Posts Tagged coming from behind

Two Drastically Different Mentalities

I recently played squash in fear and tennis with hope. The different results are stupefying, and you might guess that I lost the squash game and won the tennis contest. You are partly right. However the details are worth describing. Especially if there is a lesson here for life beyond the courts…

A month ago I had just hit squash balls with a new friend who is a serious squash player, but out of shape. We stopped after 30 minutes. It was my first time on a squash court in three years.

Then I saw a martial arts movie, The Best of the Best, in which USA coach James Earl Jones says things like: you must win all the time, not just some of the time or whenever. Winning is a life style that requires total dedication and concentration. Losers on the mat are losers in life.

The next day I played squash GAMES with my friend. I usually just hit on the court, not play games with points. But I won the first game 11-5. I noticed that when I was ahead, I was hoping the game would be over soon and that I wouldn’t blow it. I lost the next game 6-11. We took a break and talked. During the third game, I was ahead 7-2 and 9-4. But I was terrified that I was going to lose. Every time my opponent bounced the ball before serving, it was so deliberate and practiced and intense and serious, I was actually afraid. I could see that he was an experienced player. I was incredibly impatient again for the game to be over. I sure knew what it was like to have NO confidence, low self esteem, fear and self-disgust.

I remembered the words from the movie and repeated them in my head. “I want to win, you can do it.” But I was definitely scared and had no confidence that I would win…even with a five point lead. I certainly didn’t want to be a loser. But I lost anyway, 10-12…I made one more point, while the other guy made eight. It was a rout. It was ridiculous. My game was pathetic.

Later I told myself that it’s not so important, I was out of practice, I have played few games in my life, none in three years. Yatta, yatta, yatta. My rationalization included recalling that the Malaysia plane had been destroyed, there was fighting in Gaza, etc, etc. A squash game means nothing. I got over it…

Two days later I played tennis. Phil Farmer, an experienced player, had told me earlier that he always plays to win, because it’s “his game… it’s who he is.” I admired his determination to play well and not accept losing to his peers. I play my best, but when I lose, I often say that “It’s just a game.”

On the doubles court one set, I was the weakest player. As part of the round robin format that afternoon, first team to five games and ahead by two is the winner.

The first time I served in the set, we won easily. My serving has improved considerably, since I took a lesson a month ago. I also practiced serving for an hour the night before and for 15 minutes earlier the day of this match. My partner certainly deserves credit for putting away a number of the returns to my serve. At least what I sent out when serving didn’t come back as winners. To everyone’s surprise, our team took a 4-0 lead. I was giddy. Winning would be an upset. I even wanted a bagel.

Now I was serving again for the match…but we lost. Then we lost again and again and again. Score is 4-4. Tiebreak.

Our opponents took an early lead, I lost both my serves. Soon we were behind 1-5. But I have much more hope and optimism and confidence in tennis than in squash. I am known as the guy who “never gives up,” and I tell my partners that all the time. We came back to 3-6, and it was my turn to serve again. I wanted to win, though I did not believe we WOULD win. But I was going to give it all I had, do my best, make a real effort. It never even occurred to me that we were definitely going to lose or that I was afraid.

I served a fast ball (for me) right down the middle that skidded off the line for an ace. 4-6. My second serve was not returned. I think it was hit into the net. 5-6. I hadn’t choked. We were still in the game. Then we break the next point. It’s 6-6, then 6-7, 7-7, 8-7, 8-8, 9-8.

My turn to serve again. I don’t choke for the second time. My serve is not returned in the court. We win 10-8!

Who would have believed it? No one. My partner and I talked later about the changes in momentum…after all, we were ahead 4-0, then lost it to 4-4 and 1-5 in the tiebreak. Then something changed again. Why wasn’t I afraid? I don’t know. I do remember though that when I was serving at 3-6, I was unsure how to do the serving motion. It felt awkward, forced, the farthest rhythm from smooth and practiced.

But somehow it happened…even an ace down the “T.” I want to know how to do this in everyday life. How to come through when I need to. How to not be afraid or so scared that I am wishing it would end and be over, even if I am the loser, which is an awful feeling I don’t have hardly at all. I mean I lose all the time. I make mistakes every day. But the fear I felt in that squash game was painful.

During the hour of talk and drinks after the tennis match, it didn’t register emotionally. I was proud when one friend I played with earlier said he’d heard about my victory and told everyone that I had probably told my partner to “Never give up.” I like knowing that people think of me that way. It’s a good attitude, and it’s definitely one that is part of me.

A couple of hours later at home, when I was telling my wife about how my team won the set in the tiebreak, I was exuberant, excited and exhilarated. I felt happy. It was great. It didn’t matter a bit that my teams with different partners had lost three other sets that day as well.

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Digging Deeper When You Are In A Hole

Andres Vargas (rt) and Chris Binnie (who won the 9th match in the final)

On February 25th at the college squash national quarter finals, Trinity’s #3, Andres Vargas, defeated Franklin and Marshall’s Mauricio Sedano, 12-10, 12-10, 11-8. The closeness of the final numbers doesn’t reveal a startling comeback I witnessed in what I may recall correctly was the second game. Vargas was down by a score of 3-9. It only takes 11 points to win, although you have to win by at least two points.

There were less than 10 of us watching this game on the side courts with no bleachers. The eight or so folding chairs were mostly empty of fans. But standing beside me was a Trinity team member who does not rank in the top 9, so he was not playing that day. He casually said to me—in response to my expression of concern that Vargas was in deep trouble—”Don’t worry, Vargas will win this game.”

I was shocked. What made him think that? How could he be so sure? He was absolutely certain. When the score increased to 5-10, so that F&M’s player just needed one more point, my Trinity neighbor repeated his prediction. “Vargas has heart. He is the ultimate fighter. He will win this game.”

And then something emotional and inexplicable happens…Vargas wins two more points. It’s a 7-10 game. The distance to the finish has been cut to one point for F&M, but “ONLY” five points for Vargas. Still seems impossible to me. Yet having just won four out of the last five points, the momentum has clearly shifted to Vargas’s side. Trinity fans are hopeful. Maybe it isn’t impossible. F&M needs just one little point in the next five or so efforts. But it doesn’t seem like such a sure thing any more.

Remember that the first game was very close. It had been tied at 10-10, before Vargas squeaked ahead to a victory. This was not a pushover competitor. In this game, F&M had been ahead by 6 and then 5 points…Nevertheless, Vargas claims the next five points, forcing his way to another 12-10 win.

I turned to his Trinity teammate beside me. “How come you are not surprised?” I asked. Vargas had just won 9 out of 10 points. “He just digs in and wins. He is a fighter,” was the explanation. Not very clear nor satisfying to me. But he did it. I had witnessed it.

When Andy Roddick was playing Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2009, there was a moment when Roddick was up a set and winning in the second set tiebreak 5-2. I was sure—well 99% sure—that Roddick would win two points, before Federer would win five. But Roddick blew it…and maybe never recovered. He lost the match in the fifth set by a score of 14-16.

Federer just dug deep. And he does it over and over. In a recent interview, Roddick said that Roger plays consistently at the highest level, whereas the other top 10 pros like himself lose focus, have more off days, are unable to maintain winning game play.

I tried to dig deep at tennis today, like Vargas and Federer. We were behind 0-3, and I was serving. I tried to be a killer, instead of a gentleman who doesn’t mind losing. It is my biggest challenge. But I believe I can do it…and we came back to win that game 6-4. Who’d a thunk it?

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