Monday, January 09, 2012

Awkward Underpants

I took Eli 10.5 to the tennis center on Friday for some afterschool fun.

There's a nice tennis center less than five minutes from his school, and it features old-school prices (about $6 an hour to play) and a relaxed attitude that we both enjoy. Plus, no waiting.

So we were hitting on a court, it was a bit windy, and Eli was frustrated. It's odd for me to see this, because he never gets frustrated in hockey. In tennis, though, for some reason, he will get down on himself.

"That was terrible," he said after one shot. "I'm horrible," he said after another. Remember, this is a ten-year-old who's been playing for six months and hits topspin off both sides. I can also rally with him at 80-90% of my skill level, and we have frequent 10+ shot rallies.

For him, though, somehow it's not enough.

"Look," I said, after he muttered about another bad shot. "The problem with getting upset is that it interferes with you seeing the ball. Anything that interferes with you seeing the ball absolutely clearly is going to mess you up. Getting upset is sometimes easier than refocusing, because that requires real concentration. But getting mad at yourself never help you hit the ball better."

There were two people on the lower court next to us--a woman and a boy. As we sat down to take a break, he turned and looked at them.

"I would get KILLED in a tournament," he said.

I started laughing. "Let's see--topspin on both groundstrokes and no one could hit a clean winner because you'd track it down? You'd do just fine. But we need to find a way to help you be more positive. I don't want your attitude here to infect your attitude about anything else, because it's easy for that to happen."

"Well, it's because I stink," he said.

I wanted to tell him that he couldn't say things like that anymore about himself, but then I got what I thought was a better idea.

"Okay, let's try something," I said. "You can keep saying bad things about yourself, but whenever you do, you have to follow it with 'My Granny's underpants.' "

"OH MY GOD," he said, laughing. "So I'd have to say 'I'm terrible my Granny's underpants'?"

"Yes, that's right," I said. "And you have to say the second part as loudly as the first."

We started hitting again, and after a long rally, he hit a bad shot. He started to say something, then looked at me and started laughing. "No way," he said.

"Focus on the shadows on the ball," I said. "You can even focus on the fuzz, because the angle of the sun is highlighting individual fibers. It's cool."

We hit for about 15 more minutes, and both got into a groove where the rallies were long and spirited. I walked over to the side of the court with the fence we shared with the other players, and as I picked up a ball, the woman walked over to the fence.

"Excuse me," she said.


"Is that your son?" she asked.

"Yes, he is," I said.

"Is he already in a program?"

"No," I said. "I used to teach, so I've sort of shown him the basics."

"We have junior workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays," she said. "I think he would fit right in. I hope it fits into your schedule."

"Thanks," I said.

"What did that lady want?" Eli asked me when I walked back up to the net.

"She wants you in the junior program," I said.

"Me?" he asked.

"Who knows?" I said. "If the other kids hear you saying 'my Granny's underpants', it may turn into a popular local expression."

He laughed. "That is NOT happening," he said.

Saturday night, he played goalie in a league game, and had his first shutout in quite a while. His team played terrific around him, but he had two beautiful saves in the same sequence that are among the best he's ever had. The game didn't end until 9:15 (after his bedtime), and he had practice the next morning at 9:45.

He skated out and caught the team's best skater from four spots back when they skated two laps of the rink at the end of practice. Eli won by about a yard.

"Did you see me catch him?" he said with a big grin on his face as he left the ice.

"I did," I said. "And you know what I said when you started that last lap?"

"What?" he asked.

"I said 'He's going to catch him'." I did actually say that. I knew.

He smiled. "Thanks, Dad," he said.

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