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Dr. Tomaino's Blog

Tennis Inspired Reflections

August 12th, 2014
My blog entitled “Recipe for Success” (March 2013) was inspired by a baseball story about Earl Weaver’s message to his Baltimore oriole players. This past weekend I had the wonderful experience of accompanying my son, Nicholas, at a two day tennis camp at Williams College. My observations this past weekend have inspired these reflections.

Nick, who is going to be a junior at McQuaid, and a varsity tennis player, not only had the opportunity to learn many tips from the Men’s tennis coach, Dan Greenberg, but he also developed his tennis skills from being pushed by some exceptionally talented players from around the country. As an enthusiastic observer for nearly a day and a half, I was intrigued by some of Coach Greenberg’s pearls, and how he interacted with the attendees. As I often do, I reflected on his messages, and found his comments appropriately relevant to my practice---and what I may frequently share with my patients. Here are a few of his pearls and how they relate to my vocation:

When you are at the net, in the volley position, stay on your toes—don’t let your heels touch the ground, and keep the racket in front of your body.

Not only is this valid advice to my son, but so too is this fitting advice to us all. Staying on our toes ensures that we are in the “ready position.” It precludes unintended complacency and positions us to be responsive to what comes our way. It is consistent with a positive frame of mind---never too passive; rather anticipatory. Whether for me, who must always be attentive to detail and responsive to my patients, or to my patients, who may recover most effectively by staying off their heels, I think this is compelling advice.

When you are in trouble during a point, you need to choose a high margin shot. Keep the ball in play.

This pearl underscores the importance of keeping one’s eye on the end goal. Though I, as a surgeon, may devise a treatment plan, and you, as a patient, may comply—either with conservative treatment or surgery---sometimes there may be unanticipated challenges. Perhaps progress is slower than expected, or a complication may occur. In the midst of this, a fork in the road may exist—one direction may get to the objective, but perhaps a bit cautiously. The other may reflect frustration and impatience, or excessive optimism, and one’s attempt for quicker fix may fail—causing more harm than good. So---when we get into a jam, we should carefully work our way out of it, prioritizing keeping the ball in play, and avoiding an unforced error.

Recognize that a positive attitude is critical to success; so position yourself to enable a positive attitude.

Coach Greenberg asked my son and his fellow players: If you are down love to 30 in a game, is your attitude better or worse than if you are up 30-love? The answer is obvious, and underscores that attitude impacts tremendously on outcome. This happens because our efforts and actions---the things that are in our control---are affected by our frame of mind. I hear weekly in Bikram yoga: “if you change the way you look at things---the things you look at will change.” So---in that light, don’t get down love – 30, because the statistics show that you will lose more often than not. In my world, this means go from step A to step B etc without taking shortcuts. Build on small successes, and avoid having to dig out of a hole. And, when one does encounter a challenge, keep a positive attitude. Not doing so does not help. In recovery after shoulder surgery, for example, a hopeful, positive frame of mind is powerful.

Don’t worry about your rankings or whether you are winning every match. Rather, the fun of tennis comes from seeing yourself improve and get better. It happens slowly though, so don’t get frustrated. Just keep putting in the work and keep a positive attitude.

This pearl builds on the last one. I may reassure a somewhat disappointed patient, whose recovery is a bit slow, that it will come. And, it’s awesome when they finally “turn the corner”. Take delight in the baby steps of getting better, without judging oneself. Don’t get frustrated. If you make the investment –if you hope for restored function—it will happen.

And just as intertwined as coach and player are to that end, just as critical as mutual trust is for success on the tennis court, so too is the partnership between myself and my patients fundamental to reaching our shared goals.





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