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The sweet spot

As I was bashing a little black squash ball about a big white room (not padded) I made a discovery.

As you all know, one gets more pleasure from an activity when one does it well. Although some activities can be pleasurable even when flailing about aimlessly. But enough nostalgia. Coach Barb had once told me that one of the ways to hit the ball well in squash is to feel the ball on the racquet — not to just get rid of it as soon as possible. Give it time to feel the percussion, feel the spring, make it last. When you feel it, you stroke it, you don’t whack it. And she was right (of course), on the odd occasion when I was able to make that happen.

But … that cue (to feel it) didn’t stick with me well enough to ensure consistent success. My fault. So, after many weeks of accidental whacking (don’t go there) I found the cue:

The Sound.

And there it was. Just as a musical instrument has a “center”, a place where you get the best sound out of it by blowing or plucking just right, so does a racquet. They call this the sweet spot, and though tennis pundits seem to spend more time on it than squash pundits, it exists nonetheless.

So, I made the Sound, and made the stroke as a result. Though not yet A-player-worthy (maybe E), a lot of other components of a decent stroke fell into place. Or at least they started to fall into place, since making the sound resonated (sorry) with me, allowing me to practice the other components of the stroke with less stress. If I faltered, I could always come back to the Sound. It was reminiscent of the Jedi mind trick which helped me play trumpet a little better.

What’s the point of this?

Well, there’s more than one way to teach something. Everyone has affinities (e.g. music, golf) which influence the ease with which certain cues resonate with them. For example: I was showing Caprice the Push posture in Tai Chi, which looks like you’re doing a calf stretch, or pushing down a wall. Pretty much. So she could feel the whole-body push, not just a triceps push, I asked her to “inflate her sacrum”. Immediately she got it — whole-body feeling with ease. Now she’s used to being body-conscious and knows what a sacrum is, but that was just the right cue for her. Other teachers might say “drop your tailbone”, “sink your ch’i”, “relax”, “expand”, but in this case, “inflate your sacrum” worked.

So if you’re working on something and having trouble internalizing it, try to find another cue — one that works for you. It could be focusing on a less-used body part (often the sacrum), imitating a marionette, imagining yourself in a fluid, or whatever applies to what you’re doing. Sure, try the existing imagery suggested by your teacher, but feel free to find another. We’re all different, and as adults, it behooves us to take an active interest in our education. Though we may have the best teachers and coaches, they can only go so far.

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