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Tennis for Dummies

August 26, 2016

A few months ago I announced that I was finally tackling my weight problem and working at becoming fit and healthier. I’ve lost ten more pounds since then. All my life I’ve had doctors tell me that the secret to weight control was eating less and moving more. Turns out the SOBs were right.


I recently went to watch our good friend Tina compete in a tennis tournament. Tina has been playing a few years, and while watching her it occurred to me that I could be out there also, away from the TV, interacting with people and getting more exercise. So I signed up for lessons at our park district.


Let me emphasize that I’ve never ever been a sports person. There are no photographs of me holding a baseball, basketball or any other sports equipment. My life pursuits have prompted a stationary lifestyle; you don’t move much standing for hours in front of an easel or staring at a computer screen while writing. I’d convinced myself I was not designed for sports. My legs are almost as short as Peter Dinklage’s; when I complained about them as a kid my mother informed me that I had the legs of a Portuguese dory man, short for stability in a rocking boat—hardly reassuring since I don’t like fishing and don’t plan on sailing to the Grand Banks to pull in cod or halibut.


Having never even held a tennis racket, I had apprehensions about that first lesson. When it ended an hour and a half later, I thought I was going to die. After the second lesson, I only wanted to die. After the third, I surprised myself with the realization that I was actually starting to enjoy it. Here are a few things about tennis I’ve learned so far:


          #1. There’s a lot of running in tennis. Unfortunately, people who’ve spent fifty years sitting on a couch don’t know much about running. For me, the biggest problem is figuring out when I’m likely to stop. I get going like a steam roller and it’s anyone’s guess when I’ll roll to a halt.


          #2. Staring at the ball as it bounces inches in front of you is frowned upon. I’m told it’s better to run up on the ball or step backwards while positioning your racket for the return. As an artist, you might think I’d have a good eye for where the ball is likely to bounce; oddly, this is not the case. I run up on balls that sail over my head, and I step away from balls that bounce just over the net. Some people cheat, using something called a “spin.” These balls hit the court and don’t bounce where you expect them to. I understand this sort of cheating—The Spin—will be covered in a more advanced class.


          #3. It’s also frowned on if you lose control of your racket. Points aren’t awarded if your racket flies over the net, even if it lands within the appropriate lines. I think there should be.


          #4. When someone hits a ball and it’s hurling toward your face, it isn’t considered good form to scream. I’ve learned this the hard way. You’re better off remaining silent while it hits you in the face. At the end of my first lesson I had a welt on my forehead that looked like a huge hickey.


          #5. I imagine it’s true of most sports, but there are lots of rules in tennis. I’ve never been good at following rules, one of the reasons I’ve spent most of my professional life working alone. There are lines painted on the court and it’s up to the players to be honest about whether a ball is inside or outside those lines. This requires integrity. Hmmmnn… When our instructor mentioned this honesty thingy I sighed and told her I should have stuck with poker, even though it doesn’t provide much exercise.


          #6. Another thing I’ve learned is that your opponent will intentionally hit the ball as far from you as possible, making it hard to return. Strangely, this isn’t considered rude and is part of the game.


I doubt Nike will be offering me an endorsement deal anytime soon—an airbrushed image of Chubby Chatterbox won’t be plastered on the side of any buildings. But no one was more surprised than me when our class ended and I was promoted to the next level. Still not good enough for tournament play, but I’m on my way. I can’t wait for the lesson where we learn how to jump over the net.






Are you athletic? What’s your favorite sport?




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The only tennis I've played is on the Nintendo Wii. It always looks so complicated when I catch a few minutes of Wimbledon or some other big tournament on TV. And the announcers aren't much help in making the rules easier to understand. Volleyball looked as bad during the Olympics. Especially since after each point both teams would high-five and cheer each other so it's like, "Wait, who got the point?"
By: PT Dilloway on August 26, 2016
I was very athletic up until my late twenties. Most sports except tennis. My suggestion for you is to drop tennis and join a bowling league. For a non-sporting person, you selected an extremely challenging sport.
By: Daniel LaFrance on August 26, 2016
You actually run?
By: fishducky on August 26, 2016
Played tennis years ago. Now you've given me an idea for a post. Moving is great, be careful, a lot of older tennis players wreck their knees and ligaments, it's that full speed and then stopping thing. Doubles is good, still lots of movement, but a little safer.
By: cranky on August 26, 2016
Love this, Steve. Brings back old memories of tennis elbows, ankle twists, and one spectacular hit that sent the ball directly into my friend's eyeball.
By: jo on August 26, 2016
oh mon dieu- what a great blog post! Good for you! And my favorite sport is swimming - mostly laps- but so good for me! Keep up the good work!
By: Kathe W. on August 26, 2016
I was a high school athlete in volleyball and track. Used to run 10 K races for fun, after getting up at 6:00 for a daily 5 mile run. Up until Genius was born, I walked every day, 11 miles on weekends at a state park. My knees are complaining about it now. Can't imagine subjecting them to the rigors of tennis. You ROCK!
By: Val on August 26, 2016
Baseball and golf. Both of them on television.
By: Catalyst on August 26, 2016
Wow, you really picked a tough sport to begin with. Younger me dabbled in most sports. Now days I am basically a watcher--never need pain easing liniment for that-- but I am not getting the great health results you are. Hope you keep it up. You go guy.
By: Arkansas Patti on August 26, 2016
You're awesome~ Go you for taking such a big step! I've been writing 7 years and have gained weight every year, and I still don't have enough hours in the day to write, do social media, and promo my books. And let's not even talk about how dirty my house is and that we'd starve to death if hubs didn't cook. Keep up the tennis lessons!
By: Lexa Cain on August 26, 2016
Way to go, Stephen. Congrats on the weight loss and kicking butt in tennis. Good luck and keep it up.
By: on August 26, 2016
I love that you are learning to play and enjoy this post. Remember it is a Love game, right? I started playing 8 years ago and now play 3 days a week. It is wonderful exercise, a social experience and just plain fun. Eventually the "game will come to you." You'll be able to read where the shot is going and where you need to be to return it. Have fun. This is a game you can play into your 90's.
By: Tom Cochrun on August 26, 2016
My favorite sport is walking with Franklin. I hope I can add walking with Penelope to my sports repertoire. She resists walking on a leash. I was never athletic and made a fool of myself trying. Since I broke my back, I'm limited to walking anyway. All is well. I congratulate you on your continued weight loss and for learning tennis. I would award points for tossing the racket over the net. You should have told everyone that the welt on your forehead was a hickey. It would have provoked some interesting conversations. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 26, 2016
Congratulations on your involvement with tennis. You tell a humorous story. It's one of the ways you have to talk yourself into continuing. Promoted to the next level? way to go!
By: redKline on August 26, 2016
No, i am not athletic, no, i am not into sports, i tried to play tennis and was lousy at it, my favorite kind of exercise is to excercise caution at moving around too much.
By: messymimi on August 26, 2016
You are too funny! Glad you found a sport you like - makes it more likely you'll stick with it. I'm probably less of a sports person than you are (I don't even like to WATCH any sport) and if rules are involved...forget about it! Luckily, there are no rules for walking, so that's my thing. I still have trouble with the "eat less" part of the equation. SOBs they are, you're right.
By: Pixel Peeper on August 26, 2016
Kudos to you for taking up a great form of exercise. #4 had me cracking up. Normally I hate exercise, too, but I discovered Zumba and now I go five times a week---totally addicting.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on August 26, 2016
Excellent post! #3 made me laugh out loud - ha!
By: The Bug on August 27, 2016
No, I'm not that athletic, but I am a sport, singular. I love (American college) football, but of course I'm much too old to play it. Other sports like basketball, baseball, and most of all, golf, I find boring. My exercise these days consists of walking. But good for you on the tennis! :)
By: scott park on August 27, 2016
I played tennis as a youth. at least I remember owning a tennis racquet even if I don't remember playing tennis.
By: Ellen Abbott on August 27, 2016
It sounds like you're starting to have fun! I used to play tennis, but then my knees and ankles gave out. Now I play table tennis, and I just signed up to play pickleball ... which is, to put it bluntly, tennis for old people.
By: Tom Sightings on August 28, 2016
I really enjoyed this post - humorous and inspiring. It's great that you found an activity you enjoy and you're sticking with it. Tennis can be a lot of fun - but yes, a LOT of running! I tried it with my wife a few years back and she just couldn't keep chasing the ball over the court. Now I'm the one limited by aching joints and extra weight. We should have stuck with it like you!
By: Chris on August 28, 2016
Is looking at art considered a sport? What about watching a movie? I was never, ever into sports and sports doesn't like me. I will say I do like walking and swimming but someone has to motivate me to go swimming since it involves driving there, dealing with the hot locker rooms and after, undressing and dressing in the sweaty locker rooms. I congratulate you in actively playing tennis which never held my interest. Oh well
By: Birgit on August 29, 2016
You can't scream if the ball is zipping at you faster than the speed of light. Something doesn't sound right to me :) R
By: Rick Watson on August 29, 2016
Table tennis is more my style. Much less running.
By: Tamarack Adams on August 30, 2016
Way to go, Steve! Walking is the form of exercise I like the most, and it's not really a sport :)
By: jenny_o on August 30, 2016

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