Tennis Inspiration from Fisherman’s Friends the Musical

Privileged this week to watch the world premier of Fisherman’s Friends the Musical. The story if you don’t know it, is based on the true story of Cornwall’s favourite sea-shanty singing sensations and the hit 2019 film of the same name. The shanties are rousing earworms, that remain long after the curtain has come down ….

When your guiding star’s in a cloudy sky

(keep hauling, keep hauling)

Hold your course and don’t let go

(keep hauling boys)

How do actors do this type of performance day in day out? Eight performances per week. The similarity between stage and tennis court is unmistakable to me. There is such energy coming from the stage that I almost want to get out of my seat and go play tennis right now.

The main difference is that on stage the performance is scripted and repeated in a set way each day, with the same outcome. On the tennis court the other actors are trying to make life as difficult for you as they can. Behind stage and court I know there are hours of practice that go to make a performance in both cases.

The question remains, how to bring about a performance on each and every occasion as it appears that these actors can do. I suppose it helps that 1300 plus people are watching, whereas for tennis it is a rarity if anyone is really watching.

We have speculated on this question of performance before, usually in  a car of four players driving away from an evening fixture, when things have not gone as well as we had hoped. We ponder the cause, having looked forwards to the match all day long, going about our working lives. The tingle of anticipation as the time draws near. The flat performance that follows, seemingly an inverse rule of expectation and performance. The greater the expectation the flatter the performance can seem. It is though, quite difficult to be objective, as it is hard to separate performance from winning or losing, which in itself is often a poor indicator of absolute performance.

And this week there was finally the Cornwall vs Devon over 60s match to look forwards to. As a team we had practiced together the evening before. I was not as sharp as the previous week or indeed as sharp as I had been earlier in this week, though as a team we looked pretty good. We’re all proud to pull on the county shirt, though none of us are born and bred here.

Match day arrives and probably an early warning sign was immersing myself in work matters from early morning, breaking just before 11am for a much anticipated banana sandwich. Pre match meal of the gods or at least for those of us who cannot muster the effort of lightly grilled chicken and pasta or similar, so often reported to be the choice of professional athletes.

Pre match things to remember include scorecard, tennis balls, change of kit, bananas (of course), bottles of water, towel, change of shoes depending on indoors /outdoors, extra clothing as the weather is getting colder and for warmth if there is a period of waiting around between matches.

I know the match time is reeling me in and there is a tension between wanting to get on with the match and doing the routine things that I know help put me in physical and mental good shape to play. Neither part of my pre match routine is fully in evidence today. It’s hard to describe what is going on, my physical warm up at home is cursory and is not completed when I get to the tennis centre either.

Mentally with the start time getting closer my thought is no more than don’t give away free points. No game plan, not even a rerun in my head of fully how I want to play. Why is this? I think its force of habit as I have been playing this sport for so long in an average type of way, that it is hard to break the pattern of just turning up and hitting the ball. Most frustratingly I know it is happening and feel powerless to do anything about it. And in this scenario how I play is like the flip of  a coin or more like expecting to win on the lottery. Let’s call it headless chicken tennis. No disrespect to opponents intended here.

I know the better players do it differently. I have talked to them, heard them say “I could not believe at my age I was still pacing around the kitchen first thing this morning feeling nervous about today’s match” or “I had a clear game plan today” or “I saw you play last year so I had an idea what to expect”

On court now warm up over.

We spin a racket to see who should play at number one singles, which decides it should be me. Happy with that.

And for all the pre match practice warm up, I sense I am not really ready to play, so decide to receive. There’s a bit of a pattern emerging of playing unconvincing first games, its no different here today. I win the next three, but its scrappy stuff. In the end I have tried hard, chased everything and come second 3-6, 3-6. The score is  pretty fair reflection of the match, no complaints on that score. However it feels like an unsatisfactory experience as we sit down for  a coffee and watch the other matches play out.

The doubles is similar. There is no lack of effort, but there is a spark missing. Where is the performance? Devon deservedly win 4-1, no complaints there.

There has been a creeping end of season feel in the past week or so. Apart from stepping on court, the conditioning and stretching have been absent. In the hour after finishing I feel my hips stiffening up.

I think back to one point in the singles, when planting my left foot it slipped, maybe just a centimetre or two. With full bodyweight over my left foot my ankle jarred. That should not happen on  a dry court in good shoes. Just goes to show how near injury can be, thankfully the moment passes and the discomfort fades. Injury hovers just out of sight.

Next morning I am properly stiff around the hips. This is unusual as normally I feel fresh and good to go again. Just goes to show how important to my ability to turn out on  a regular basis it is to stay in good condition. Do not forget that good conditioning is a vital part of good performance. Repeat. Do not forget that good conditioning is a vital part of good performance. Repeat ……

I think performance is closely linked to confidence and confidence is closely linked to being in good condition, which supports good performance. It’s a self reinforcing cycle, which if not broken, has become a little reduced as the season has progressed and dropped  a little further. Enjoyment is interwoven into this cycle as well.

This next week feels like its time to review the season and set out the approach to the next season which will come around soon enough.

Maybe its also time to go and speak with a Fisherman’s Friend actor and see what they know about performance.

When your guiding star’s in a cloudy sky

(keep hauling, keep hauling)

Hold your course and don’t let go

(keep hauling boys)

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