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Write Space & Time: The Art of Performance
September 30, 2013

You can't hit the shot if it's not there. I learned that on the tennis court, where I know just enough to be utterly dangerous. Especially to myself. I have learned to hit a number of different shots, though I have to admit I have mastered none, and I have this 30,000-foot understanding about when to use which. But when eyeball to eyeball with a shot, there's disconnect in the synapse that I have yet to bridge.

The glaring abyss lies in the fact that I don't get to decide that -- the when to use which shot, that is. My opponent's shot does. (What a blow to a planner!) So the road I want to take when I want to take it is often out of commission. And for a million reasons that I just can't seem to resist, I ignore all the "Bridge Out" signs and keep driving into the water anyway.

As the school year begins and a new team is being born, players always want to drive real fast and straight, too. Detours are not in their repertoire. They want to run before they can crawl, they want euphoria before they endure pain. They have come prepared. They are ready! And they know, like me with a racket in my hand, just enough to be dangerous, especially to themselves.

So they race forward and sometimes they booby trap their way. Unknowingly and haphazardly, they litter their own paths with nails in the form of shots they should or shouldn't take and roles they may or may not play. They are competitors. They want to have it all figured out so they can excel. So they think and plan and dream and scheme and find themselves, ultimately, in a straightjacket of what they could have should have done.

Sport is not a static pool. Competition is because of a foil. In golf, it's a ball; in tennis, it's another guy with a racket; in basketball, it's a bunch of guys and a ball and a couple of usually less than fantastic referees… The yin needs the yang. As a matter of fact, one doesn't exist without the other. That's what competition is.

And yet, we, in all our perfectionist brilliance, often just can't help ourselves as we try to circumvent its magic. It's imperative to know what to do. It's certainly advantageous to know when to do it. But nothing good happens until you decide to hit the shot you're given. And oftentimes not even the guy on the other side of the net knows what that will be until the ball comes off the racket.

The art of performance lies in what you do next. You can't always win the point when you want to. You win the point when you have an opportunity to. Big, big difference. And that's where mastery lies.

- SC

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