Life in Israel is not just about voting for a new government every few months. In between we do stuff. Like play tennis. A few months ago something wonderful happened on this front: Two men revolutionized the game with a simple rule change. I was one of those men and this is my story.
I started playing tennis almost half a century ago. But hand in hand with my love for the game came a fear of double faulting. My fear was essentially not of losing but of looking pathetic. It could occur at any time, whether I was winning or losing, and would often morph in my head into the following words: “It would really be a shame to hand over a free point now.” My anxiety would sometimes get to a stage when I could hardly toss the ball up because my arm shook so much. To say that I was not having fun at those times would be a great understatement—I was suffering.
Recently, my problem was getting the better of me in my tennis games with my friend Rabbi Lior Engelman (many of whose holiday teachings I have translated for this column). It got to a point where I was ready to stop playing with him. But Lior did not want to give up on our game, and frankly neither did I. We devised one simple rule-change that has made all the difference: no double faults. If your second service does not go in to the appropriate service box, you get to keep trying until it does (i.e. you get to repeat your second serve rather than your more powerful first serve). In one fell swoop, my fear disappeared. Absent the psychological problem, I was left with the technical aspect of my serve, which is fairly good. Because of this, it almost never happens that I actually need to implement my rule—if my first serve doesn’t go in, my second serve almost never misses.
It’s possible that after a year or two of sessions with an excellent sports psychologist, I could have gotten to the same state regarding the serve without my “no double faults” rule, but I’m not sure. I only wish that I had come up with my rule decades ago because not only would I have enjoyed tennis more, but I think that my partners would have preferred it. To check out this hypothesis, I contacted Steve Benz, Associate Professor of English at the University of New Mexico, and a former tennis partner of mine in Miami in the mid-90s. Unlike me, Steve was also a successful tournament player, moving on to Atlanta a few years later and twice winning that city’s championship for his age level. I emailed Steve: “Back in our Miami days, if I had asked you to play using my rule, would you have agreed?” Steve wrote back:
“I would have had no problem accepting the proposed rule change. The main reason is that I never liked winning a point by double fault and would rather play the point–win or lose–than not play it. In fact, quite often in my tennis ‘career,’ I’ve returned second serves that were out but close and kept on playing the point just because it’s more fun to play. I’ve even done that in tournaments. I guess my philosophy would be ‘Play on!’”
Thanks for the validation, Steve. I will just add here that I think there is a larger lesson to be learned from my rule. If you have a problem in life, it is not always the case that you have to change; sometimes you need to change the presenting circumstances. Yes, Play On!
Teddy Weinberger is director of development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.