Friday, July 13, 2012

The Tennis & Batting Emotional Cycle

Scott has a love-hate relationship with sports. Fortunately, the love mostly outweighs the hate.

Inspired by a recent post by the Walker Family, I took the kids out to the Batting Cage near Shouldice Park in the community of Montgomery. I ride past this place nearly every day on my bike, but I can't remember ever actually using it. I do remember going to a batting cage near Provo with some friends while I was in University. That event is memorable mainly because my buddy accidentally hit the fence on the side of the cage while swinging the bat and it bounced back and hit him in the side of the head and nearly knocked him out. Fortunately, no such incident took place on this visit, and Scott was well-protected by his bike helmet.

My only instructions before he began: "Scott, the machine is going to keep shooting balls out until it gets to 20, and it is not going to stop and wait for you if you walk away or get frustrated. So stay on that white line until it's done and keep swinging."

Scott is quite good at hitting the pitches I throw at him, but it took a few minutes for him to get used to the heavier bat, the longer pitch distance, and the fact that the ball comes out of a machine. At first I worried that he would be disappointed because he hardly connected with any of the first round of 20. However, he quickly made his own adjustments to his grip, stance and timing to connect with a few by the end of the second round of 20. I couldn't help myself but give in to his begging for another round, which is where he had some real success. I think he would have been happy to stay there all night, but it's actually a pretty expensive activity if you forget your coupon book at home. Instead, he watched in awe while some college-age guys hit ball in the fast-pitch lanes.

This kid's focus is pretty amazing. Give him any kind of game and he will stick at it until you run out of time or money. His appetite for this sort of thing never seems to be satisfied. I wish I had some video footage from our recent tennis expoits. He and his cousin hit a tennis ball around with racketball rackets at the recent Fathers & Sons campout and he came home wanting nothing more than to play tennis again. We bought some wooden paddles at the dollar store and rallied a bit in the field by our house. Another day we took the paddles to the tennis courts down the street. Then we graduated to real tennis rackets borrowed from the community center. In each session there was a distinct pattern:

Frustration: Scott is frustrated that he can't hit the ball as well as he wants to. He mostly blames me for hitting it too high or too low or too fast or too slow. Rather than argue with him, I try to say very little -- complimenting him on good hits.

Meltdown: Mounting Frustration overflows into a emotional outburst, where Scott turns and marches away a few steps with tears in his eyes. I say nothing and wait a few moments for him to start coming back before I hit the next ball to him.

Breakthrough Lecture: Scott hits the ball back while working through tears to explain how my inadequate gameplay has frustrated him. After a few moments I realize that we are having our first good rally. I interrupt Scott's lecture to compliment him on the good rally. He laughs triumphantly and plays surprisingly well afterwards.

Rinse & Repeat: There are certain emotional highs and lows in the course of play, but the general trend is upwards. At one point in our tennis game, rather than hit a nice easy lob to him, I hit it a bit lower and harder and immediately began to apologize for the bad shot. He cranked it right back at me with his trademark two-handed lefty forehand and said, "Why did did you say sorry? That was a good shot."

I think he's pretty decent at these sports, especially for his age. But I really marvel at the combination of extreme emotions and absolute perserverance. He gets so frustrated, but he can't bring himself to give up either.


Jessica said...

What's great is he'll grow up knowing that some things may be hard and frustrating at first but if you keep persevering, you will succeed. That's a hard lesson to learn even when you're an adult. Good for Scott!!!

Grandma Walters said...

And he did well on the W11 (?) machine playing tennis in our basement!