As we enter the fifth month of this new life as we know it, we can all take a piece of advice from Brad Stulberg’s New York Times article about the mental discipline of endurance athletes. Like the pandemic, long-distance races take time to complete. It is important to adjust expectations for the challenge ahead and maintain a steady pace throughout the event. A process-oriented mindset is helpful to establish a purposeful existence in the midst of uncertainty. Without established routines, the notion of being productive can become daunting. Scheduling time for short bursts of work and rest are often helpful to create routines and set manageable goals for each day. Completing small tasks can yield a sense of satisfaction and help offset the feeling of inertia that might accompany this time.
While some of us remain in our homes, others are beginning to venture back out into the world of sport. Many local tennis courts are reopening and players are dusting off their racquets before cautiously returning to the courts, this time with a bottle of hand sanitizer. The official return of professional tennis was marked by the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) Pro Match Series held in Florida. On May 8th, four Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) players ranked in the Top 100 battled in front of a skeleton on-court crew and no fans. The traditional location of a stadium was replaced with the barren landscape of a family backyard court. The players looked rusty and inconsistent. Occasional long points were met by silence and a friendly remark from the other side of the net.
These matches showed players taking many precautions to reduce the spread of virus transmission. Yet the virus is not the only hidden danger on the tennis court. As we turn our attention back to competitive sports, we must once again address the discomfort of pressure. Flipping through Billie Jean King’s iconic book Pressure is a Privilege, I appreciate the simple advice that is often so difficult to follow. Billie Jean urges us to maintain a healthy perspective on sport and its relative importance compared to other aspects of life. Champions visualize the outcome of key moments and approach critical situations as opportunities to display hard-earned skills. Yet the trepidation that accompanies important points seems to paralyze the majority of the tennis world. I am left to consider…
How do we convince ourselves that pressure is a privilege?