Reflections on a Busy Summer

August 9, 2010

Ocean Shores, WA

I realized the importance of careful tournament planning and of keeping your body and mind adequately rested, as I took my first early round loss during the Pacific Northwest Summer Circuit in the last tournament on the schedule, the Washington State Open, this past week. After a stretch of seven tournaments in seven weeks, I finally ran out of gas and lost in the second round to my former college teammate at Cal Poly, Brian McPhee.

I could feel the physical fatigue this long stretch of tournaments has taken on my body. I acquired more and more aches and pains and began to get sore earlier and earlier in the tournaments. But what I underestimated was the mental and emotional stress I was under, and that is what I felt finally caught up to me in the last tournament. I’m an emotional and fiery competitor by nature, and tough match after tough match seemed to suck the life out of me, and by the seventh week my gas tank had finally hit empty. Now I’m taking a much needed break from tennis, as I plan to take about a week off to recuperate my body and mind.

I want to start off my congratulating my former teammate Brian McPhee on an awesome week of tennis. He came into the tournament unseeded, took me out in the second round (I was seeded #4), and proceeded to make it through to the semifinals, beating some tough players along the way, including the #8 seed in a long three-set battle. Brian is an inspirational person who has worked his way from being a walk-on on our Cal Poly team to now being on scholarship and being one of the toughest guys on the team at his position, posting the best dual match record of anyone on the team last year. His stellar work ethic, coupled with his incredible fight and spirit when he competes, inspires his teammates and the people around him. He deserves all the accomplishments that he achieves, and I’m excited to see what heights he can climb to in the final two years of his collegiate career…Congrats McPhizz!!

Coming away from this past tournament, and the entire summer circuit, it was quite a learning experience. I was disappointed with the way I finished up following a great (and somewhat unexpected) start to the summer, but in the process I learned a lot about how to manage my body and mind and keep myself fresh in order to compete at my highest level. The seven tournaments in seven weeks might have been a little much, and looking at the future I might now schedule a week or two break during a two-month stretch of tournaments. Keeping up with an injury prevention routine is also extremely important, as I got away from my habit of stretching everyday, doing my shoulder band exercises everyday, and doing my dynamic warm-up everyday before practice. These habits are crucial to success at any level of competition, especially when pushing the body to its max.

There’s also a lot that I will build on looking back to the beginning of the summer when I was playing my best. I got valuable match experience against great players that served as awesome learning experiences. My match play improved over the course of the summer, and when I get back to training in the next week I’m going to create a plan and continue to work on the aspects of my game that I want to improve. For instance, getting more free points on my first serve was a priority this summer, and my goal during matches was to serve big and take more risk than I normally would feel comfortable doing at crucial times during matches. As I get back to training, I’m going to keep working on improving the power and accuracy of my first serve, and keep using it during the “big moments” in matches.

Lastly, and most importantly in my eyes, I lost sight of myself and the things that are important to my own personal well being — what keeps me centered and focused on a day-to-day basis. I’m an independent person, and enjoy a lot of time to myself to do things that allow me to be a little more introspective and reflective, like writing this blog for example. My stretching routine is another thing that allows me to seemingly meditate, calm myself, and put myself in my preferred “mental space.” I enjoy reading and listening and playing music on my guitar, which is also like therapy to me. As I allowed myself to get caught up in the tournaments and all the tennis I was playing, I lost sight of these things that are important to me, and stopped making them a priority. I realized how important those activities are to keeping me fresh and focused mentally and emotionally. They need to be a priority in my life, especially when the scenery that I am surrounded by is constantly changing.

As I prepare myself for overseas travel to professional tournaments, I also realize that this simple drive up the West Coast this summer is nothing compared to the culture shock of flying halfway across the world, arriving completely jet-lagged in a country where you don’t speak the native language and don’t eat the cuisine, trying to adapt and blend in to the culture, and all while having to compete at your highest level on the tennis court. It was good to learn the importance of keeping my routines and doing the things that keep me happy and centered now, as opposed to in a few months when I’m in a foreign country, having spent thousands of dollars to get myself there and give myself an opportunity to get a couple of  valuable ATP points.

Every point, every game, every match, and every tournament that I play should be a learning experience. Sometimes I learn about a stroke or strategy that I want to improve. Other times I learn about what it takes mentally and emotionally to win at crucial situations. Sometimes the lessons I learn are just about tennis, but more often then not the lessons I learn are about myself, on a deeper level, away from the court. I’ve always thought that the beauty of competition is how it brings out an aspect of your character that is rarely exposed on a day-to-day basis. When you’re in the heat of competition, when the pressure is mounting and the game or match is on the line, you can’t protect yourself like you would in everyday life, like putting up emotional “walls” in a social environment to shield your “true self”. Think about a competitive situation you’ve been in that has come down to the wire, whether you’re stepping up to the line to serve a big point, hit a crucial free throw, make a crucial putt…whatever it is. Your mind and your heart are racing. You’re lost in the moment of competition. You’re vulnerable, exposed and on trial for the jury that’s watching, awaiting your next move. Often times, the toughest person in that jury is you, and your self-confidence and self-worth are tied up in the result of that moment. These are the times when you learn a lot about yourself, about your character, and about your spirit.

Maybe I’m a nut when it comes to this stuff, but I’m a sports enthusiast because I think that this is the beauty of sports. People are faced with obstacles in sports that you don’t normally run into, and the way you tackle those obstacles and learn from them afterward is the valuable life lesson in my eyes. And as I reflect on the last month and a half of competing, there is a lot I learn about my tennis game, but always more I can learn about myself. I’m going to take this week to reflect and learn more, take in and hold on to the good things I did, and also assess and move on from the bad things. And hopefully in a few days when I get back to training I’ll be rested, rejuvenated, and have gained some new and valuable insight to help myself grow as a tennis player and a person.

-AG

PS. My next stretch of tournaments is now set, highlighted by a return home to the San Luis Obispo area for the Comcast Santa Maria Open. My full schedule for the rest of 2010 is…

Sept. 4-6: Santa Maria Comcast Open (Santa Maria, CA)
Sept. 9: Claremont, CA Futures (Qualifying → Main Draw)
Sept. 16: Costa Mesa, CA Futures (Qualifying → Main Draw)
Sept. 23: Irvine, CA Futures (Q → MD)
Oct. 29: Laos Futures
Nov. 5: Thailand 4 Futures
Nov. 12: Thailand 5 Futures

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