I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Winning Ugly

I found a gem in the bargain bin at Borders last weekend called Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison. It’s a classic book about how to play winning tennis even if you don’t have the best or prettiest strokes.

If anybody was ever qualified to write such a book, it’s Brad Gilbert. In fact, the opening lines of the preface (written by Jamison) capture who Brad Gilbert was during his playing days: “How in the hell does this guy win? He hits like a caveman who found a tennis racket!”

How funny is that? Certainly creates a mental picture doesn’t it? The irony is, these lines were uttered about Gilbert during the finals of a professional tennis tournament. In fact, he won it, and many other matches because he was a master strategist and he found a way to implement his strategy within his given limitations.

I’m sure Gilbert wishes that he would have been born with more physical talent, but the guy did reach number four in the world at one point. And given some of the top names in the game at the time, it’s doubtful that he would have went any higher no matter how much more physical talent he would have had. He just found a way to make the most out of his opportunities.

Most of us are like Gilbert, in that we have limited abilities in many areas of our lives, but we aren’t content to look like a caveman who found a tennis racket. And we aren’t content to try to figure out how to maximize the talent we do have. We’d rather look like Roger Federer. But then a crisis hits and we handle it with caveman-like tendencies and our vanity shows. We pretend that our missteps didn’t happen. Or we get angry because we aren’t good under pressure. Or we try to pull off the impossible—fixing every thing and every body.

In reality, most situations just require us to get the ball back over the net. I like what Gilbert said in a section of his book called “Don’t Ask a Skinny Dog to Fly.” Most recreational players have pitiful backhands. Here’s his advice for such players: “When your backhand starts to hurt you more than it usually does, lower your expectations. Stop trying to do more with it than you can reasonably expect. Get it over the net. Keep the ball in play. Go for placement instead of power. Keep your head when your backhand is under attack. Make your shot and force your opponent to at least make a play on it.”

I’m never going to be a great speaker. I have knowledge about some topics that others want to learn about, so I’ve found a way to speak that doesn’t bore people to death. I’m never going to be a fix-it guy, but I’ve figured out how to change locks on doors and how to change the tank on my propane grill and a few other small things. I still do these things to the best of my ability, but I’m learning to do them with caveman-like tendencies. Some have laughed at my attempts over the years, and I’m not always crazy about that, but it’s getting easier to take. It’s taught me that I’m too sensitive about such things.

Besides, it seems to me that we have two options regarding most things in life—either look like a caveman or try to pretend we are something we are not and end up looking like a phony. I haven’t always made the best choices in this regard, but I’m learning that looking like a caveman isn’t all bad.


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