I found myself talking to Michael the other day about how to be a good tennis player, which is ironic since I love tennis but I am awful at it. My basic premise was sound, however.
When I was young, I took piano and voice lessons. I NEVER wanted to practice. I particularly hated scales. I imagine this is true for most kids and/or teens. (As I have gotten older and wiser I have realized the value of sheer repetitive practice.)
I can pick up a well-loved piano piece and stumble through it a couple of times, and by the third time my fingers "remember" and I can do it nearly perfectly, no matter how complicated the piece. My muscles remember.
I told Mike this because I was trying to emphasize the importance of practicing tennis shots. If he hits correctly over and over, his muscles will remember that.
What I see so often with him - and some of his buddies, too - is they want to hit like the professionals and they just slam the ball as hard as they can. A muscular 16 year old CAN slam the ball pretty darn hard. [Right outside the court. Then they lose that point.]
It's not about how HARD you hit, though. It's about how accurate you are. Tennis is a game of strategy, just like chess.
Young men get bored or frustrated, though, and they want to hit the ball AS.HARD.AS.POSSIBLE.
Michael's coach told him last night "Hit the ball SOFT." I knew exactly what he meant, and why he was saying that.
Michael keeps losing to kids who can't hit nearly as hard as he can, but they hit a lot more accurately.
I remember when I was about 17, trying to learn one of the most beautiful arias ever written, "Un Bel Di Vedremo," from Madame Butterfly. I practiced and practiced. I got pretty close to being able to sing it decently. I was wanting to sing it for my mother, as a surprise, as it's one of her favorite songs.
This is it, if you're interested:
Gorgeous, right? This is what angels must sing in heaven.
At 17, I thought I could sing ANYTHING. I was so full of myself.
I took the music to my voice teacher, Pop Hamilton, a huge bear of a man, very grandfatherly. I adored Pop. He had been teaching me voice for nearly 4 years.
He looked askance as I handed the sheet music to the accompaniest. I had sung maybe two bars when he shut me down.
"NO NO NO!" he shouted. He never shouted at me. Never. He proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms how arrogant I was, how unskilled, how I had NO BUSINESS singing that aria.
I was in shock.
I COULD sing it, sort of, yes. But his point was that I shouldn't sing it. It was like handing a toddler a pair of scissors and telling him to do open heart surgery. I had only the vaguest hints of the real skills I needed to do justice to that song.
So Michael is learning a hard lesson with tennis. He can whack the hell out of a tennis ball. He has some mad skills. But are they enough to decimate his opponents the way Roger Federer can? No.
Pop also told me something that day I've never forgotten. I have a BIG voice. When I was young I had a nearly 4 octave range. It's hard to control that much voice. Some singers have maybe one octave, and they do great, because that's EASY to control.
Some kids play tennis and have a small amount of talent but they make the most of what they have. And they often win, if they practice.
Michael has a big talent. He has strength. He has power. He has a sharp mind. If he really tries, he can hit very accurately. His hand doesn't even matter - he has really improved his serve lately and I am very proud of him for doing that. [He puts the ball on top of his "short arm" and tosses it as high as possible.]
His mighty left hand and arm are incredibly powerful.
Should he be trying to play like an imitation Federer, at 16? Hell to the NO. I had no business trying to sing an aria at 17.
Being a good student - of music, of tennis, of anything - is SO important. Listening to your teacher or coach is SO important. I can understand that so much better now, at 50, than I could at 17.
I walked out of Pop's studio that day not feeling chastised and humbled, not vowing to do better. I walked out ANGRY. I was angry because I was arrogant. I could not see his point at all.
I wish/hope/pray that Michael can put aside his pride and his anger and actually LEARN. Maybe he needs a different teacher. Maybe I need to get on his case more about studying. I don't know.
I do know this. When I started college a year later, still full of arrogance, I got schooled QUICK. I started studying with voice teachers who were NOT impressed by me. They told me how out of control I was, how I needed to get over myself and WORK, how simply having talent was not enough. I was ticked off.
My sophomore year I switched schools and I simply stopped studying voice. Now I pretty much only sing in the shower or at church.
I don't wish that experience on my son.
I want him to love tennis, but to be humble enough to keep learning. I want him to play all his life - just for fun, if nothing else. It's grat exercise.
I don't want to see him just get angry and stop, though.
It's really a conundrum.