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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Next Time

I was playing against an opponent who would normally beat me eight times out of ten.  Okay, nine times out of ten.  I realized my strategy of rallying from the baseline with him in the past would result in a lovely workout, but no chance of a win.  So, going into the matchup, I decided to take every approachable ball and try to end the point early.

I was incredibly successful at this.  Point after point.  Right into the net.  Hmmm.  That’s when I began to employ my “next time” strategy.  Instead of being discouraged, I applauded being in position to actually end the point.  And I began to analyze what I needed to do to actually end the point in my favor.

When I hit the next volley into the net, I realized I had been stopping when I volleyed instead of moving smoothly through, causing me to be off balance, dip my shoulder, and net the ball.

I said to myself, “Next time I am going to move through the volley.”  The next opportunity I had to approach, I came in, moved through the volley, and, PRESTO!, put the ball into the net.  Hmmmm.  I realized I tried to put away a volley that was below the net instead of sending it back deep and setting up the next volley to put away.  I said, “Next time I will place my first volley deep down the middle in this situation, take away his angles, so I can close in to put away the next volley.”

Next opportunity, I did just that.  I moved through the volley that was below the net height, recognized I needed to send it deep, did so (it floated a little more than I wanted but I got it deep), split stepped, closed in and… got passed.  Hmmmm.

I quickly analyzed the situation and came up with my next plan.  “Next time”, I said to myself, “I’m going to stay home and take a nap.”

See how good this strategy works?  It’s incredible!  And I get extra sleep out of the deal!

Alright, alright, the fact is, I learned something new about a positive attitude (one of TLC’s Three Crowns) at the USTA National Teacher’s Conference a couple years ago.  It is that a positive attitude without a plan will not produce results.

At TLC, we talk about how a positive attitude can change everything in a match and in life.  That is true.  But we sometimes framed it by providing campers a saying – when they missed – of “I’ll get the next one.”  But “I’ll get the next one” leaves us with no action plan.  The teaching pro at the USTA that day, and I wish I could remember her name, because this one piece of information was worth the whole conference, said something I have used almost every day in tennis and in my life since.  So simple, but so profound.

She said, “When you finish a point in a manner you wish you could have changed, don’t just say ‘I’ll get the next one.’  Have your students say, ‘Next time I will…’  It focuses them on the positive, but does so in a way that helps them move forward, not dwell on the mistake, and put into action a plan that helps them analyze it and then turn the mistake into a potentially good habit.”

Now, every point I lose (and many that I win), I say “Next time I will…”  Next time I will move through the volley.  Next time I will place that shot when I am out of position toward a safer target deep cross court or down the middle.  Next time I will attack my opponent’s backhand more consistently, since it is his weakness.  Next time I will move in on a short ball to put pressure on my opponent.

I have found this works amazingly well for my tennis game.  My opponent that day actually came and talked to me during the match saying, “I see what you are doing and it’s working coming to the net.  You have me, you’re just not finishing me off.”  Which caused me to think “Next time out on the practice court I am going to work on drills that will help me finish off points.”

But, more importantly, it works for my life.  “Next time” I will applaud my opponent’s shot instead of being discouraged with my own.  Next time I will write a note to my spouse or child letting them know how much I love them.  Next time I will stop for five (ten, fifteen, sixty?) seconds before I respond to someone in a way I will later regret.  Next time I will ask about the other person’s story before attacking their belief systems.  Next time I will stand up and speak out when I see an injustice being done to someone because of their race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation.  Next time I will hug my child when I walk through the door at the end of work instead of heading straight for the paper or the computer.  Next time I will…  This works.  It really does.

When we make our positive attitude contingent on results, our wishes become more than that.  They become habits.  Then we find ourselves habitually moving through volleys, hugging our children, saying we are sorry when we make mistakes, surprising loved ones with random presents.

So, this is a long way of saying I am scheduled to play my opponent again this weekend.  But I have learned from my mistakes and I am ready to put into practice my new “next time”.  Naptime, here I come!!!

Next time I will have a nap instead of having caffeine!


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