I was withdrawing deeper into myself, isolating myself from my surroundings, settling into the routines—the inflexible routines—I have before each match and that continue right up to the start of play.
This is from Rafael Nadal’s sometimes surprisingly candid book, Rafa, written with John Carlin. Listen for that light, self-effacing Majorcan accent, our Mediterranean catch of the day, emphasis mine:
I repeat the sequence, every time, before a match begins, and at every break between games, until a match is over. A sip from one bottle, and then from another. And then I put the two bottles down at my feet, in front of my chair to my left, one neatly behind the other, diagonally aimed at the court. Some call it superstition, but it’s not. If it were superstition, why would I keep doing the same thing over and over whether I win or lose? It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.
I was moved. Because she used the Oxford comma in her headline. I may ask for her hand in marriage.
I was also moved, you’ll be relieved to know, for two other reasons:
- LaFevers named some of the more elusive, soul-centered elements of our work. They have to do with willpower.
- She did it without getting maudlin. Not a single verse of Kumbaya.
[pullquote]It’s about giving free rein to your obsessive and personal tics and possibly unsavory interests. —Robin LaFevers, On Discipline, Dedication, and Devotion[/pullquote]
Earlier this month in New York, it was borderline unsavory when some of the commentators at the US Open chuckled at how Nadal refuses to step on a line on the court between points. He always steps over the lines, not on them. Chuckle all you want. He has some $60 million in prize money. Makes you want to step right over some lines, no?
Watch Nadal play for 20 minutes and you’ll be familiar with that trademark series of fast moves he makes at the baseline before each point. Personal tics on parade. He plucks the left shoulder of his shirt. Then the right shoulder. His shorts get a tug. The sweat is wiped off his nose. His hair is pushed back over his left ear. His nose gets another swipe. His hair is pushed back over his right ear. Only after all this will he play a point. Every time. Same moves. In the same order.
Greg Garber at ESPN has written that Nadal looks like a baseball manager sending signals. I think it looks more like he’s genuflecting. Those moves are prayer.
What’s going on out there on the tennis court is a lot like what LaFevers is saying might need to happen at our desks. [Read more…]