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Learning to be OK with average

April 20, 2015 01:54 PM

By Mark Rearden
Special to USTA South Carolina

Years ago, before I moved to Sumter, I was teaching a young man who was a fine tennis player.

He worked hard, did most of what I asked and in general was a good kid. The one thing that seemed  contrary to the rest of his personality was that he was often negative about his performance, even when he seemed to play well.

When I would ask, “How did it go out there today?” or “How did you play today?” He often responded with, “Mark, I didn’t play so well. I am so tired of not doing my best.”

I would respond by saying, “Tony, you don’t get to play your best most of the time. If you did, it would not be your best; it would be your average.”

But he immediately challenged my response. “Mark, you can’t say that. There are plenty of people out there who go out and most of the time, come very close to playing up to their potential.”

Tony was offended by the word “average,” but I don’t believe it should have a negative association. Average is the middle. It is what happens most of the time. Average does not stink.

If a good junior tennis player plays 10 competitive matches, the player’s results would look something like this: one match where he stunk it up,  a couple less than stellar matches, about six similar matches, a very good match and one match in which the player was playing his or her best, practically tour-level material.

Do you want to take a wild guess which one the junior tennis player would think represents his or her true self? Correct, the day they were tour material. There is nothing with going out there and expecting to give it your all and do well, but to expect a level of performance that occurs only one in 10 times is to set yourself up for disappointment.

A better approach would be to go into the match planning to give your best and fight as hard as you can. You also would be wise to formulate a game plan around what happens most of the time when you play. What you do most of the time is your average. Be OK with that. Don’t accept mediocrity, but instead, know yourself, your game and plan a strategy around getting the most from the skills you have today.

You also should commit yourself to working harder in practice and improving all the time. That way, your average will look more like your tour-level match as you improve.

Mark Rearden is the head tennis professional at Palmetto Tennis Center in Sumter. He also authors a weekly newspaper column titled, “Mark My Words.”