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The Joy of Tennis

Now in this New Year, I'm making it all fit together by keeping the goal in mind, following the process, and having fun along the way. In short, I resolve to think less about the outcome and to focus on joy, instead.
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Focus on Joy. That's what I told myself as I held my racquet, getting ready to return her serve. Dr. Joy Macci, tennis pro turned executive coach, is a Chris Evert on the tennis court and a Tony Robbins on the corporate stage. When I met her last year, Joy radiated, well, joy as she spoke on a panel about women in corporate governance. Her talent for coaching both on and off the court rejuvenated my desire to give tennis another chance.

As part of Generation X, I'm not in Macci's target audience for Boomer Tennis, but her new book is a perfect match for my skill level. I've taken lessons maybe a dozen times in my life, but thus far my interest has always waned once the running begins. However, a new year brings renewed resolutions, and tennis has found its way back to the top of my bucket list.

Among my favorite features of the sport is that tennis is ageless. More than a pastime, tennis is a lifetime activity. As the baby boomer market has grown, tennis technology has also advanced, with lighter, composite racquets allowing 50- and 60-somethings to hit like their 30-year old counterparts. In a span of two years, tennis grew in double digits in the overall population, due in part to the engagement of baby boomers, which make up 12 percent of the 27.8 million tennis players in the U.S. and 22 percent of the tennis industry's revenue. These mature tennis enthusiasts give me hope that there's still time to develop skill in a sport - an aim that has eluded me in my 40-plus years.

In between attempts at tennis, the skirts have worked wonders for runs to the grocery store, but when Macci offered me a free lesson, I was pleased to put on my best tennis outfit for its intended purpose. This was a win-win opportunity: she could test tactics from her book on a veritable blank slate, and I could get inside the mind of one of the world's most accomplished leadership coaches. A side benefit would be getting to find out, once and for all, if this sport and I had any future together.

After we warmed up, Joy said, "Okay, now I'm going to show you how to do an outstanding overhead. You can be either a cheerleader or the Statue of Liberty. You decide." (I chose cheerleader.) "Now you're going to lift both arms over your head at the same time, and quickly turn sideways, salute and snap," instructed Joy. I watched her as I followed her instructions. After a few tries, I soon found myself delivering my own outstanding overheads.

With Joy, everything is inspirational, but none of it is flimsy. As she demonstrated the inside mechanics of the overhead swing, I gained insight into the micro-steps that make up what looks to be a single fluid movement. I also realized how much the mind drives success in sports.

Gifted with natural kinesthetic talent, Macci surprised me with her emphasis on inner work. Applying the principles she outlines in her book Serendipity of Success, she synthesizes personal performance with sports excellence using her T.F.S.P. process - technique, fitness, strategy, and positive mindset. Based on the results of our lesson, Macci's framework works. By the end of the session, she had me doing great ground strokes, spectacular serves and lethal lobs. My ability to replicate my success is limited only by my ability to open her book and try again.

In fact, there's no losing in this sport if you genuinely commit to it. As the "boomer" legends in Macci's book demonstrate, you can make the sport your own depending on your goals and circumstances. Champions have accomplished a wide range of achievements with it. For example, Billie Jean King used tennis as a platform for bringing equality for women to professional sports. Romanian champion Illie Nastase, one of the five players in history to win more than 100 ATP professional titles, used the sport to showcase his artistry and originality. Mary Carillo, who sustained knee injuries during her very successful career, used tennis as a basis for an award-winning career in sports broadcasting. And the list goes on.

My aspirations are simpler. For me, it's a stretch anytime I can get out of my head and into the moment. Being outside, feeling my body move in concert with another, feeling the anticipation of making contact with the ball, hitting it with my racquet and seeing it fly across the net along the intended trajectory (more or less) - these tiny victories added up to a huge personal win.

I realize that staying excited beyond a single lesson will take some commitment. I will need to dedicate myself to the process and create a supportive environment to cultivate my interest. I also need a willing partner that wants to play at my level and aims to hit balls that I can return. While tennis can be played alone against a wall, like anything else, it's much more satisfying when you share it with someone else.

The first time (okay, twelve) that I tried tennis, I crashed and burned. I still don't know how this chapter will work out, but it's looking good so far. And that goes for more than tennis. In the space of a year since first meeting Joy, I've focused on making new friends, making new stuff, and making time for things and people I love - and less on making plans, making money and making lists.

Now in this New Year, I'm making it all fit together by keeping the goal in mind, following the process, and having fun along the way. In short, I resolve to think less about the outcome and to focus on joy, instead.