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.

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