When do you know that you're licked, past it, a has-been? I've trouble admitting it sometimes and it was very tangibly manifested to me recently in a tennis match.
Now I'm a late-comer to tennis. I only joined a tennis club in my late 30s and at the time I couldn't hit an overheard serve to save my life! I've improved a lot since then and today I win singles matches more than I lose them against good quality club level players. So it has almost been a flush of youth seeing myself getting better and better at tennis even as I visibly aged....like a good wine or the picture of Dorian Gray in the attic!
However, being realistic, I'm 52 and overweight and I've no right to expect too much from my tennis skills. Recently I entered our club championships and in the first round I was unlucky to be up against the No. 2 seeded player in the club! Now this guy grew up on tennis courts, coached all the way. He's also half my age, fit and athletic. Listing our statistics side by side you would laugh and Paddy Power would make you a millionaire from a €1 flutter if I were to win.
The sad part is that I genuinely thought I had a shot at beating him. I even hit the gym for a few days before the encounter to improve my speed and fitness.
An optimistic start took place in the match. We had two long opening games and we each held serve. After that it was all downhill! I tried really hard and we had loads of very close games where I reached deuce or my advantage. I kept him really busy for an hour and twenty minutes. Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, the score ended 6-1; 6-1 in his favour. He complimented me afterwards and said he had to really concentrate to win.
I do recall several thoughts flashing into my head after each point which this great young tennis player won....
There was something Muhammad Ali had said after his loss in his last ever fight against Trevor Berbick..."I could sense his youth during the fight!"
Or the reply from the mother in the movie "The Goodbye Girl" when told after a tough rehearsal that the local dance group were looking for someone younger...."Okay" she panted. "I'll work on it!"
Why did I beat myself up thinking I could win this match? When I'm out on court a competitive streak kicks in and I just give it everything. I get annoyed with myself if I play badly but I never get annoyed with my opponent.
So when do you decide that you are past it? I'm not ready yet to admit it I'm afraid. I'm tempted to go back to the gym and get ready for next year!!
I'll borrow another quotation from boxing, this time from George Foreman who was knocked to the canvass during a fight against Ron Lyle in the mid 1970s. He told himself as he lay on the ground..
"What are you doing on the ground, George? Get up and win!"
He did get up and then knocked out Ron Lyle in the next round to win the fight. In fact George Foreman went on and on to prove what older athletes could achieve by regaining the World title when aged in his forties.
Get up and win! What a simple and effective motivating phrase to repeat when you seem down and out. It's a phrase I've tried to use all my adult life.