Monthly Archives: May 2004

how Magic Johnson learned to rise to the occasion, Iowa cornfields

Wow, an exciting few days! First Derek Fisher hits the shot with four tenths of a second left, that’s perfect because he?s the ultimate professional, then this morning I get to listen to Magic Johnson speak for over an hour to a group in Las Vegas. Magic opened the floor up to questions so I walked up to the microphone and asked him, “How did you learn to rise to the occasion”? That’s the goal here you know, to learn to rise to the occasion, to perform under pressure. Magic has been a champion at every level, just the kind of person you should be asking.

He said he learned how to rise to the occasion by learning how to lose. When he lost the championship in the sixth grade after winning everything up until then, he reacted badly. His father told him he needed to know how to lose, to find out what he did wrong and correct it. Lanny Bassham explains it like this: when you run into obstacles on the way to your goal, treat them as clues to what you need to change instead of reasons to feel like jumping off a bridge. When the Lakers lost to the Celtics the first time he played them in the playoffs, Magic thought he was mentally tough enough but he wasn’t. He had to correct that so that he would be prepared to win next time. Which, of course, he did.

I think I’ve watched Field of Dreams over 30 times just by flipping channels while waiting out commercials on ESPN or Sportscenter. It’s an interesting puzzle and, like most Hollywood movies, all the pieces fall copacetically into place. But what goes on out there in the cornfields in between games? What does James Earl Jones find out there? Do dreams really come true in heaven or is it like Dante’s inferno where you are damned to suffer a perverse justice related to your sins in life? Does Shoeless Joe Jackson have to play the tainted world series repeatedly for eternity? Is Bill Buckner tethered to a bench where he has to make high tops for baseball players until Boston wins a World Series? Okay he’s not dead yet but by the time he is Boston might still be looking for a championship.

What would sports heaven look like? No need for pushy parents as there is likely no salary. No need for steroids because you have no body. I’m guessing it’s similar to sandlot baseball or pickup basketball or backyard hockey. The simple joy of playing your favorite sport timelessly.

climbing a mountain

What if you are the Lakers and you are two down to the Spurs? What do you do mentally? You could tune in to AM sports radio and listen to all the callers pronouncing your team “dead in the water.” You could complain about egos blowing up after three straight championships and overtaking the ship. You could hope that your teammates, Kobe for instance, will actually play within the coach’s system.

It might be similar to being two sets down (hopefully the match is best of 5) knowing that you have never before come back to win in this situation. What do you do? Here is where you become an instant Buddhist, no offense meant. The past immediately means nothing. The other person might be a better player, so what, there’s nothing you can do about it. The only thing to do is to occupy yourself mentally with the task at hand.

Mentally rehearse walking up to the baseline, preparing for your serve and serving to your opponent or returning your opponent’s serve. Rehearse playing the point until you have won it. Then think about how happy you feel now that you’ve won the point. Repeat until end of match. Simple.

Practice Report: worked out at the gym for an hour and a half.
Solutions Analysis: I am modifying my squats. I have been stepping forward and then twisting but this causes tendonitis in my knee. Instead, I get into the squat position and go up and down while twisting so that I have more stability.
Success Analysis: going to the gym at all is a great success.

beta test

Despite dragging my extremely tired butt off the court after about 50 minutes, I did discover something very useful about my new strokes. Because I twist my trunk on every shot, I have much more power if I have to reach for a shot. As I’m running across the court to get to the shot, I am twisting my trunk to bring the racket back and even if I am out of position, I get a lot of power by untwisting my trunk and I swing forward into the shot.

Practice and Competition Report: played with Daniel for 1 hour in 90 plus degree weather, the first time I have hit with a partner since contracting my second bout of tennis elbow in the last two years.
Solutions Analysis: looking for solution to the problem of hitting overheads into the net. Looking at the ball might help, don’t you think? Pointing up at the ball with my finger keeps my head up and increases the chance that I will actually see it as I hit it.

stop, nervousness, endpoint

I was practicing my new forehand when a curious thing happened. The more I tried to lift the ball higher, the more the ball stayed down until I was practically hitting it into the ground. The problem, of course, was that I was coming over the ball too much but the solution is something different. If you start to do something wrong and you can’t correct it, stop. Go and do something else and come back to it some another day. Sage advice I have gleaned from Lanny Bassham. The flip side of this is to practice and keep on practicing when you are doing something right.

The something else I did was to practice my serve. I was pretty happy; I was able to see the ball so well that I could see the racket turning over on the ball as I hit it. Then I started to imagine that I was serving in a match. I switched from deuce court to ad court for each serve. And then another curious thing happened. I started to get really nervous! I got so nervous that I was having trouble gripping the racket correctly. I straightened myself out well enough to serve by mentally rehearsing the serve before each stroke so that my mind was occupied with something other than nervousness. Nonetheless, this is a situation that calls for a directive affirmation, a tool developed by Lanny Bassham to change behaviour. When I have composed my nervousness directive affirmation, I’ll post it.

I didn’t wait for another day. I went back to practicing my forehand after practicing my serve. To correct my problem, I used advice from an excellent tennis instructor, Sean Brawley. He is the only instructor I know of who is certified by Tim Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis guy. Instead of worrying about stroke mechanics, he suggests thinking about where you want the ball to go and let your body figure out how to get it there. I thought about a level on the wall I wanted to hit and my forehand improved immeasurably as I started to hit that level regularly.

Practice Report: hit against the wall for 45 minutes and practiced my serve for one bag of balls.