How learning to play tennis made me a better writer
5 ways tennis can help you love writing even more.
Orsi Korman is account director, content at Red Havas.
Running a marathon. Planting a garden. Painting watercolors. Knitting 20 blankets in one year. These have all been goals of mine in recent years that, much like a New Year’s resolution, I tried to stick with for 12 months. Learning to play tennis — which was going to be my 2020 goal, cut short by the pandemic and replaced with knitting — had been a dream since I was a little girl because of Monika Seles, who happened to have the same first name as my BFF in kindergarten and happened to turn pro around that time.
I finally picked up a tennis racket again this year and while I may have struggled to get up early some mornings or get off the couch late some evenings, this struggle has reminded me of a few important lessons I’ve learned from tennis that I can — and should — apply in writing.
- Be present.
Once I make the commitment to go and play, I need to be fully present and focused on the match. People are counting on me to participate, to rally and to do my best. We are up against the clock. And we all want to win. Similarly, once I take on a new writing assignment, I need to be fully committed to making it happen to support business goals, meet deadlines and please clients.
Being focused on the task and free from the noise of both external and internal dialogue is a tall order, but highly desirable for effective writing. Whether you need stillness and peace or music and movement around you to write, being fully present will make your ideas sharper, your words more accurate and your storyline more captivating.
- Listen to your coach.
I have been fortunate to come across some amazing pros at our local club who not only know how to play tennis well, but can also relay that knowledge in a clear, consistent and inspiring way. I have been equally fortunate to work with some amazing account managers who not only know our clients well, but can also relay all the key details of an assignment in a clear, consistent and inspiring way.
Having clarity of what you need to do and helpful instructions or examples of how to do it are essential for writing success. But listening to your coach’s — or account manager’s — tips and tricks on what details you should pay extra attention to, what you may need to work more on, what strengths you should play to or what may make your job easier will all lead to a stronger outcome.
- Take it one point at a time.
Tennis is as much mental as it is physical. Whether I hit the ball over the net or out, I know I need to shake it off and get ready for the next point. And, whether I play singles or doubles, everyone on the court shares my goal: to keep the ball in play. Writing isn’t any different. I need to take it one subhead, one paragraph and one page at a time — and keep going.
While it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture — the key messages, the overall takeaway, the “so what” you are supposed to write about — it’s just as easy to get bogged down with the details. Keep in mind: the beauty of writing is that you can keep throwing idea after idea on a page as they come to you and then — unlike in tennis — you can go back with a fresh pair of eyes to shape them into the right story.
- Don’t overthink.
Coming from a family of lifelong learners, I’ve always loved learning new things and learning by doing, but I’ve also been prone to think too much while doing it — questioning my skills, my abilities and my technique. (Which is only one step away from the infamous impostor syndrome kicking in while writing something BIG.)
Both in tennis and in writing, it’s important to be fully aware of yourself, but you cannot think too much about your strengths and weaknesses — you must play them up or down intuitively. Whether you want to be fast, adept, witty or serious, it just won’t work if you’re trying too hard. Learning to manage your racing mind and emotions, to stay calm and to dig deep under pressure can turn both a match and a story around. (Equally important, don’t let what others think — or what you think they think — affect you.)
- Play your own game.
Tennis and writing have both taught me a lot about myself: the strength of my skills, the depth of my discipline, the limits of my tenacity and the mastery of my emotions. Both sports and work boil down to how committed I am, how well I can listen and play with others, and how hard I am willing to work to progress and to win.
Even though you are constantly practicing and perpetually trying to improve, it’s a good idea to take a lesson or a course from time to time, to pick up a new technique or hone an existing one. It’s also helpful to take a break between important matches or assignments, to reflect, then relax and recharge, and be ready to bring your “A” game again tomorrow.
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