Defensive Plays

In honor of the start of the US Open, I thought I would share another life lesson from the game of tennis…

This recent tennis obsession of mine is proving to teach me more about myself than about the actual game.  I’m sure I’ll never be a tennis pro, but at least I’m learning something along the way.

I’ve been taking tennis lessons for a little over a year now and for most of that time we’ve been simply working on the fundamentals and building muscle memory for consistent hitting.  It’s just been recently that we’ve actually started to play for points and, well… let’s just say that any confidence I was developing went right back out the window.  It’s one thing to be able to consistently return a shot when you’re casually hitting.  It’s an entirely different deal when points are on the line and competition kicks in.  (And have I mentioned before that I’m a bit competitive?)

Here’s what I’ve realized: I play tennis much like I play the game of life – defensively and reactionary.

In my tennis game, I respond to hits coming to me rather than directing the course of play.  I react to what I’m given rather than creating shots that get my opponent moving and reacting.

In life, I tend to wait to see what is coming at me and then respond defensively rather than stepping out to take some risks and try new things.  I tend to be on guard, protecting what I know rather than pushing forward confidently to try new things.

As a result, I miss things.  I miss big wins.  I don’t anticipate well and I miss opportunities.  All because I’m waiting for the ball to come to me rather than directing the course of play.

I know that God has big dreams for me and yet too often I’m sitting around waiting for those opportunities to come directly to me rather than rushing the net and going after it.  I believe that God wants the best for us but I also believe He’s looking for a little intentionality on our part… a little risk… and a lot of faith.  There is no way that we can live like that if we’re waiting for the perfectly predictable shot.  Perfect, predictable, easy-to-return shots are few and far between.  You’ve got to lean in, get on your toes and anticipate where God’s leading you and go for it!

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  • Ron Edmondson September 1, 2009  

    Jenni, I’m thinking that Pete is very thankful to have someone wired like you on the team. I feel that is one of the things we are missing. In fact, I’m sending someone your way hoping you can help her fill some of your role in our church.

    If you were on my team, our personalities would probably clash at times (which would prove to be a good thing), because I usually want bigger risks and bigger dreams, but what I need is someone who is defensive and reactionary. My sense is that without you, Pete couldn’t as easily be dreaming the big dreams.

    Loving what you do and how you do it!


  • annie September 1, 2009  

    Great, great post Jenni. I feel the same way. I feel like I am in this defensive stance ready to hit the ball, when all He really wants is for me to re-engage. There are a lot of perks to working for yourself and out of your own home, but after a while, the silence can become deafening and I am definitely feeling the need to re-engage somewhere. Finding the starting point seems overwhelming at times but I guess instead of waiting for the ball to come to me, I need to lob one of my own out there…

  • Lori King September 1, 2009  

    This is weird. I just dreamt last night I was playing tennis with my (grown) kids and I was fretting because I knew nothing about the game.
    (((hmmmmmmm, some pondering I must do))) 🙂

  • Jason September 1, 2009  

    This is a great post. I kept wanting to make some big comment here but really all I keep coming back to is just simply saying “you’re right.”

  • Jenni Catron September 1, 2009  

    @Ron – thanks for your kind words. I think there is a really cool balance that happens when you have dreamers and play-it-safers working together. Both sides are important… I just need to remind myself not to find myself on my heels and opportunities passing me by.

    @Jason – I would love to hear your thoughts!!

  • Jason September 1, 2009  

    Jenni, I’m having trouble putting my thoughts down because to be honest they’re rather dark compared to the hopeful light of your posting. You don’t want to be known as the guy who aims the comment squirt gun at the blogging candle. 🙂

    So if this is too down, delete it. 🙂

    I agree with what you’re saying here. I absolutely believe that we can miss things by laying back and waiting. It’s also a danger when we rush the net that we’re going to get a speeding tennis ball to the right nostril (unless we’re playing a pro who can make sure to hit both at the same time.) It’s a risk that has to be taken but when you rush and take ball after ball to the face you start to get really leery of rushing the net. The doubts creep in and you don’t rush with the confidence that “I’ve got this.”

    I agree about waiting for that perfect shot to come along…at the same time I also know how it feels when you haven’t seen one of those in a long time and don’t really know if another one is going to come. Those moments where you’re tired because you’ve taken all the facial bounces you can handle. For example, you may feel God is calling you to move eight hours from your home to be part of something only to uproot your family and get there…and have that something completely fall apart. Now you’re in a new city with no friends, no real reason to be there and you’re wondering why you rushed the net in the first place. (OK, the analogies aren’t great but I’m trying to keep a tennis theme.)

    Anyway, that’s kind of why I didn’t want to post all my thoughts (even though I’m pretty much the kind of guy who just tells you what he’s thinking.) I agree with everything you’ve written but I just am in a place where I’m experiencing the business end of the tennis ball. When you’re there and see a post like yours you agree but also think that you can’t remember the last time you slammed home an easy winner and how much one of those…even if just brings you to 40-15 from 40-love…would give you a boost to charge the net again.

  • Jenni Catron September 1, 2009  

    @Jason – appreciate your honesty! Your perspective is totally different and I think that’s important to the discussion. It sounds like you’ve stepped in so much and you’ve taken the risks but are repeatedly taking the hits. Praying that you get a break between sets soon! Hang in there!

  • paulaswift September 1, 2009  

    I would have to say that perhaps I can see a bit of this on your personal side, but I don’t see this in your work. Yes, you have a cautious side about you, but that’s what makes you so valuable! I’ve never seen you waiver in theory to make changes and improvements in what you and the team are striving to do. You may break away the onion layers to analyze each layer to ensure it’s ripeness for the best recipe…but you do have this strive to take risk and be a leader in change for the best mission. Perhaps it’s not your instinctual way of doing things? But the reality is that you are perceived to be one to do so – tennis outfit on and arm ready!

  • Melody September 2, 2009  

    I still can’t believe that you didn’t learn tennis back in college when playing tennis was all two of your best friends did!!! 🙂
    I can totally relate to this post because Micah and I are trying to put together more of a game plan with our parenting skills instead of just reacting when an issue comes up.
    We are learning that as the kids get older, the problems get more complex. Being on the defensive and simply reacting to a problem doesn’t help them see some sort of larger plan. We want them to see God’s plan for our lives (more particularly in each of their lives), and that can’t be done when you are only parenting defensively. We are actually working on creating this huge “Family Code” to help us have more of a proactive game plan.
    I know that I should be able to continue your wonderful tennis analogy since I am a tennis player AND an English major, but my brain is not yet functioning this morning!! I just wanted to say that your ideas here are spot on.