Fearless Tennis: Any Spirit in Your Game?

by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist

Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis

Today I was thinking about spirit. And, of course, as I often try to do, I wanted to apply this concept and experience of spirit into the context of sports. I know many people who find my work happen to be athletes, many of whom are tennis players, but as I am sure you know, what we can create off the court is available to us in competition too. It just takes more practice, motivation and commitment to apply to your personal performance.

What is spirit and why is it important? I consider spirit to transcend our everyday lives -- the responsibilities, "shoulds," the practical things we have to attend to on a daily basis such as grocery shopping, paying your mortgage and taxes or whatever you must do to keep the economic wheel turning in your life.

When we're tapped into spirit we are not rushing, we're not overly attached to the outcome (although we can certainly be engaged in the process and still have strong aspirations for an outcome), and we're not thinking about the past or future. It is a state where we are really dropping into our best "selves." We're not trying to get from A to B and worried about whether it will or won't happen or if we will do okay once that moment comes. It's more fluid, lighter. Without paying attention to this "state" or, worse, doubting that it even exists (or has been gone for so long you aren't really sure anymore), we can become a hamster on the great treadmill of life. And it would seem that to become a hamster in the first place we would have to lose touch with ourselves on some level. We would have to lose touch with the things that make us unique, energized and alive. And, with the pace of society today, I have a feeling that this experience of spirit is more and more fleeting for lots and lots of people.

But, what if we could take the idea of bringing more spirit into your performance? What if you could see the competitive "booby-traps"-- fear of mistakes, fear of losing, people's judgment, your own judgment, for what it is -- simply candy for the "little mind?" The little mind loves to solve problems (often but not always helpful) it will even create problems, so it can try to solve them. The little mind (ego) is messing around in the weeds but isn't really concerned with spirit. The little mind can't allow itself to let go of the score, the last error you made, the snide comment an opponent just made, because it is focused on self-preservation.

Spirit plays a higher game. The "self" is not being guarded against. It is grounded in the sensory experience of what you are doing. It is not concerned with an error because your spirit has a very different purpose. It wants to just be, to be free.  It wants to let go and be here now. It can accept the ups and downs because the spirit is not a "fixed" entity like your more rigid ego that wants certainty about the outcome and to be rewarded.

This week let a little spirit infuse your mind and body. Feel your feet on the ground. See the wider picture. You are here. If you're greatest frustration today is a weak backhand return I ask you to rise above, feel the grip in your hand, look at the sky or all around you and affirm that you can choose how you respond to the moments before you. Let go of your need to get "there," soften up and recognize that there is plenty of time -- time for your higher self to spend some time with you, your game and those around you. Trust that what happens next or in this match is ok, win or lose.

When spirit shows up you will know it. But, give it a chance and let's see if we can bring it back into the fold…because just maybe, a little "flow" may emerge that takes your game and your experience to new heights. Maybe a little more freedom awaits you?

So, I'm curious....what does spirit mean to you? How do you access it?

Jeff Greenwald is an internationally recognized sports psychology consultant and licensed therapist. He is a speaker, author of The Best Tennis of Your Life and a former world-ranked pro on the ATP Tour who went on to reach the No. 1 ITF ranking in the world and U.S in the men’s 35-age division. Read more.