Monthly Archives: November 2004

injury rehab for those who pay to play

Yesterday I drove to Santa Barbara and back for a tantra class and went to another class in the evening. After the class I packed my bags for a trip. Around midnight I went to a local motel to sleep because I had a severe headache from the new paint on my house. I got up at 5:30am to drive to San Francisco because my travel partner wanted to arrive by 1pm.

During the drive I played tennis. I moved the seatback back and down, put a pillow under my head and mentally rehearsed my practice routine. Lanny Bassham is a world champion and Olympic gold medalist pistol shooter. He was once stationed on a military base nowhere near a firing range. He practiced dry firing – firing without bullets – five hours a day, five days a week for two years with only a handful of visits to a shooting range and managed to win a World Cup.

I’m on the injured list. Still. I have a sprained ligament in my thumb and my achilles tendon is sore. But no one is paying me five million dollars a year to play tennis or giving me 24/7 access to a trainer or flying me off to see the top orthopedic doctor in the country. So what should I do when I get an injury? Here are two examples:

I ran into a fellow player in my league at the gym. He noticed my thumb splint and started pointing to all of his injuries. They included chronic pain in his hand and shoulder. Like many, many people in this country, he doesn’t have health insurance.

I recently stopped off to visit a friend in Simi Valley who plays tennis after reluctantly and dutifully taking my sisters to see the Ronald Reagan Presidential library. My friend told me that as soon as he feels pain anywhere, he stops playing tennis until the pain goes away.

I see people make two mistakes when they get an injury: they don’t get the appropriate help for their injury and they don’t take time off from tennis to let the injury heal. And even if they do, they start up playing again as if they never stopped and injure themselves all over again.

There are two types of injuries. I sprained a ligament in my thumb because I decided that I could practice return of serve with a semi-pro tennis player. One of his serves kicked up and bent my thumb backwards. That’s an accident and I could have avoided it if I was more realistic about my tennis playing abilities. Tennis elbow is an example of the second kind of injury. It’s usually the result of a structural problem in your body or your playing technique. I got tennis elbow because my forearm is weak and because I was swinging the racket with all arm and no body.

If you have an injury, get treatment. If you don’t have health insurance or your health insurance doesn’t cover tennis injuries, make a deal with a physical therapist to pay them privately. You can probably find a physical therapist who’ll treat you for $50 or less for a half hour session. If you have inflammation and especially if you have scar tissue, a physical therapist can treat it with ultrasound. If you have tennis elbow you might well have scar tissue and the pain is not going anywhere unless you get treatment. The therapist will also give you strength and stretching exercises to strengthen the area and help the scar tissue heal.

You’re not done yet. Consider that the alternative is not playing tennis or playing with chronic injury and possibly ending up with arthritis. I like tennis but not that much. Much of the time people get tennis elbow because they think you hit the ball with your arm. Granted it’s hard to swing a racket without your arm but most of the strength comes from your leg, butt and trunk muscles. Watch most recreational players, they swing their arm and that’s it. No step into the ball, knee bend or trunk twist and not a lot of follow through.

To get help with your strokes, take tennis lessons from someone who understands body mechanics. If that doesn’t work don’t despair. It just means you need more help to get your body structure working properly. Find a trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine or take Alexander Technique lessons.

There’s still more. You can play tennis. Not on the court but you can play in your living room or backyard. If the injury is in your upper body, play tennis without a racket – let’s call it shadow tennis. Practice all your strokes and footwork as if you were in a practice session. This is a great opportunity to pay attention to your strokes without worrying about a ball flying at you. If you usually play tennis twice a week, play shadow tennis twice a week. You have no excuse that I can think of. Again, look at the alternative. Lets say it takes a month for your injury to heal then you go out and play your usual best of three sets Saturday morning tennis match without so much as swinging a racket over your head. That’s a great recipe for further injury.

If you have a knee or anke injury, you can still play tennis. Lie back on the couch and imagine practicing your strokes and playing a set of tennis against a regular opponent. Virtual tennis let’s call it, a tennis video game in your mind and you get to win every point if you like. This might be difficult to begin with. I often fall asleep or slide off into a fantasy world of slash fiction. But you will get much better at it and you’ll develop your ability to mentally focus. Let’s say you win a set of tennis at love and win every point in every game. That’s a minimum of 24 points. If you can’t mentally focus for that long, how good is your mental focus when you actually play a game of tennis?

This, then, is one way to deal with injury:
1. stop playing until your injury heals
2. get appropriate help for your injury – see a physical therapist and get alignment and structural help for your body
3. play shadow tennis as often as you usually play tennis each week
4. play virtual tennis

There are lots of retired athletes who have trouble walking up the stairs and are on their second set of replacement knees. You don’t need to do that. It’s quite likely that you’ll benefit from an injury – your strokes will be better, your body will be stronger and your ability to mentally focus will improve.

quit yer complainin’: Maria and Serena in the finals

Last night I sat down to watch Monday Night Football as usual and one of my friends turned to me and said, “How are you?” “Oh man,” I said, “I’m exhausted! This morning I had to drop my sisters off at the airport then I had to drive to Tarzana to sign some loan papers. I had a lunch meeting in Hollywood and then I had to go to sign papers to make an offer on a house and then I came right here.” What is going on? Am I complaining or what?

We watched Vinny Testaverde line up under the wrong lineman to get the snap, Lance Frazier start off running without the ball and Eddie George make a great catch only to get stripped of the ball on the same play and decided we’d seen enough. We switched channels to the WTA Tour Championship final between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

These two players are interesting to compare. Both of them have fathers whose lives are defined by their daughter’s tennis career. Serena, on the one hand, is pretty confident and has a life outside of tennis. I was very impressed with her mental strength last night because she strained an abdominal muscle at the beginning of the third set and despite the fact that she served, no lie, slower than I do, won the first four games in the set before she just couldn’t go any more and lost six straight games to lose the set and match.

Maria Sharapova is, admittedly, only seventeen years old, but she has a habit of turning to her entourage in the players’ box and complaining when things aren’t going well. This might be a tough argument to make considering that Sharapova just won the tour finals championship, but complaning is detrimental to your game.

Let’s say you are in the middle of a tennis match and your backhand isn’t working. The ball goes into the net, over the fence or somewhere else it’s not supposed to go and you start complaining. You probably don’t have an entourage so you complain to yourself. The first problem with this is that you’re thinking about the wrong thing. Your backhand is probably not as good as Roger Federer’s, which is absolutely a thing of beauty, but it’s good enough to get the ball into your opponent’s court and here you are thinking about your backhand that doesn’t work instead of the one that does.

Another problem is that you should consider whether you need to change your strategy. If your opponent is hitting deep topspin shots that are bouncing high and making it harder to hit your backhand, maybe you should be thinking about moving farther back or moving in and hitting the ball early or even hitting a few short balls to see if you can mess them up instead of spending your time complaining.

Robert Parent talks about complaining in his book Zen Golf. He does something quite brilliant, he gives a practical example of using Zen Buddhism in our day to day life. Buddhism views the mind as a wild horse, the more you try to control it, the more uncontrollable it becomes. Try telling yourself not to complain, you can’t do it, the only thing you’ll think about is complaining. A better way to deal with your thoughts is to observe them without judgement. Parent suggests that you carry a piece of paper with you the next time you have a match. Every time you catch yourself complaining, make a mark on the paper. Don’t chide yourself for it because that’s another mark on the paper. Criticism is just another form of complaint after all. What you might find after a few matches is that you are complaining less and less.

I’m on the injured list at the moment so I’ve been trying this out in my non-sports life. I carry a piece of paper around with me and I make a mark every time I complain during the day. It turns out that most of the time I complain about things that happen because of decisions I’ve made. I enjoy my sisters’ visits, I invited them for heaven’s sake, and I’m the one who has been searching out real estate deals. If I’m exhausted, I could certainly do less because no one is forcing me to do anything. I am perfectly able to change my decisions and get more control of my life.

That’s what I love about sports, I learn much more about life than I ever did by going to church or sitting at the feet of spiritual teachers.

five Russians, three Americans, one Frenchwoman and no Capriati

I went to the first night of the WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles at Staples Center last night (I remember walking into an Office Depot in New York that had a large plastic sculpture of staple removers on the entrance wall). Vera Zvonareva is in the tournament – only the top eight players are invited – because she played six matches in six countries in two months to get enough points to qualify. Jennifer Capriati took the time to go to one tournament in Philadelphia and is not here. Zvonareva may have overdone it. She lost to Svetlana Kutznetsova, 6-2, 6-4, in front of mostly empty seats. A small group of very rowdy people who must have mistakenly thought they’d bought tickets for a Lakers’ game tried to make up for the small crowd by being loud and boisterous even during the points. People kept pointing at them and the umpire kept asking for quiet until they finally figured it out.

Serena Williams has been having some problems the last year or two and this past week must have been particularly difficult, the murder trials for both men accused in the shooting of her half sister Yetunde ended in mistrial. Serena was born and raised in Los Angeles and the crowd had clearly come to see her play. Her opponent, Anastasia Myskina, won the first set 6-4, and was rolling along until 3-0 in the second set when she started to make unforced errors. I was disappointed there for a bit because I’ve seen Myskina play on television. When she is unhappy with her game, she gets mad and verbally abuses her coach who compliantly sits in the players’ box. “Hey, it works for her,” I remember the television announcer saying. Sure enough, as soon the unforced errors started, she pointed at the players’ box and unloaded. I think Serena must have brought her minister. A man sitting in the front row rubbed his hands, spread his fingers and held his hands out as if he was laying on hands. He kept his hands out there until the point was over and then he’d rub his hands and put them out again for the next point. It must have worked. Serena won the second set 6-3. At 3-2 in the third set, Myskina couldn’t convert a break point, Serena broke at 3-4 and went onto to win 6-4.

Lindsay Davenport played Elena Dementieva in the final match of the evening. It was tough going for the observers. Dementieva couldn’t win a game, someone in the expensive seats slept through the first set and the only excitement was the uproar when a man tripped over his seat and poured beer all over his girlfriend. Dementieva finally won a game at 4-0 in the second set and even then her winning shot appeared to be out. Our eyes had begun to stick together when all of a sudden it got interesting. In the next game, Davenport and Dementieva went back and forth for 18 deuces. There were a lot of good points and Dementieva had plenty of break opportunities but Davenport won that game too and the next to end the match.

A lot of the tennis consisted of sitting on the baseline and blasting the ball as hard as possible. Kuznetsova served and volleyed a few times and I do remember a drop shot or two, but overall it wasn’t an evening of breathtaking shotmaking as much as a contest to see who could hit the hardest.

silent soccer/pushy parents

I was sitting in a sports bar in Berlin, Germany this past January to see New England push Indianaopolis’ receivers all over the field in the NFL AFC championship game. I sat next to a guy from Massachusetts who used to coach youth football. He loved it but gave it up because he was so tired of dealing with interfering, pushy parents. Now he trains trotters, I guess he’s given up on humans.

Youth soccer programs have started Silent Saturday programs. Parents can watch their children play but they are not allowed to yell at them or urge them on in the hopes that their six and a half year old will be the next Freddy Adu and get a $500,000 contract by the time they reach age fourteen.

We already have this in tennis. The umpire won’t start the point until everyone is quiet. It doesn’t seem to help though. Mary Pierce’s father, Jim, was barred from all WTA tournaments for five years after creating numerous disturbances. Jennifer Capriati’s born to be a rebel adolescence is a good warning of what can happen when your father pushes you onto the professional tour far too soon.

I applaud the organizers of the youth soccer leagues for trying to do something but it might be fighting a dragon with a toothpick. Sports has become huge, huge business and anyway, how is a parent supposed to pay those twenty five thousand dollar college tuition bills?

Sport has taken the place of education as a way of getting out of poverty. Did I mention college tuition already? Our country has the largest gap between the rich and poor among industrialized nations. Certainly the tax cuts of the current administration only makes things worse. It’s probably a bit much to expect youth sports organizations to be able to handle the fallout of our society’s problems.

why some people hate Kobe Bryant

The NBA season starts tonight. The soap opera that is the Lake Show is, of course, the number one topic on L.A. sports radio shows. Is Kobe a good guy or a bad guy? A caller on a recent show argued that we should judge athletes by their on court behaviour, not their off court behaviour. I contend that they are one and the same thing.

Lest you think I am an angry feminist still unhappy that the rape charges were dropped, the only thing I fault Kobe for is having forceful sex without reading the S&M 101 Manual. If you’re going to have forceful sex, you negotiate before the act, not in the heat of the moment. If you are a multimegamillionaire and you make that kind of mistake, you can expect a lot of trouble.

Before he was accused of rape, Kobe cultivated a squeaky clean image. If a reporter broached the subject, he made it clear that he would never cheat on his wife. He did cheat on his wife and he had an ongoing two year sexual relationship with another woman. Michael Jordan had some legal difficulties from a two year affair that started around the time of his marriage. Isn’t that taking the Michael Jordan emulation thing a bit too far?

After he signed a new contract with the Lakers, Jim Gray interviewed Kobe on television. Kobe said he liked playing with Shaquille O’Neal. In Phil Jackson’s new book, The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul, he quotes Kobe as saying that he was not going to be Shaq’s sidekick any more and that Shaq’s presence on the team would affect his decision about where he was going to play. Kobe has also said that he liked playing for Phil Jackson even if they were unlikely to have lunch together any time soon. Last April, Kobe took one shot in the first half in a game against Sacramento as if to say, “You think I shoot too much, I’ll show you, I won’t shoot at all”. One of his teammates anonymously said to a reporter, “I don’t know how we can forgive him,” and Phil Jackson later admitted that he didn’t have control of Kobe’s game.

You may think that Keyshawn Johnson is a jerk, you may think that Terrell Owens is a jerk, but at least you know where they stand. Kobe knows that if he had said publicly that Shaq’s presence on the team and Jackson remaining as coach would affect his decision to re-sign with the Lakers, he would have been heartily attacked for selfishness. He says one thing publicly and another in private because he’s not strong enough to say how he really feels.

This kind of behavior will bring a lot of hate your way. People will slam you in print and savage you in rap songs. Shaquille is acting like an adolescent with his silly rap songs and I doubt that any NBA player looks forward to playing for a coach who rats out his own players but that doesn’t mean I have a lot of sympathy for Kobe.

I am passionate about sports and passionate about the Lakers but their main guy doesn’t have a lot of heart and soul and that hurts.