Idle Thoughts About Practice

April 4, 2021

Something funny occurred to me today: after nearly a year of training myself to mostly ignore my mechanics, I think it's time for me to focus on my mechanics. It feels weird to write those words. I might have it wrong. Maybe, just maybe, I've made it safe (enough) in my mind to let thoughts back in that used to mess me up. Here's the short version of what I believe has happened to me.

  1. I spent several years intensively practising with a focus on mechanics, because that's what i knew how to do. I improved, but eventually reached a plateau where I was only spinning plates: as I perfected one aspect of my game, another slipped, and I just kept fixing the same old problems over and over again. Frustrating.
  2. I didn't know what I didn't know, so I felt stuck.
  3. After some months of begging, the universe sent me the coach I needed with the advice that I didn't know I needed. I have spent the better part of a year retraining myself to shift my focus from thinking to feeling and from trying hard to do things towards letting go and doing them.
  4. Eventually I reached the point where my mind acted differently under stress: instead of retreating to mental checklists of things to direct my body to do, it started retreating to focusing on the things that feel good and trusting that my body would translate good feelings into good mechanics.

My habits have changed and that has made a significant difference. Now I feel ready to try practice drills designed to improve my mechanics secure (enough) in the knowledge that I won't (too easily) fall into old habits (without noticing). I trust that, when competing and under pressure, my mind will tend to stay out of my body's way and let it do what it had been training hard to do. If I have this right, then that would mean that I could safely attend to my mechanics without serious risk of falling back into obsessing over those details when I'm trying to compete.

If I am right about this, then it represents a huge breakthrough for me.

How will I know that I'm not just bullshitting myself here? I imagine that the proof will be in observing what my mind does under stress. How easily do I trust my shot? How easily does my mind return to focusing on the breath or on the good feeling of the grip of the ball or on the good feeling of letting go of the ball? How often does my mind get wrapped up in mental checklists of trying to direct my body to step in exactly the right spot? And how long does it take me to gently guide my mind back to more helpful thoughts? I'll keep an eye on this over the coming months as I try some more intensive practice aimed at improving precision.

We'll see how it goes. I'm glad to have my coaches to help me notice when I've gone astray and to remind me of what I've done over the past year to get here. More than anything else, I'm ready. This could be an interesting few months.