Life Lessons from Tennis

By AFM Staff – July 1, 2021

I recently started taking lessons with local tennis pro John Hospod, who has been plying his craft in Austin for 25+ years. His wise advice goes beyond tennis and reminds me of important lessons we can all apply to life as a whole. As a therapist and educator, I’m always looking for new, innovative ways to connect to teachings that deepen resilience, focus and mindset. My lessons with Hospod have been a refreshing way to revisit therapy concepts in an athletic setting. His tips have helped me reflect on how I move through life and how to relax more deeply, and they’ve served as a reminder of how sports can be an apt training ground for the game of life. Now, I’d like to share some of Hospod’s tips with you.

  1. Stay low — be ready for anything. Hospod’s guidance is to sink into the game — what therapists might call grounding — to feel your legs under you, drop your center of gravity and be ready for whatever may come your way. In tennis, this body position allows you to move laterally more quickly. Applied to life, it’s a reminder to keep our legs under us, figuratively, stay connected to our center and be ready to absorb life’s ups and downs with a grounded sense of being. Therapists recommend staying resourced (trying to sleep well, eat well), staying connected to others in healthy relationships and having a plan for when life throws us curveballs.
  2. Effortless power. Hospod says, “Don’t generate the power yourself; just let it come through you.” This technique helps my arm get less sore when I play, but it is also a reminder that we can often do more in life with less effort if we are channeling our focus and energy efficiently. Hospod says to think of the right motion like water through a firehose. By allowing energy to move through us rather than trying to source it all from our own being, we can act more powerfully and get less tired. This lesson reminds me of how we can allow ourselves to rely on others rather than try to shoulder our burdens alone, which enables our relationships to support and comfort us. The concept could also be applied to a relationship with a higher power, or simply whether we allow ourselves to receive from life and others as we move through our day.
  3. Stay loose. I tend to tighten up when I play. I get nervous trying to perform well, and my body gets stressed trying to accomplish the action. Of course, when I tense up, I play worse, and when I loosen up, I play better and have more fun. My mind thinks tightening up will help me control my body and the shot better, but it has the opposite effect. This is similar to what happens with anxiety: Our mind tells us that controlling things will help us stay out of trouble and accomplish more, but often we just perform worse and create more problems by trying to control ourselves, life and others. “Stay soft,” Hospod says.
  4. Focus on your stroke. I tend to focus on the outcome of my shots, but Hospod recommends focusing on just having the right stroke. When I am able to, I see how it works, but my mind always seems to wander back to the outcome: the winner I think I can hit, where and how hard. Then, inevitably, I’m back to bad habits in how I move again. I think most of us have this tendency in life — to focus on the outcome more than the process. This advice reminds me of two important tips from psychology: focusing on our process of interaction with others in the moment can improve our relationships, and focusing our mind in the present helps us be resilient with our states and emotions. We sometimes get frustrated when life doesn’t match our goals, but if we can bring our mind into the present, other options and ways of receiving support can become more visible.
  5. Always reset. In tennis, you often return to the center after each shot so you’re prepared for the next one. The reset is important so that you can be in a good position as the game flows. Hospod also teaches players to reset their bodies between each shot, which he says helps the body be ready to move in a new way and eventually becomes automatic. I have found this helpful when I get tired and my body doesn’t want to move. In life, we sometimes fail, get tired and fall back on old, automatic patterns that don’t work well. Psychology and neuroscience have shown that many of our thoughts and actions are driven by wired-in programs. A reset, physical or mental, reminds us to prepare for new action and not rely on patterns. By having little “interrupters” in our day that remind us to reset, like hugging a loved one, pausing to quiet our mind and take a few breaths or noticing how we feel emotionally, we can regroup and determine what mindset serves us best moving forward.

While lessons with Hospod have helped me get some much-needed pandemic exercise, his coaching has also helped me feel more connected to myself and how I want to approach life in general. It’s nice to come across a teacher that can support both physical training and an improved mindset. If you’re one of the many new players trying out tennis as a sport for the first time this year, or a seasoned veteran of the game wanting to play smoother and hit the next level, I can recommend Hospod as one of Austin’s tennis treasures.

About the Author

John Howard is the CEO of PRESENCE, an integrative wellness center supporting your mental, physical and relationship health. John Hospod is a seasoned tennis pro offering lessons in the Austin community.


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