‘Cold, old and slow’ rarely welcome on a tennis court

Handling the inevitable ups and downs of reality, against my own expectations is hard sometimes, when you are also your own coach. 

And so it was this week, when I entered in the training diary the words ‘cold, old and slow’ to sum up my recent on court efforts. 

Not so much two steps forwards, one step back. More like two steps back. Or that is how it felt at the time. 

Let’s look at the facts then behind ‘cold, old and slow’ 

‘Cold’ -undoubtedly the recent weather has been unseasonably cold. However you can prepare for this and wear more layers. Maybe the cold is just more noticeable when other things are not going as well as you would like. Improvement as I have commented before is an easy word to write and sometimes a difficult thing to achieve. 

‘Old’ well that is not in doubt in tennis player terms and can’t be changed. Maybe something to fall back on as an excuse when things aren’t going well, a kind of ‘get out of jail free’ card. I am not really happy to accept that as a reason, as I am only one week older than I was last week and all was fine then. Let’s get rid of that as a reason as well.

What then of ‘slow’ Here lies the value of keeping the diary. I can take an objective look for reasons that maybe have contributed. It looks like a clear case of being overtired and not heeding my own rule of thumb, of at least one rest day per week.

Twelve days straight of physical activity without a break explains some of the reason, as well as both knees feeling sore and tender.  Being tired with sore knees, it would be a surprise if I were anything else other than slow. The sore knees, I think are due to the introduction of a new exercise.

The other thing that happens in these situations is that it plays on the mind especially when the reason is not immediately apparent. Maybe the diary entry should have read. ‘Tired after not taking a break for more than 12 days and therefore have been feeling cold, old and slow on court’ Context is everything. 

The overtraining could probably have been predicted especially in these early weeks out of lockdown. Trying to maintain the physical work of lockdown and introducing actually playing tennis again. Perhaps not at all surprising that there is  bit of experimentation to do to get the balance right. A rest day toward the end of the week noticeably helped to recharge the physical batteries. Though I was still carrying the ‘cold, old, slow’ thought with me as a helpful excuse if needed. 

Understanding that physical rest can be a part of progress is well documented in any number of textbooks about physical training. Understanding the value of rest and actually believing it and applying it are two completely different things. 

I am reminded of a supposed conversation between Seb Coe and Steve Ovett, superb middle distance runners of the 1980’s suggested to have taken place over dinner, sometime after both had stopped competing and with reference to preparations for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  

” I have to know” Coe is reputed to have said to Ovett “on Christmas Day 1979  before the Moscow Olympics did you go out training ?” Ovett amused by Coe’s question is said to have replied “Oh, did you only go out once that day!”

With such stories in the back of the mind it is perhaps not surprising, why I might find total belief in the concept of ‘rest’ hard to truly believe in, as it feels so counter intuitive.

Before I write the past week or so off as a waste of time due to being overtired. It would be an equal waste of time not to learn from it. 

The expectation that every step on court will be a step forwards is obviously too high a bar to set for day to day performance, but maybe there is something else that is still of value that comes from these moments? 

For instance there will be competitive times (hopefully) when there will be tiredness to be overcome. What has the recent experience taught me? 

The basic principle quite obviously is don’t give in. Tennis is a game that can change in a moment. A good shot here a lucky winner there, all can turn matches around. The balance of confidence nudging slightly in one direction or the other is all that is needed. 

Beyond don’t give in? Keeping a clear head on what I am trying to do, even if it is not working has to be important to try and hang onto, keeping the red mist from descending. When red mist descends it can only be to my opponents delight.

Secondly, stay loose and swing freely. Again it can be difficult to achieve as the instinct when things are not going well can be to try and be more cautious, to caress the ball over the net.

‘Keep a clear head’ and ‘swing freely’ are duly added to the increasing kit bag of resources. Simple little messages to self, to help in those times when my game is not in the place I would want it to be. 

2 thoughts on “‘Cold, old and slow’ rarely welcome on a tennis court

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