The thing I like about Paddle tennis is that it reminds me of recess. You go out, and you look for your friends and if you can’t find any friends, then you try to find people to play with. It works out most times. Venice Beach, eleven courts, and an ocean view are the setting. The characters, however, bring the culture to life.
The guy who baptized me into the sport is named John Keller. He gave me my first free lesson in of March of 2020. “What’s your philosophy of the game?” I asked him during my first lesson.
He laughed at my casual question, taking a moment. “You can win,” he finally said.
“That’s not a philosophy,” I told him. .
“Why do you play this game?” he asked me.
“For fun,” I answered.
“Then that’s your philosophy. Everything you do is for fun, isn’t it?”
“Is that a crime?” I wondered.
“It’s your philosophy.”
“You trying to make me feel bad?”
He laughed. “It’s on you for feeling bad about having fun. How you play this game reveals your mindset. If you’re not thinking about winning, then you’re not thinking about improving.” It was conversations like these that rewrote the way I processed the game. “Play to win” evolved into my new mantra. It was about being possessed with a winning spirit. It was more about a winning process than a result – ”be aware of the mistakes you make to get better,” John would tell me. “Calm down before you hit the ball. Once you get used to the ball coming at you, you learn to get calm,” he’d tell me. “Find that calmness.”
I thought I was calm, but he could tell I couldn’t handle the pressure by the way I hit the ball when it came at me quickly. If you get to know the inner workings of someone like John Keller, it doesn’t take long to figure out that there’s a genius in there somewhere – talking to him feels like striking gold. Besides teaching and playing music, he owns the XTP Paddle Tennis racquets that are provided at the courts by the second teacher on my journey – Richie ”Pablo Picasso.”
“Pablo Picasso” gave me the follow-up I needed to improve the awareness. How could I improve my mechanics for power and consistency. Rich gave me the observations. “You get too excited when you hit the ball,” he’d tell me. I adjusted. It took practice. I got better because I practiced “play to win”. Slowly, it eeks into my sublime – life is a game. It matters how you play it.
“Pablo Picasso” usually sits next to a stack of XTP rackets… Sometimes I sit next to him on the green benches. He talks about player’s games, movies, and the best places to eat in Los Angeles. If you book him for a lesson, it’s an experience. “Hit the ball on the rise,” he used to tell me. “It’s all about your positioning before you hit the ball.” If you get personal with him, his view of the world is astonishing.
“Do you think paddle tennis reveals character?” I asked him.
“Of course,” he said with a series of questions that sounded more like a poem.
Paddle tennis shows your character
How do you respond when you miss?
After the point
Do you reflect on the mistake?
Are you hard on yourself?
Do you cheat?
Do you listen?
Who do you play with?
Do you play with others?
This game parallels
almost everything you do in life.
That’s your character!