A lot of things come with a warning label these days. For example: tools and machinery, tobacco and alcohol products and toys with small parts. There is even talk of putting a warning label on soda beverages because of the high refined sugar content.

I am recommending that tennis now comes with this warning:

WARNING: This sport is highly addictive. Once you start, you may play it your entire life. If more than a day or two goes by without watching, playing or practicing, you may feel depressed. The invigorating mental and physical stimulation may cause you to lie awake at night anxious for your next court time. Other choices in your life may be affected by how they could impact your athletic performance. You may feel impelled to skip out of work early, forego the cheese cake for more vegetables or take the stairs instead of the elevator in an attempt to get an edge over your next opponent. You will probably dedicate a pair of shoes for use only on the tennis court and your desire to hang your racket collection on living room walls may be a source of contention with your spouse.

I had to quit playing tennis for several years because of shoulder pain. Before the advancements in arthroscopic surgery, I needed what is usually called decompression for shoulder impingement. Basically, my tendons were fraying because of the tight space or spur in my (tennis arm) shoulder joint. (Some are born with this). No doctor would operate on me at the time because of the risk of infection and because tennis was not my main livelihood.

Anyway, during the years I could not play, I was miserable watching tennis from the sidelines. When I heard that arthroscopic surgery finally made it mainstream, I immediately made an appointment with a trusted sports medicine doctor. About 45 minutes worth of surgery and my shoulder was fixed. Seven days after the surgery, with doctor’s permission, I was on the court hitting tennis balls again with my team.

What is it about tennis that makes it so compellingly addictive? Even if your sport is not tennis, you can probably relate. Some people get a runner’s high. Other friends of mine who are just as avid about hockey often stay up past midnight just to get ice time at a local indoor arena.

The nice thing about tennis is that you only need two people to play. I can not imagine the time (and patience) it must take for coaches to organize their games and practice for all of the other team sports. On top of that, there are people who must maintain the fields, chalk the lines, schedule the umpires, carpool the kids (and equipment), etc.

Tennis is so simple and the ball is always the same. No matter who your next opponent (at your level) is, you are really playing against yourself. How well you perform in practice reveals your actual potential in a match situation. Your job during a match is to remember how your body feels when you are loose and relaxed in practice. Nothing changes except what’s in your mind. Dealing with nerves and controlling your thoughts in a tennis match can help you in other areas of life as well. Confidence is built upon past successes and nothing succeeds like success.

I guess that’s why they say that tennis is 80% mental. There are plenty of professional tennis players that are very fit and can hit the ball well, so why is there such a gulf between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and the rest of the current men’s field? Basically, it comes down to shot selection and confidence. The same is true for you.

The No. 1 factor for improving your confidence and shot selection is repetition. Some people say “Practice makes perfect.” But in tennis, it’s repetition that makes your strokes perfect and gives you the confidence to go for your shots under pressure.

Your racket in-hand is constantly giving you feedback. Sometimes the ball is coming at you faster, slower, higher, lower and with more or less spin. Even the pros are constantly improvising, rarely are they totally set up or in perfect body position to take their ideal swing at the ball. You must learn to improvise and repetition is the only way to accomplish this. If you are not hitting 300-400 balls in your hour-long tennis lessons, then you need to have a talk with your instructor and/or spend more time with a ball machine. (Portable ball machines start in the $1,000 price range, most local clubs have them to rent as well.)

This wonderful addiction to the tennis lifestyle takes hold when you realize that you can control the tennis ball off your racket strings as accurately as any pitcher can throw a baseball or any quarterback can throw a football.

Reminder: US Open finals are this weekend.

Coach Brian Walters is a certified tennis instructor with 25 years of experience based in the Lake Minnetonka area. He blogs and offers free tennis tips on his website www.target-tennis.com. You can also reach him at info@HitTheYellowBall.com.

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