“You know, tennis isn’t just about hitting the ball hard. Too many players think that’s what they are supposed to do: pound every ball. They watch the pros hit 150-mile-an-hour serves and they think that’s how the game is played. But they don’t realize the pros can do something they can’t do: hit the ball like a cannonball and still get it in."
“The ego is a false self. Because it’s not real, it spends all of its energy trying to prove its existence. It does this by comparing itself to others and by trying to surround itself with possessions and achievements. It also sets the stakes very high. It can make a tennis game into a life or death struggle.”
"When you play tennis, your mind will always tell you stories. That’s what the mind does. It never stops telling stories. Sometimes they are positive and sometimes they are negative. The trick is to stop listening to the stories, to cut them off before they get rolling along.”
"When the ego judges something as positive, it clings to that thing and wants it to continue. When the ego judges something as negative, the ego pushes that away with aversion. So the ego bounces back and forth constantly between clinging and aversion. Out on the tennis court, if our ego is in charge, we bounce back and forth constantly between positive and negative, clinging and aversion. Good shot, clinging. Bad shot, aversion. Win game, clinging. Lose game, aversion.”
“Most people never change their ways, both on the tennis court and in their life. Even if they are using a losing strategy, they just keep doing it.”
"As the game progresses, our mind just keeps churning up ideas, and we start chasing them. We think they are real. We have the delusion that they represent something real about us or our situation. But they are just ideas. If we can see this, really see this, then we have a choice. We can either chase them, or we can let them be, and they quickly evaporate.”
“That’s why most self-help programs don’t actually work, especially the high-powered motivational programs. They give you tools to pump yourself up. But eventually you get so pumped up, the bubble bursts, and you are back to feeling deflated. These programs just give you more toys to chase. But they are not sustainable.”
“That’s why tennis gets under people’s skin. What happens on the tennis court seems so important because it’s linked to the rest of our ego structure. If we lose a tennis match, it can affect how we feel about ourselves on a fundamental level.”
“Everyone has angry thoughts sometimes. It is disappointing to lose a big point. It’s annoying if someone cuts us off in traffic. But we don’t have to act on those thoughts and feelings. If we become skillful at watching our thoughts, and not taking ownership of them, then we can make better choices. And then we might not throw our racquet or give someone the finger while driving.”
“If we cling to the ideas of winning and losing, we will only be happy when we hit a good shot or win a match. Then when we miss a shot or lose a match, we will be unhappy. I mean, if you want happiness, that seems like a bad strategy.”
“When you want things to be different, you feel separate from them. There is a ‘you’ that wants ‘other things’ to be different. This is the ego’s desire for control—to control those things around it. This reinforces the idea that we are all separate, which is a fiction that the ego tries to convince us to believe.”
“People who use their ego to play tennis get injured more because they are not listening to their body. Their ego is telling them to strive harder and go further. That sounds ambitious and laudable, but the ego often oversteps its bounds because it isn’t the one that will perform the task. The body has to do that."
“You can practice equanimity. That means that no matter what happens, you remain calm and balanced. Think of yourself like a mountain in a raging storm. No matter how strong the wind, how loud the thunder, or how hard the rain, the mountain is unmoved. The storm is just an interesting and passing occurrence.”
“There is nothing wrong with working towards achieving goals. If you are attached to the outcome, however, you will put too much striving energy into it. Striving energy is fueled by the ego. It pushes you forward, but it can push you in the wrong direction.”
"Think of the game as a laboratory for self-exploration. Watch how you respond to the ups and downs of a match. Tennis, like all games, is a safe place to learn about ourselves. You can then take that new self-knowledge out into the rest of your life.”
"By playing the game, you are putting yourself in situations that test your intentions. When you win and lose points, your ego is going to come jumping in. You can then choose which path to take. Follow the ego, or take a different path. And the wonderful thing is: The more matches you play, the more opportunity you have to work on your personal-culture project.”
“It’s not only about winning. Remember you can play the best match of your life and still lose because the guy is just better than you. So that’s not the objective. The objective is to feel good about what you are doing."
“Mindfulness is like one insult after another. When you wake up, you realize what you have been doing at the behest of your ego, and that can be startling and unsettling. But soon you realize that the initial shock and pain is worth it. You end up feeling so much better, and you are able to live a much better life, both on and off the court.”
“When we try to boost our self-esteem, we usually focus on external factors, like winning a tournament or looking good or accumulating money. But if we base our self-esteem on these factors, we usually feel we have fallen short. That’s why people rant and rave on the tennis court. They are using tennis to boost their self-esteem, and when they lose a point or a match, they feel shame, and mask it over with anger and self-recrimination. Or worse, they blame something else, like the weather or their sore knee.”
“You start with self-compassion. Recognize your suffering for what it is, and have compassion for yourself. Instead of giving yourself a hard time for your shortcomings, have compassion for yourself. Accept that you are not perfect, and that you will fail sometimes. Accept that you will never play tennis perfectly, or live life perfectly. Accept that you are human. Accept that you have wounds, and take care of yourself.”