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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

The Balancing Act, On And Off The Court

I have found on the tennis court that when I am off balance, everything tends to go wrong. Fast.

If I lunge at a volley unnecessarily instead of moving smoothly through, I cannot recover in time for the next shot and am often short footed when my opponent hits behind me on the next volley.

If I bend my knees in a pronounced manner as I am hitting a forehand – which is necessary sometimes, but not most of the time – I am not able to rotate my hips properly and get the benefit of the weight transfer.

If I tilt my head as I hit a groundstroke, I am not able to see the ball properly for a consistent strike, especially when on the run. (Steve used to say pretend like you have a glass of water on your head and don’t spill it, keep your head that upright and still. We had one of our instructors – who was tilting her head unknowingly – try this, and it instantly changed from a very good forehand to a great forehand. It was a matter of balance. Try this if you don’t believe it: hit a few balls with your head intentionally straight up and down. Then tilt it at a 45 degree angle to the ground, which is what many of us do unintentionally, and try to hit the ball both stationary and on the run. It is a dramatic difference).


Caroline Wozniacki demonstrates one way to not keep your head straight up and down when hitting a groundstroke.

We get off balance without even knowing it. In this instructor’s case, she had hit this way to being one of the best doubles players in the state and was an excellent college player. So you can still perform being off balance, you just can’t perform as well.

The same thing is true in life.

When my life gets out of balance, I am not able to see straight, to catch the little things in relationships, to stop and figure out what is going on. I become short-tempered with others because I don’t have time to recover and I am lunging all over my life.

But I had a moment recently that brought back to me the importance of balance. (And in full disclosure, I am better at maintaining balance on the court than in life, which you would know is a scary statement if you’ve seen me on the court).  I worked a long Monday through Saturday week recently. I could easily have hit the ground running again on Monday. In fact, aren’t we seen as “important” and “quite the worker” and “wow, look how many hours he/she puts in” when we do this? Aren’t we admired and even rewarded for staying off balance? “Look at how he hustles!!!” Even when it is completely inefficient.

I decided to take Monday off. I needed to rebalance.

In doing so, I noticed my daughter before she went off to school instead of just passing by her in a hurry. I was able to actually listen to my wife, who had been sick the day before and still hadn’t fully recovered but had to go to work to prepare for a project no one else could do, due the next day. (Listening worked surprisingly better than just nodding and saying “Uh huh” while mentally checking off what I had to do that day). I was able to write a song with a cup of decaf in my hand (you don’t want to see me on real coffee).

I was able to go out to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and take their three mile walk. Twice. Then have lunch by myself with a book, with the sun warming my back. Then a two hour nap back home. (Hey, wait, this all sounds really good. I think I just want to retire!). And when my wife came home from a stressful workday still not feeling well, I was able to have the couch ready with the magic nap blanket for her and stroked her forehead until she fell asleep. Then I was able to pick up our daughter from swimming and make burnt French Toast for us all for dinner.

None of this would have happened had I decided to “plow through” like I often do, because that is what looks important to others in this country, or to our boss, or our teachers. Being busy. (Or even worse, the expectation that if you can’t be busy, at least have the decency to look busy).

I can't do it with a guitar yet, but our campers can!

I can’t do it with a guitar yet, but our campers can with their rackets!

In tennis terms, I was able to take stock and start moving through my volley again, to rotate my hips freely on my forehand, to glide with the water glass on my head.

And then I was ready to get back at it the next day. I wanted to work instead of having to work.

The ironic thing is, when I took the time to get balanced, not only was I more effective at work, but I noticed my family and friends more even after I was back in the fray. That’s what balance does. It helps us see again. It’s not always a huge adjustment. Sometimes it’s just the tilt of the head.


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