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Why Tennis is so much more than a game - in the words of Dr. Madhav Ghate

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

I have been playing tennis for more than 55 years. Played it at the school, college, University-level and even up to the national and international levels. I have also played many other games like cricket, table tennis, water polo, athletics and so on. But gradually, tennis became my first passion - so much so that my wife used to say that it’s your first wife!

Now, at seventy, looking back, I have realized that tennis has given me a lot of things beyond just the pleasure of playing the game. Without a doubt I can say that I ENJOY life. Every day!

Being a psychiatrist, I have a habit of analyzing things. You see, WHY is an extremely important question not just in psychiatry but in medicine in general and to a great extent in life as well. So I started asking myself “Why do I enjoy life’s intricacies, its twists and turns, even its adversities?" or "Why is it that I enjoy trying to find out the solutions to the mental mess that the patients embroil themselves into?"

I gradually realized the role tennis has played in shaping me. It has been a long journey: didn’t happen overnight! But I seem to have learnt a lot of ways of dealing with problems without being stressed out. How did it happen?

Let’s take a look.

Tennis taught me a lot. It taught me that the basics is always important. It educated me about winning and losing, gave me the idea that I should try to simplify things, gave me the determination that I lacked, instilled dedication with that and told me to try and make a 100% effort when something important came up. Tennis also gave me self-confidence and conviction about myself. And with all this, I learned to enjoy life .

My guru, my coach in the early tennis days, made me realise that however superior your game may be, the basics are always what you come back to. If the basics are sound, you can play in any condition, environmental as well as mental. If you are serving for the match, the title, even if you feel the tension, take a deep breath and serve the serve that you have practiced so many times, the basic sound serve that you have learned. In life, I frequently go to the basics. For example, with a difficult patient, not responding to my efforts, I keep all my assumptions aside and take a fresh history. You will be surprised how many times this actually works. You find something new or overlooked and that helps.

I think one of the most important lessons from tennis has been about winning and losing. I realized that these two are not the end of the road. Not by any chance. Gradually, I learned to take them in my stride. If I win, I am extremely happy, but I learned not to gloat. Because tennis taught me that there might be a loss around the corner – and the reasons can come out of a myriad of problems, both big and small. I learned to be humble about my successes. On losing, I definitely have a much bigger experience than that on winning. But again, I realized that I can be sad, it’s alright, but I should not become depressed and give up. Tennis gave me the lesson that if you lose, you decide in your mind that you will do better next time. And not just decide but make the extra effort too, so that you are well-prepared. All of this applies to life. What I have gathered from this is that confidence, caution, risk-taking, going beyond your so-called limitations – one has to apply all this in life to achieve satisfaction and happiness.

Tennis gave me the idea of simplifying everything in life. Right from studies to psychiatry to solving any problems that occur on and off the courts. For that I started thinking in my own words, not the ones given in books or the ones drilled into me from time to time.

If the opponent is playing too well, simplify the matter by keeping yourself in the game, bidding for time, waiting for him to come back to normality. Works well. Also DON’T CHANGE anything if you are winning but make a CHANGE or try to change the game when you are not doing well. It's that simple. But one has to remember this, instead of getting nervous or bogged down. All this applies to life's problems also. A successful businessman forgets this principle, tries to change the successful ways and lo, a disaster looms ahead. If another doctor has prescribed a medicine, and it is working well, I don’t change it. Instead I think about what can I add to it. Again, it works well with almost all the patients. But if the patient or the relatives say the earlier medicines are not working, I take a different approach.

It was tennis that gave me determination, dedication and trying more than 100%. I played at the national and international levels as a veteran. When I was young, studying medicine didn’t allow one to play competitive tennis. But in my studies, I used the same principles, studied extremely hard and I was the topper in both medical entrance (a University exam at my time) and in the final MBBS exams. I am not boasting, but these are the facts and I think tennis was responsible for my success in the studies. At the veteran stage, it was about my physical fitness. Again, I worked hard for that, and got some success, which pleases me to no end. Actually, what tennis teaches you is that THERE IS NO SHORTCUT. You want to achieve anything in life , effort is the key, no matter how talented you are.

Tennis, the game, starts giving you confidence in yourself. You start believing in yourself, your abilities, capacities and most important of all, you start getting a conviction about your own potential. That can work fantastically well in your life in general. One must realize that you don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Actually you have to prove yourself to yourself. If that happens the words which torment millions of people: “What people will say...” just fade away not to bother you ever again.

I started enjoying a lot of things, big and small, in life because of playing tennis. I remember I have enjoyed some of my losses in the matches even. Once, when I was a Junior, I was playing an open tournament. I had a match against an upcoming star in tennis. Everybody thought that the match would be over in no time. And suddenly I won the first set. I was in my zone. A huge crowd gathered around us. I lost that match in a hard-fought third set, but that loss still gives me a lot of pleasure. I gained a lot of conviction and confidence about myself. It didn’t matter that I was short on match practice and fitness, but I enjoyed that loss. Because of tennis, I started enjoying things. I enjoyed my studies, my friends, even working in psychiatry. Because of this attitude that tennis has given me , I have been enjoying my family, playing and horsing around with my children and now the grandchildren. Enjoying the veterans tennis tournaments has given me friends from all over India. From Delhi to Vishakhapatanam, anywhere I go, there will be a friend or two who will offer me tennis and dinner. What more does anyone want?

Who says Tennis is not much more than a game?

The writer is M D Psychiatry, Retired Head of the Department of Psychiatry, SKN Medical College, Pune

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