing but practicing right. The result? A faster and more efficient improvement trajectory.

For anyone out there striving for excellence, be it in tennis, a professional field, or a personal hobby, remember this: While passion and persistence are crucial, the guidance of a mentor and the discipline of deliberate practice can be the difference between slow progression and accelerated mastery.

I'd love to know if you've ever taken advantage of deliberate practice to master a skill.

And stay tuned for more insights on my journey. The road to 4.5 continues! 🎾🔥

Post 5: Enjoy My Pain

(Posted 10.7.23)

I have a crazy goal: to qualify for the Jewish Olympics.

Spoiler alert – I am currently terrible. I started playing this year and I need to get to a collegiate level of play to have any shot.

But here's the thing; I am embracing every flawed forehand, every misguided backhand, and every missed serve. Why? Because I believe that embracing my inadequacies is the first step towards mastery.

We live in a world that celebrates perfection, where social media highlights are filled with nothing but accomplishments.

But what you don't often see is the journey, the missteps, and the countless hours of practice that go into honing a skill.

Every professional was once a beginner. And in those early stages, they weren't pretty. They weren’t perfect. But they were resilient.

Being bad at something is a gift.

It provides us with a blank canvas, a world filled with endless possibilities. Each mistake is a lesson, each failure a stepping stone.

If we approach each setback with a learner’s mentality, we evolve. We grow. We inch closer to our goals.

So, why am I sharing this with you? Because I want you to enjoy my pain. Not in a sadistic way, but as a testament to growth, to vulnerability, and to the beauty of the journey.

Today, you might be chuckling at my missteps, but in the coming months, you’ll witness a transformation.

Post 6: My Pickleball Epiphany

For weeks, I was stuck. In my journey to learn to play tennis and compete in the Jewish Olympics, I couldn't figure out a vital part of play.

My wrist just wouldn’t twist (pronate) right for a proper serve and volley, even with my amazing coach, Elliott, trying every trick in the book. 🎾❌ We were almost giving up and looking for a “Plan B” for those shots.

Then came a 4-day work trip with my kiddo! 🚗💼 His big wish? Play LOADS of pickleball. Now, ever since I started playing tennis, I've been a “Tennis Only, Please!” kind of gal. But I decided to say YES to any idea that he brought up on the trip, so pickleball it was! 🥒🏓

And, oh boy, did we play! Hour after hour, day after day. I thought I could make the most of it by working on my footwork and holding the paddle the way I would hold a tennis racquet. And guess what happened when I got back home?

During my next tennis lesson, BAM! I served and volleyed with the right grip, just like that! 🎾🔥 Elliott and I were both like 😱 because something clicked while playing pickleball and fixed my tennis problem!

🌟 Lesson of the Week: 🌟 Always be open to learning, even from unexpected places!

Who knew that saying YES to pickleball (and fun times with my son) would be the secret sauce to my tennis progress? 🚀 So here's a shoutout to being open, trying new things, and finding happy surprises along the way! 🎉❤️

🔗 For a full recap of my tennis journey, including how it got started, I've linked a recap post in the comments! 🎾🌟


Post 7: Prepare for Failure

(This is my weekly series documenting my journey from being a tennis amateur to attempting to play in the Jewish Olympics - striving to get to a collegiate level of play)

Why do most people fall short of their goals? It's not because they lack talent, drive, or ambition. It's because they haven't prepared for setbacks. And setbacks are inevitable.

It's almost comical when you think about it. How often we set ourselves up for disappointment by failing to acknowledge that setbacks are a natural part of the journey. And not planning on what we'll do when they happen.

This week was one of those setback weeks for me.

I had every intention to stick to my training, to push myself harder and to refine my skills. But life had other plans. Between juggling the responsibilities of looking after two little ones while my husband was away, managing three client engagements, and my coach getting sick, there was simply no room for tennis.

And as I looked at my untouched gear (pictured here), the familiar voice of doubt started to creep in. "This is unrealistic. How will you ever find the time to achieve this? You're thinking too big this time. It's never going to happen."

But here's the good news. I've been down this road before. Every ambitious goal I've set for myself has been met with challenges, setbacks, and that nagging voice of doubt.

What's different this time? I'm prepared for it. I expect it. I've accepted that there will be days, or even weeks, where I feel like I'm moving backwards rather than forwards.

I just know that this setbacks isn't the end. It's simply a pause, a moments to reflect, and an opportunity to bounce back stronger.

So while this week was a dud, I'm not discouraged. I've scheduled my lesson for next week and am even working on scheduling my first match 😮.

Do you have any advice on bouncing back from setbacks? Anything you like to tell yourself or do?

Post 8: Navigating the Mental Game

(This is a series documenting my journey from being a tennis amateur to a collegiate level player in a year and a half and attempting to qualifying to play in the Jewish Olympics)

The last few weeks have been super frustrating.

I’m doing great in practice with my coach. He’s telling me that we’re progressing well. But anytime I play a competitive match, my nerves take over and I mentally sabotage myself.

I'm not even putting too much pressure on myself to win. I worry about embarrassing myself in front of the other players, which causes me to overcorrect and…embarrass myself in front of the other players 🤦🏻. I just don’t play as well in a match as I do in practice.

Even though this is my first time playing competitive sports, this feeling of self-sabotage is oddly familiar. For the first eight years as a keynote speaker, I would get physically ill before every speech. It seemed like my brain (which was very excited about the opportunity) and my body (which was trying to put a stop to it) were not on the same page. Thankfully, I’m on the other side of that challenge, but I would love to solve this tennis situation in less than eight years 🙃. 

So, I'm on a quest. A quest to tame my game-time nerves.

I’m asking a lot of questions about what’s possible and trying out a lot of experiments.

Please send all the tips and tricks.

My big takeaway so far is that in this game of life, whether with a racket or a microphone, the real match is within.

Post 9: “How do you not hurt yourself?”

(This is a series documenting my journey from being a tennis amateur to a collegiate level player in a year and a half and attempting to qualifying to play in the Jewish Olympics)

A fellow tennis player asked me this question when she found out I’ve been playing around 10 hours a week.

As someone who's never played sports before, hurting myself was one of my greatest concerns.

But I worked backwards and built a team:

- A physical therapist to help me strengthen the right muscles and make adjustments when something starts to hurt.
- A pelvic floor physical therapist to make sure that all of my body can keep up with this level of play and dry needle muscles that need it.
- A trainer (my husband) to help me recover well after playing and hold me accountable to my strength training regime.
- A tennis coach to make sure I’m developing all the right skillsets.

Just like achieving any big goal, the secret to fast growth is Who not How. All of these individuals are helping me improve in ways I could never figure out on my own. Because I've never done anything like this before.

If you want to achieve something you’ve never done before or start growing at an exponential rate, the key is to find individuals who will show you your blindspots!

And yes, it sounds like a part-time job. But just like my full-time job, I'm loving every second. And I'm making progress!

I'm now playing in two separate 3.0 leagues. For those keeping up with my journey, this is a big jump from where I started.

Tryouts for Team USA are Oct 6-8! Wish me luck!

diana kander logo in black


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