Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Eli 11.8 Hits the Court

Eli 11.8 has been playing quite a bit of tennis with me lately.

I played for two years in high school, and beat someone regularly who played #5 singles at my college. It was a small college.

I still play well. And when I play Eli 11.8 now, I hit the ball as hard as I can. He hits it back just as hard.

We're having 10-15 shot rallies on a regular basis, and he's learned how to build points. He's not just hitting the ball back randomly, trying to put it anywhere in the court. Every shot has a purpose, and he's hitting clean winners after long rallies because he's sequencing shots to get a specific opening.

It's scary, in a good way.

Plus, he likes to volley, which is something very unusual for kids. When he gets a short ball, he doesn't hit it and run back to the baseline--he hits an approach shot and comes in.

The one part of his game that isn't mature yet is the serve, which is always tougher to learn. Plus, it's tougher for me to teach. It's easy for me to explain everything else in a way he understands, but the serve is so much more complex than it seems (or, at least, it always was for me). So we didn't focus on it at first, which was probably a mistake, and now that the rest of his game is so advanced, I'm trying to help him catch up.

The biggest problem for most people with the serve is that they think too much while they're serving. They know how to hit a serve, but their brain gets in the way (you know what I mean). They get tight. I tell Eli to be "clear" when he's in goal, and it's the same principle--you know what to do, so just act and react. Don't think.

"Let's try something," I said, while he was serving his way through a bucket of practice balls. "Put a number on the ball."

"What?" he asked.

"Think of a number when you're about to toss the ball," I said. "Then, see that number on the ball when you serve."

He giggled.

"You toss, and I'll call out a number," I said. He tossed. "Eight," I said.

He hit the serve about ten feet, then started laughing. "Did you see it?" I asked.

He broke up laughing. "No, Dad," he said, "because THERE'S NO NUMBER ON THE BALL."

"There is if you put it there," I said.

He laughed again. "You are a mad scientist," he said.

"See the number," I said.

He couldn't do it. He tried, but he just couldn't see a number on the ball. Then, though, he had his own idea.

"Try calling out a math problem," he said. Very clever. Same principle.

"Okay," I said. He started to toss. "Eight plus five," I said.

"Thirteen," he said, and hit a perfect serve. He looked at me. I looked at him. We both started laughing.

"Again," he said.

He tossed. "Eight plus nine," I said.

"Seventeen," he said as he hit the ball. Again, it was a perfect serve."

"Oh my God," he said, laughing. "This actually works."

"It keeps your conscious mind busy so that it can't interfere," I said. "It stops you from worrying about what can go wrong."

"This is the goofiest thing I've ever tried," he said. "And IT WORKS."

I'm sealing my own doom, because he'll be beating me in another few months, but it will be my best loss ever.

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