Tennis lessons – why being rubbish at something is all-important


When I decided to take my Youngster out to buy him something as a reward for a really good school report, I didn’t expect him to choose a tennis racquet. But he did.

And then I didn’t expect his enthusiasm for it to last beyond a couple of days.

But it did.

So a trip to a charity shop later, we have two racquets, and have been out to our local park every day to hit a tennis ball around. Every day. For at least an hour.

I was terrible at tennis at school – couldn’t even get the ball and racquet to connect – so was a bit apprehensive about playing, especially when the Youngster demonstrated that he was able to hit the ball very effectively from the off.

But the outcome of nearly two weeks of going to the park has led me to a surprising discovery. Tennis is fun, even if you’re terrible at it. Why is this a surprise? Well, it all comes down to rules.


Rules, rules, rules

The rules we make about an activity materially affect the way we will approach it, and will determine how much fun we have. Like a lot of people, as a young person I took on board the view that being good at an activity was all-important, and that if I couldn’t be good at it immediately, I should give it up.* FM Alexander comments that students will have had this attitude instilled into them by teachers from their earliest days, and that

He will have been told that, if he is conscientious, he will always try to be right, not wrong, so that this desire to “be right” will have become an obsession in which, as in so many other matters, his conscience must be satisfied.**

I gave up a lot of stuff, and didn’t even try a whole load of things, because of this belief that I needed to be perfect immediately. But no one can expect to be immediately proficient at something new. This is too high a standard for success. More importantly, it is just a belief, or a rule, about what is correct and allowable. And beliefs and rules are changeable.


I am still a terrible tennis player. Put bluntly, I stink. But I’m still having fun, and that’s what counts.

What activity would you try if you would just allow yourself to be joyfully, gleefully bad at it?


* Incidentally, all teachers need to remember this point. Your students’ sense of self belief is a delicate thing. Criticise too much at an early stage at your peril.

** FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.295.

Image by Suat Eman,