I washed the dishes superbly this evening. I took due care in all aspects and ended up being delighted with the results. It took time but I am happy. Upon completion I thought of James Willstrop.
During the World Open in Qatar last year I watched the on court preparation of the few players who remained in the event after the early rounds. Each player was allocated a 30 minute practise court with another player and for many this was sufficient to fine tune the body and mind for the upcoming battle later in the day. In fact some players opted to forego their practise. However, after completing his half hour practise, Willstrop would reconvene to the side courts to get down to the real business.
Here, he would practise his straight drop shot for a minimum of one hour but often upwards of ninety minutes. Either feeding himself or with a partner feeding he would repeat that single shot over and over and over. On the volley and off the floor. From the front, mid court or back. His focus did not seem to flicker during that time as he prepared and executed the same shot with pretty much the same technique time and time again. I must say he seemed content when carrying out this task and it dawned on me that his trademark shot was fully deserved.
To me, this is a good example of what George Leonard – in his book Mastery – means by maximising your time “on the plateau”. According to Leonard, the plateau is the landscape between the moments where you can clearly appreciate improvement in the activity you are pursuing. The plateau is long and tough, it is the everyday, it is your bread and butter and the time when you take the picture of a shot out of your head and transfer it to the court. It is the loving dedication to the seemingly mundane shots and the ability to respect each one by giving them your full and absolute concentration. Leonard believes this attitude will unearth a type of meditative state which when repeated will accelerate learning. This makes perfect sense because so few could do it.
It is interesting to watch people doing everything so fast when they can not do the same thing beautifully at a slower pace. Is it not best to achieve the correct technique and execution at a slower pace before developing it as the intensity and pressure rises? As well as playing practise matches against better players, I always try and encourage players to play practise games with opponents who are much lower in standard, the objective is to play the same game as usual but to keep your opponent in the rally and give yourself more time to experience the feeling of how the rally can develop, of course when you feel the time is right then you must finish the rally with authority.
Six months after seeing James Willstrop in Qatar I watched him playing in the World Team Championships in France and his drop shot was immaculate. His team mates and the opposition could only look on in envy at the phenomenal quality and consistency. I hope one day that many will feel the same way about my washing up but if not then maybe just my wife