How to Take Tennis Lessons into Life’s Game

How to Take Tennis Lessons into Life’s Game


by Don Ingwerson

Ask anyone what they think is the most important thing in life, and they’ll usually give the same answer – health. So I was not surprised when I met Roy at a community meeting where we discussed spirituality and healthy life styles. What he said showed that the development of qualities of the inner self were not only more important than his daily work, but also that these inner qualities were quite significant in determining the quality of everyday life experiences.It turns out that Roy is a tennis player and coach, and what got my attention was the importance he placed on this healthy inner self. As easily as he discussed how to improve the forehand, Roy shared how important a good foundation was to the development of this healthy inner self – referencing the Bible, religious writers and health researchers, such as Henry Drummond, Mary Baker Eddy, and leaders like President Dwight D. Eisenhower and renowned coach John Wooden.

Tennis isn’t my game, but Roy was accepting and open. It was easy to share my interest in life styles that supported good health practices, and I realized that without mentioning health he was describing his work in terms of all the qualities that are so important to health. Qualities such as balanced living, purposeful activities, organization, the importance of the inner self, and how these qualities affected his tennis game both as a coach and player. He described instances where he was able to learn from the previous situations and build on these principles – and he always focused on helping the individual. What I learned from Roy fell into four areas:  know the game, be a good communicator, have a service orientation, and never stop learning.

To know the game is not just about training, rules, and style, but how to provide the learner with inner support to make needed changes. And how does understanding and proficiency in these areas of support affect health? Progress in these areas help students to be relaxed, balanced, and flexible. These qualities are not only good for quality tennis, but also for the player’s health, according to health researchers who have noted that athletes perform better when they take time to relax and restore.

A successful communicator doesn’t just know the facts, but he captures the interest of his listener through real life stories. One of Roy’s most heart-warming stories is about “Buttons” (who in real life is Ryan Batterman). Buttons could wear down the best of players and ended up winning many games through this strategy. But he also had a compassionate side. At one point he faced an opponent who had twisted a knee trying to keep up with Buttons’ strategic placement of volleys. For all practical purposes the game was Button’s. However, he refused to take advantage of his injured opponent and ended up losing this very important match. Roy never forgot the lesson he learned from Buttons’ health-giving compassionate side.

The service attitude, or serving others, is also an important component of tennis as well as health. Roy describes this well when he states in his book, A High School Tennis Coach’s Handbook: “When I look back at the coaches I most enjoyed coaching against and whose team members enjoyed playing for them the most, I see very few former professional or even collegiate level tennis players. Instead, I see schoolteachers, basketball coaches, dentists, and a city manager. These coaches all genuinely cared about their players and were students of the game and the profession.”

Roy finds it’s important to adapt tennis skills to individual needs – and this talent makes Roy unique. In the “Final Thoughts” of his book, Roy explains, “Receiving appreciation from a parent or player long ago graduated about how they are still applying the life lessons learned on the tennis team to their current experience is incredibly rewarding. Even without the commendations, the fulfillment that comes from knowing you chose to dedicate your afternoons for three months in order to help a group of youths towards a common goal is one that uplifts society and inevitably continues your growth as well.”

Talking with Roy was refreshing. He radiated in our conversation the importance of individual growth in temperament and skill. Roger Dahl, California State University faculty member, summed Roy up well when he stated: “He not only can play the game of tennis, but he knows the game inside out – length, width, and depth. Probably most importantly, he knows people and how to work with them to maximize their potential. Ultimately, this is… [not] about how to coach tennis, but rather tennis is a metaphor on how to live your life.” (Review of A High School Tennis Coach’s Handbook)

Roy’s tennis advice closely mirrors current health advice: be compassionate, serve others, improve by completing manageable goals, and express happiness while doing what you believe is right. And just like in tennis, it’s never too late to take up these health-giving qualities and put them into practice in the game of life.

Article first published in Blogcritics.

About the author

Don Ingwerson Don regularly blogs on health and spirituality and lives in Laguna Beach with his wife - both Christian Science practitioners. He brings his years serving the public in education to his work as a liaison of Christian Science, where he maintains contacts with the media and legislative offices.


  1. Evelyn, Laguna Hills says

    These are certainly skills worth developing. I’ve found that what really improves my game is keeping my eye on the ball. It’s too easy to lose focus just at the moment of impact by turning attention to the next play. So it is in life and health issues. Pay attention to what needs immediate attention and avoid distractions.

  2. Anne says

    Another informative article about the importance of developing right attitudes in every aspect of our lives. I was interested in the people who were referred to as good examples of building a strong foundation for healthy living.

    One of them, Mary Baker Eddy, was mentioned in a recent article in “The Wall Street Journal,” entitled A Nation That Accentuates the Positive by Mitch Horowitz. He wrote of the religious experimentation taking place in New England in the nineteenth century which emphasized positive thinking, and spoke of ” a brilliant young Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the healing faith of Christian Science.”

    I find this recognition of the mental outlook on life and how it affects our well-being so vital to our understanding today. Eddy was a pioneer in this area and took her discovery even to greater heights than simple positive thinking. Her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” explains her ideas from a deeply religious point of view. Many have been helped and healed by reading and studying it.

    Thank you for writing this fine blog.

  3. says

    And how ironic that the word “love” is used in tennis score-keeping. The term is sometimes defined as having been adapted from the phrase “to play for love (of the game)” (i.e. to play for nothing). And, in fact, that is the meaning: no score. How ironic that this reminder in a sports game is contrasted to the ‘win or lose” attitude in so much of life. Rather, might it not suggest one can do something, including playing tennis, simply for the love of the game, for interaction with others, and for one’s own self in using our God-given talents (whatever they might be) to the fullest. And the compassionate love “Buttons” expressed to the injured opponent certainly exhibits such love, where the goal is not always trying to finish with the most points, but content with a score of “0” defined
    as “love.”

  4. Anne Hughes says

    Good to hear of the recent Wall Street Journal article mentioning Mary Baker Eddy and her church. It is also encouraging to hear of your effortless interchange with your friend about the positive effect of good thought qualities on our lives. Thanks, Don.