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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

A Simple Act Of Love

“She has a crisis of confidence.” That is what her dad said to me when I told him his daughter had natural talent and could make some breakthroughs that weekend.

“Sara” was one of our retreat campers this winter, where we talk about how we can use the Three Crowns • Positive Attitude • Full Effort • Good Sportsmanship℠ as a tool for change in the world and change in ourselves.

“She gets down on herself and then starts imploding internally.”

It happens to so many of us when we go down that hole.  No one does it intentionally, because the effects are profoundly negative on our psyche and on those around us.  But it is a hard spiral to break out of once we start getting sucked down.

I watched her hit some more and struggle with a couple points.  Her demeanor, indeed, did change.  Her body language sent off the message of how she was disappointed in herself.  After one great point, which she lost, I approached her with excitement of how well she had played it.  But she had gone into her body slump, and her face fell.  Her dad was right.  She was having no fun because of the dramatic loss in confidence in the moment, and spending more time disappointed in her failures than enjoying her progress or the game itself.

But something happened over the course of two and a half days.

“She could be much better if she could just gain some confidence.”

Well, couldn’t we all? But how?  Then I watched as it worked again. So simple.  It almost seems too easy when I let go and try it.  And, in a way, it is, because a five-year old can grasp it as well as a ninety-five-year old.

I watched it unfold in this eighth grader, but still wondered if what I was witnessing was actually happening.

At the end of every retreat camp, we gather in a circle and tell the others one thing we learned about tennis that weekend and one thing we learned about life.

Staff and campers practice the Three Crowns at retreat camps

When it came to Sara, she said, “Before I got here, I would get down on myself all the time for my mistakes.  When I heard stories about the Three Crowns, I realized I was putting all my focus on things I couldn’t control.  So I said enough of that.  I don’t want to live like that or play like that anymore.  Do you know what happened?  I had so much more fun playing tennis than I ever have in my life.”

What she didn’t say, but what I realized again I had witnessed, was that her game was better and her life was better because the weight of the world was off her shoulders.

When we focus on things outside our control like playing well, winning, or being perfect, we carry weight that will eventually crush us.  It is a weight we were never meant to carry.  But we do not even know we’re carrying it because it becomes a habit.

What Sara did was put down that burden of expectations and embrace the Three Crowns, the only things she could control.

It was a simple act of love.

Towards herself.

She recognized that what she was doing – trying to control the things she had no control over on court – was hurting her.  Her mood lightened visibly.  And, without that weight on her back, guess what?  She played better.  She moved better.  She felt better. Surprise, surprise.

It is Valentine’s Day.  The day we celebrate love.  Sara showed herself love first.  That is where it has to start.  With yourself.  Not with someone else.

Then guess what?  Surprise, surprise, that act towards herself unknowingly became an act of love towards others.  Because once she changed her own body language, once she moved on from points without gyrations of disappointment, once she smiled after mistakes as well as good shots, once she noticed the good things others around her were doing and applauding them, she became someone who spread a different kind of energy on the court.  She was practicing acts of love towards others without even realizing it at first, then, by making them habits.

Is this going to change her overnight?  No.  Love is always a difficult road.  And we are complicated people.  Loving ourselves is often the hardest thing of all to do.  Because most of us do not believe we deserve it.  We believe we need to be harder on ourselves, not easier on ourselves.  But that is simply not


What weight do you need to put down that you have been carrying, maybe unknowingly, on or off the court?  What are you trying to control that is out of your control?  How might the Three Crowns assist you in doing that?

Love is a difficult road.  For every, single, one of us.  But it is a road worth travelling.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  To you and those you love.  But, today, mostly to you.


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