What do tennis and therapy have in common?Michelle Balaun
There’s a point to this story, I promise. I started playing tennis at the end of quarantine. It was a sport I wanted to pick back up on since it had been 20 years since I last played.
I got a sense of how our kids must feel when they are learning a new task. Especially the kids who feel self-conscious about getting things right from the get-go. The first few times I played I will embarrassingly admit that the balls flew over the fence. My game was rusty. The negative self-talk was having a blast in my mind. I wanted to hit the ball in the blue part, I wanted to rally. But my focus was spotty at best when I couldn’t quiet the inner critic. He would repeat the same instructions every lesson and I would clearly hear him but it wouldn’t sink in. I felt like the kid who constantly gets in trouble in school but can recite the rules and regulations handbook by heart. I knew what he was saying made sense but I did not know how to make it happen.
Then, something started to change. I started running around my neighborhood because the speed would keep my legs lighter when I needed to run to either side of the tennis court. I was on a roll! Until. My mind would wander into thinking about a difficult situation. Then, I would hyperfocus on my form so much so that I miss the ball. I stopped running, summer is so hot (excuse). I missed some lessons due to rain or scheduling issues. It’s not that I wanted to stop playing but I let other things get in the way. I could choose to stop or make it a point to continue to practice so that one day I could play for fun. Luckily, I am playing more consistently, and doing some exercises to help when I am on the tennis court.
I saw so many comparisons to my work in therapy. How often do you feel gung-ho about making a change in your life? The therapist will share with you insights and avenues to change behaviors, yet in the beginning, even though it makes sense, nothing clicks. It seems uncomfortable and awkward. Redacting conversations in your mind that before you had on the fly. Rehearsing parts of your session when a sticky situation comes up because it just doesn’t seem natural to you to act differently. When people ask me how many sessions are necessary to see a change, my honest answer is that it depends. Sometimes, it just takes a few sessions for the infamous “AHA moment” and the client starts implementing this outside of session. Sometimes, clients let the negative self-talk take over that they can’t get past the hump – they make excuses and miss sessions only to feel bad about letting it go. Sometimes, it is easier to hold on to the poor form of communication, of expectations, of attachments because it is known and the thought of changing it up or the ramifications of change scares them. All of these are valid, they highlight where we are in the moment of change.
So, for the parents who enroll their kids in a new hobby, class, sport- observe how your child reacts to learning a new task. Why not pick up something new yourself and see how you adapt? For therapy clients, I get it. Remember, it’s a process. Learning new skills takes time, like me and tennis. Believing in such skills takes time, and it’s okay to start and stop because life gets in the way, as long as you come back to the change because it is what you find that will help you lead a life with more contentment.