In the ongoing effort to 1.) find an exercise that I can sustain for a long time and 2.) corrupt my fellow clergy to my personal hegemony, I decided to take tennis lessons. This wasn't my idea; another priest of the Archdiocese fell into my trap. I took my first lesson on Tuesday.
Truth be told, I am not half bad. My instructor ran me through a lot of basic drills to get a read on my athletic ability. My weight loss certainly made it possible. In the final test, I had to run to one side of the court, hit the ball using my forehand swing, then side step back to center, run to the other side, hit the ball using a two-handed backhand, and then return to center. That was a good work out. On average, I got 6 of 10, 6 of 10, and 9 of 10.
This was my first experience of being coached in a sport. I have been a participant in choir and acting but that dynamic is very different. That seems more critical and involves more nitpicking. A coach has elements of both. My instructor was quick to point out faults early on, such as not watching the ball, taking small steps, not overswinging, and the like. But at the same time, I was able to surprise him from time to time. He was regularly calling out a "good job" or "great shot." It was that experience of feeling like you were getting somewhere and you had someone accompanying you.
I am not good at encouragement of others. I walk that line between having to call people out and having to call out "good shot." Perhaps, that is what we lose in an era of people trying to be nice all the time. Because you can't criticize, you can't encourage. Because you can't see the mistake, you can't speak a word of strength when things go right. I was thinking about this because of a conversation I had early with a buddy of mine.
I threw out a compliment (I think I said I was proud of him) and he flinched. Visibly, people, flinched. I immediately followed it up with a litany of all the things for which I was proud of him. It wasn't exhaustive and I made sure to tell him so. As I drove home, thinking about this encounter, wondering where the heck that comes from. Why is it we can't see the good we do? I suspect it has something to do with encourgement. To encourage someone you have to speak specifically and concretely to the person. Affirming the okayness of your you-dom, is not going to work. You have to tell someone what that good is you see. As someone who still flinches when any one in my family says they are proud of me, I know where he is coming from.
Here's the thing. The real miracle of this tennis lesson was not that I was kinda good for the first try. The real miracle was that the instructor got me to care about a sport. Now that is shocking.