As a young girl, I spent many, many hours fantasizing about becoming an Olympic gymnast. When I watched Mary Lou Retton win gold medals galore in the 1984 summer games on behalf of our great United States of America, I was convinced that I could be next. I announced to my family that I planned to move to Texas to train with Bela Karolyi, famous coach of Retton and one of the other legends of gymnastics, the famous Nadia Comaneci.

Within weeks after I declared my intent to drop out of school to begin training for the Olympics, my parents, in their infinite wisdom, enrolled me in a highly intense gymnastics camp. After all, they felt that I might want to get a “taste” of what it might feel like to spend entire days of my life pounding away at my joints – just to be absolutely sure it was what I wanted. (And, in their infinite kindness, they never mentioned that I definitely didn't have the athleticism or grace to be a gymnast; I will always treasure the way they approached the situation.) So, I went to the camp and struggled. My body was NOT cut out for it. And, as I cried in pain trying to climb a small staircase in our home on day three of that trying experience, it was pretty clear that it was time to explore a new sport.

“If you stick with gymnastics”, my dad said, “you will most likely retire from the sport by the time you are eighteen.” He then continued, with a big smile, “learn tennis, however, and you will have a sport you can enjoy for your entire life.”

So, we began our days together at the Rhinebeck Rec Park courts, where he displayed unwavering patience with me as I learned the basics. And although I have never been any kind of superstar, I fell in love with the game and have enjoyed it immensely in the thirty years since I started playing.

As an adult, I realize that there’s so much to my love for the game.  It’s fun, lively, and a terrific workout – but it’s also full of life lessons and great metaphors – a game for the mind, the body and the spirit.

Some of what I have learned so far:

1.     Always start at a place of LOVE. We begin our games at 0-0, or LOVE-LOVE. (and sometimes, I stay at LOVE throughout the entire match!). But think about it. If we all started every dialogue, every exchange, every project, every transition, every DAY coming from a place of LOVE, we would all feel so much more alive. After all, love coexists with all of the happiest emotions we can possibly experience– joy, excitement, wonder, awe, peace, and so much more. If we start at love, and carry that with us throughout our day, we have the ability to embrace every opportunity that comes our way – totally wholeheartedly. Focusing on love first could transform life as we know it.

2.     Keep your eye on the ball. What is your goal? What is your mission? What is your purpose? Stay focused! Be present! Don’t get distracted by all of the things that try so desperately to pull you away from your game. By watching the ball as it comes your way, you can really prepare for it, and then smash it in such a way that it sails perfectly to the very place you envision it landing. 

3.     Go to the net. That’s right - play the net! In other words, move forward, lean in, lunge toward the challenge! We start back at the baseline, getting a rally going – but at some point we need to move forward with confidence. Go for it! Face the shot that is coming directly toward you in a big, courageous way! Put yourself right out there, and I bet you will probably surprise yourself with your abilities.

4.     Show respect. Many tennis clubs have serious protocol when it comes to etiquette. But it really comes down to the fact that we all need to respect one another, on and off the court. We need to uphold the golden rule we learned in kindergarten – treating others as we wish to be treated. Tennis reminds us to be polite, courteous and considerate of those around us. We get what we give, right?

5.     Be gentle on yourself. I was talking with a colleague at one point about how most of us go through life apologetically, and I immediately thought of myself on the tennis court. “I’m sorry”, “my bad”, “Oh no, I hope I didn’t totally ruin the game for you” – you get the picture. Pretty pitiful-sounding, isn't it? What if, for a moment, we all tried to be gentler on ourselves? I have often noticed that when I begin apologizing for every poor shot, I quickly lose the self-confidence required to play at my best. It happens in the blink of an eye. One “I’m sorry” and I have not only sent the message to the other player(s) that I am “less than”, but I have also absorbed that message myself. Needless to say, as soon as we adopt a general feeling of incompetence, it’s pretty tough to play well on the court – or in life. Maybe, just maybe, if we are a little gentler on ourselves, and forgive our own mistakes, we can look toward the next moment with the confidence we need to succeed.

6.    Surround yourself with better players who are also fantastic human beings. Get yourself on the court with people who are better than you - people who are more advanced players, who have greater accuracy, who know how to precisely time each shot and can run like the wind. But make sure they are also wonderful individuals who you enjoy being around – because there is no question that when we surround ourselves with awesomeness, it inspires us to be more awesome, too! Find people who challenge you to be your best on and off the court – who are patient, forgiving, positive, encouraging, caring – and, of course, downright fun to be around. To me, that’s one of the greatest lessons I have learned; when I am on the court with great people, I leave feeling really recharged – and I am lucky enough to do that pretty much every single time I play, because there are so many incredible people around me at Hudson Valley Indoor Tennis, where I play all winter long. They make my game a little better – but they also make my life a whole lot brighter. They are a reminder to be very deliberate about the people I surround myself with in all areas of my life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that life lesson, which is one of the most important ones I have learned along the way. 

And, of course, in addition to being grateful for that lesson, I am big-time grateful to my dad for introducing me to this wonderful game, with all of its rich metaphors and life lessons.

Copyright 2015, Marybeth Cale, Cale Communications: All Rights Reserved.

What do you want more of in your life? Marybeth Cale coaches for success, purpose and satisfaction in business, life and love. Communications, relationship and professional coaching available to individuals and groups. Call 845 876 2220 or visit to learn more.




Nichole Speaks
01/25/2015 10:16pm

Your article inspired and motivated me. Thank you, Mary Beth!

01/26/2015 6:29am

Thank you for reading, Nichole! Hope that all is wonderful in your life!


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