Sally Huss, a Wimbledon semi-finalist and a national champion in her age group, has taught her own brand of Zen tennis. But she is best known as the “artist of happiness,” with cheerful paintings that have hung in the White House and which have been mass-marketed as prints and T-shirts. Now, Sally has a new booklet, Eight Golden Rules for How to Play Your Best Tennis—probably the best sports advice we’ve seen. Here’s the condensed version:
Rule #1: Honor Your Body
Your body, like all bodies, has a consciousness all its own. It is aware. Its cells are aware. This consciousness is at about the same level as that of a dog’s. The kinder you are to it, the more cooperative it will be. Never, ever get mad at yourself if you miss a ball, lose a point, or double fault. The body cowers just like a dog that is being scolded. Besides that, you learn something when you miss a shot. Your body will make adjustments. Be grateful for your body’s eff orts and patient with its learning.
Rule #2: Keep a Clear Mind
Whether you are learning a new shot or practicing to perfect an old one, your attention is on your own actions. This is normal. But when it’s match time, your attention should be on the ball in front of you or the one in your hand, ready to be served, not on the ball or point you just played.
Rule #3: Maintain a Positive Attitude
Attitude is everything. Pick a good one. Your attitude is your point of view, how you see things. Is it scary? Is it worrisome? Or is it wonderfull with possibilities of good outcomes? Get it straight. Tennis, like life itself, prefers a happy camper, one who likes where he or she is and is enthusiastic about participating fully in what’s to come.
Rule #4: Make the Ball Your Best Friend
Love is the greatest connector in all things, even tennis. So to love the ball is essential. Make it your best friend. Chase it down when it runs away from you. Send it fl ying down a sideline when you get the chance. Lob it. Slice it. Drop-shot it. Welcome it when it comes toward you from a serve or a returned shot, because it allows you the opportunity to send it sailing back across the net. When you love the ball, concentration is easy.
Rule #5: Play Happy
Feeling good is the greatest support you can have on the court. Happiness is a particular energy that feeds your body, mind, and spirit and puts you in harmony. You cannot play better tennis than when you, your motions, and your emotions are harmonious. And you cannot play better tennis than you play at any given moment —no matter what you think.
Rule #6: Fearlessly Go Forward
The way to play fearlessly is to go on the court prepared to give rather than take. That is, give your attention and eff ort. If your intention is to give, you are free. You are not demanding anything back. But if it is to take, whether it’s a point, game, or match, you will be loading your eff orts with ulterior motives. It splits your attention. It moves your focus from what you are doing with the ball to what you want to get back. Hit the ball freely and let it go.
Rule #7: Find the Zone.
The harder a player tries to get into “the zone,” the further away he or she gets from it. It is something that happens, not something a player can make happen. A player who can relax the demanding, wanting, desiring portion of the mind and get into the play of the game is more apt to experience the zone. When that rational aspect is relaxed, the intuitive aspect can operate. That’s the part that knows everything, takes into account everything, and opens the door for making the best choices.
Rule#8: Let Kindness Rule
Your opponent is a very important person to your tennis game. Without him or her, you would not be able to play. The stronger your opponent is, the more your game is strengthened. The trickier your opponent is, the more versatile your game can become. Value your opponent’s abilities and use them to develop yours. Be generous when it comes to calls and disputes. A little kindness goes a long way to maintaining a harmonious atmosphere.