Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I was in court Saturday morning at 7 AM.

Spelling--it's important. That should have been "on" court Saturday morning at 7 AM.

Eli 10.1, in his well-known role as sports tourist, discovered tennis this summer. He was in morning clinics for two weeks, and emerged ready to learn. We've been playing two or three days a week since then.

Much to your surprise, I actually played tennis at a decently high level back in the day, and I was also an instructor. So tennis is one of the few sports where I can give him quality instruction.

Tennis is a simple game. Well, most sports are, once you strip them down to their basic building blocks. For tennis, the basic building blocks are grip, footwork, and racquet position at the end of the backswing.

Well, and one more thing: seeing the ball clearly. It's so easy in tennis to think so much about what you want to do that you don't really see the ball. When you do, though--when you absolutely see it--your brain is overloaded with data, good data, and there's no room to think.

Like everything else, Eli is a quick student. Literally--he's the fastest player I've ever seen at his age. And it took him less than a month to hit topspin on both sides. Powerful forehand. Lovely and powerful two-handed backhand.

When we first started playing together, I'd feed him a couple of hoppers of balls (about 150 shots) to work on a particular technique, then we'd play. Two months ago, I fed him continuously keep the rallies going. Now, he hits so hard and so aggressively that I'm often forced to just return the ball defensively.

It's still 6-0 almost every set, but it's different. Points are pretty fiercely contested, and I don't feed him very often. Like I said, I'm not a slouch in this particular sport, and he'll be beating me within two years.

Which is great.

I tried something with him that I wish I had thought of to do when I taught kids before. Basically, I never told him that anything was hard. To him, everything is easy after he learns the mechanics, and the mechanics are always simple. So he has no idea that he's not supposed to be absolutely ripping a two-handed backhand after only a few lessons and less than a few thousand balls. He just does it.

Even better, playing tennis ties into every sport he wants to play. It's a short burst game, just like flag football or playing goalie in hockey.

If you're wondering when he has time to play, it's basically 7 AM on Saturday and Sunday. Plus, one ridiculous day during the week when he'll practice flag football for two hours (or have a game), then walk directly over to the tennis courts across from his school, where we'll play for another hour.

The funny thing is that I never drive any of this. It's actually killing me to play this much tennis, because it's high impact, and my body is no longer friends with short burst sports. But he loves it so much that it's impossible not to get swept up by his enthusiasm engine.

Actually, if I could pick one thing about Eli that was my favorite, I think it would be his enthusiasm. He's just this skinny little kid with a giant-sized enthusiasm for life.

That enthusiasm has changed my life, too.

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