A season like no other - The courage to fail

For better or worse, this season is indisputably a season like no other. On one hand we are all struggling with restrictions that are in place due to Covid 19. I personally have to admit I have been frustrated by this perhaps more than I should have been and feel more than a bit guilty for letting it get to me. On the other hand not a day goes by that we do not feel grateful that we are open and still playing tennis. The spring taught us a new appreciation for the things we perhaps may have taken for granted.

I think we all need to express that gratitude to BNWT, and specifically John Wellar who had to make the difficult decisions in October when creating a safe environment for all to play tennis. It might not be a bad idea to send an email or message to the club just to let him and all his staff know how much we all appreciate the work done to keep us all safe and playing tennis.


The other day I was walking off the tennis court when one of our members found a tennis ball under the edge of the bubble. He pulled it out and fired it toward one of the open baskets on court ONE. He nearly landed his long range shot, but did miss and when he did, his buddies teased him for his failure. I noticed his body language shrug a bit and quickly said something I find myself saying a lot as a tennis coach; 'Hey, at least he had the courage to fail.' immediately, I noticed his peers recognize my comment and alter their assessment of his action from ridicule to respect.


One of the most hindering obstacles in tennis is a fear of failure. It is common for tennis players to display incredible abilities that are limited by their fear of losing, or of humiliating themselves. It essentially comes from a fear of losing the adoration and recognition of others. This reputation fear is a real one indeed. It's fairly common knowledge that public speaking trumps almost all fears. We have all heard stories of men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis but admit that they fear standing up in front of a room of strangers more than they do risking their lives.


How does one rationalize this? What is the worst that can happen when public speaking? No one is going to die. When you make a mistake surfing waves like the one above in Tahiti the consequence is serious injury or death. Yet many people will admit they are much more afraid of speaking in public to surfing a wave like this one.


I personally can remember surfing a wave in Indonesia called Uluwatu (Google it, it is one of this planet's best surfing waves). I was there a few times and on this occasion I paddled out with a travel friend from Australia named Simon. Simon was a much more accomplished surfer than me and when he said 'MATE, these waves are HEAVY, be careful.' I started to worry. Just like the view in the photo I would have a similar vantage as we would paddle over an incoming set and peer down the barrel of the breaking wave. Admittedly, Ulu is not as severe as Teahupoo, but to be honest, there is nowhere on earth quite as heavy as Teahupoo except maybe Pipeline in Hawaii. So, take my word for it Ulu is a monster when the swell is over 8 foot.


Ulu, like Teahupoo and Pipeline, has reef that is extremely sharp and jagged and the wave breaks over shallow fast moving water (waves travel faster in certain areas like Ulu, up to 16 MPH as compared to the standard 12 MPH on most coastlines, where the swell is accelerated by island landmasses.) So, if you do fall off the wave in the impact zone you get hammered by heavy, fast moving water, on top of this reef. In Teahupoo, a surfer hit the reef, losing his lower jaw. He later died of blood loss.


The consequences in these places are severe. And compared to missing an approach shot, and going doing down 15-40 instead of evening up your service game at 30-30 it is really helpful to remind yourself of this. In the same way it is helpful to remind ourselves of what it was like when we were in lock-down and had zero tennis options when we are frustrated with Covid 19, it is also helpful to remind ourselves of the real life consequences in the sport of tennis.


These little reminders are helpful to motivate us to have the courage to fail. Like the member who took a chance to launch a shot in front of his peers, or like the competitor who takes the chance to swing full tilt on an approach shot on a meaningful point. Remind yourself that all you have to lose is the opinion and respect of others. And when you play that scenario out (and I would highly recommend doing so whether via journal or with a therapist) you realize that reputation consequences have little-to-no effect over your future. This realization releases your inner beast, your inner superstar. Once you play that scenario out, and realize that it's only your reputation at stake (PROFESSIONAL NOTE: Other people do not care as much about you as you think, and this is a good thing) you find a confidence within you, you never before imagined.


That wave. The one in Uluwatu. I sat out deep, watched many surfers make the wave, and watched more than a few eat reef; turned out to be one of the best days of my life. Eventually I drew up the courage to fail and paddled into one of the smaller waves that came through and dropped into a perfect barrel. Time stopped for a moment. The reef below the clear water was pink and orange as I blazed through the pit of the wave. My friend Simon was paddling over the shoulder at the time, just like in the above photo. I remember his expression as I raced through the tube and slide back on my board and held my line. He watched me in amazement, as though he was saying 'this cannot be happening'


I did not get out of that barrel though. The set closed out and I was slammed into the reef. As the wave closed on top of me I widened my body as best as I could to avoid slamming into the reef. I did hit it, but was lucky to hit a flat section and I hit it with my back. I resurfaced, found my board and paddled back out for more. But I had faced my fear, and experienced a moment I will never forget, a moment that still to this day almost 20 years later still brings me joy.


Play the scenario (tennis, life, whatever) out, what is the worst that can happen and ask yourself if you can handle that outcome. Then if you are still scared, re frame it for your benefit by focusing on how much respect you will earn by being so courageous. Be grateful, an attitude of gratitude always improves your perspective and mindset. And finally, have the courage to fail!


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