Sunday, July 12, 2020

Player Profile: Stephen Slater - The flexibility of scheduling matches is what drew him in

We caught up with Steven Slater out of our Virginia Beach tennis community and this his tennis story.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I grew up in Stockbridge, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. It was a fine upbringing, but I longed to get to a bigger city. I started playing the French horn in 8th grade and I knew early on that it was what I wanted to do. Music has taken me to 4 continents and I've lived in 13 cities around the world, and I wouldn't change it for anything. I moved to Virginia Beach in 2018 as a French horn player with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. I got a cute tiny home 2 blocks from the beach, and I've loved living here. I never knew I was a beach bum, but here we are. The tennis community here is large, which has been a wonderful surprise for me. My family live up and down the East Coast (minus my brother's family in Texas), so traveling up to New York to visit my sister and drives down to Atlanta to see the parents are easy and convenient.

Which league are you a member of?
Hampton Roads, which encompasses a lot of cities in and around Norfolk.

How long have you participated in your league?
This is my third session and I started last summer, 2019.

How did you first learn about it?
Honestly, I did a web search. I was looking to join either a league or team in my area, and TLN seemed like the best fit - and it was.

How often do you play?
I try to play at least 3 times a week, but would love to play everyday. My body says otherwise. I've unfortunately been plagued with a few back injuries, but it has been getting better with regular play.

What do you like most about the league?
I love the flexibility of scheduling matches and meeting all the people. It truly feels like a community with everyone in the league.

Tell us about your most memorable match(es).
Really any match with my hitting partners Masayo and Durrell are memorable, both for their play and companionship. The time in between changeovers brings a great deal of happiness and laughter.

Do you have any other interesting comments about your experiences with the league?
I really questioned whether or not the league would be a good fit for me, considering I worked in the evenings and on weekends as a classical musician. But it was soon clear that the flexibility of scheduling your own matches was its greatest asset. Having that flexibility was key to the success of this league for myself and for those I've played with.

How did you get started playing tennis?
I got started while in grade school. My father has always been a competitive table tennis player, and I got hooked on tennis at an early age. I took lessons, joined my high school team, and even dreamt of making it professional, but music took over my life. My events with tennis and music clashed far too much, so tennis was left behind. Unfortunately I didn't really play again for 23 years, and just picked it back up this past summer. It was NOT like riding a bike! I had to relearn so much and it's still a struggle, but the passion came back immediately. It's a new-found obsession, and I'm extremely thankful to have tennis during this quarantine. It's been a savior for me.

Do you play to compete, or for fun?
Appropriate answer is fun. Honest answer is both. Being in the competitive world of classical music where I have auditioned hundreds of times while only landing a handful of jobs in my lifetime (statistics show that it's harder to get into a symphony orchestra than it is to get into the NFL) has only helped me with matches. It's funny how angry I can get with myself during a match where I'm making dozens of errors, so I just have to keep telling my musician self that this is fun! Of course competition can be fun, but enjoyment should be paramount when playing recreational tennis.

What level player are you? (NTRP rating)
Just hit 3.5 yesterday. I started this league last summer at 2.5, so improvement has been great to see. I would consider myself an aggressive baseliner who loves to take huge swings deep into the court.

What do you love about tennis? 
There's plenty to love, but I guess I love the athleticism of it. I've never been one to "work out", but tennis is the perfect sport for all ages. Something in tennis just clicked with me, and it's hard to pinpoint what. It may be the competitive nature of it or how much of a challenge to your psyche it is. I sometimes believe tennis is 20% technique and 80% mental. That challenge in tennis can help you in your day-to-day life greatly.

Who are your favorite pro players? Why?
I grew up obsessed with Monica Seles. I still think she may be the greatest player of all-time, even though her career was forever changed by a terrible act. I also have a two-handed forehand that I couldn't get rid of, so I saw myself in her game. Currently I'm a huge fan of Del Potro (hope he comes back), Halep, Andreescu, Kvitova...really any player with an incredible passion for the sport and a huge heart for their tennis community. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Pacing Yourself - By Adam Cooper

We are all incredibly fortunate that tennis is one of the few sports that can be played in reasonable safety during this surreal limbo. Ever since the courts in the DC/metro area reopened, there have if anything been more players than usual out, perhaps as newcomers embrace the sport as their traditional exercise outlets (indoor gyms, team sports) are still not available.

As I returned to playing after hunkering at home for over two months, it was difficult to resist the temptation to immediately schedule as many matches as possible and basically go from 0 to 60 in my eagerness to be doing something other than sedentary Zoom calls and watching Netflix (original series Star Trek, anyone??) But after having spent much of the past couple years managing injuries and playing in starts and stops, I knew it would be wiser to come back gradually and deliberately.

For anyone else trying to return after a layoff, or just trying to stay active in middle age and beyond, I thought I’d share a few tips. They are all fairly self-evident, but still practical, and they all come down to pacing yourself.

Space your matches out. Whether you play three times a week or three times a month, make sure you take enough time between matches for your body to recover. As you grow more accustomed to playing this time can be made shorter. For me, I always try to have at least a day of rest in between matches.

Keep a consistent schedule. Once you have a routine,don’t change it up without a good reason. If you tend to play in the evening rather than the morning you should think twice before altering the pattern.  I know it takes me while to loosen up over the course of the day, and I try to protect myself by not playing too early.Also, try to aim for roughly the same number of matches from week to week or month to month. Playing too much before your body is ready is just asking for injury.

Warm up before you play. I try to go for a gentle half mile run, including side steps and jumping jacks, followed by a short walk of about as long before I even show up to play a match. Once my body is warm, I also take time to stretch. Stretching when you’re totally cold is no longer recommended.

Play smart. It’s hard in the heat of competition not to want to give 100% on every point. In general, you should, especially if you’re young. But I know if I go full out chasing down a lob or drop shot that even if I win that point I may end up losing the next two or three because I’m out of breath. So, if it’s2-2 in the first set and I’m up 40-love, I might let that lob go. Keep an awareness of the big points and make sure you’re 100% committed physically for them, but if you’re coming back, prone to injury, or just older, you may want to be choosy about expanding your maximum effort.

Playing tennis, especially on what is essentially concrete, is tough. We ask a lot from our bodies to make it happen. Don’t do too much too soon or you may have to ask your body for forgiveness.