Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, December 15, 2008


Achieving excellence is a very hard process for those who are on the road themselves and for those who accompany the traveller. I have just come back from another brutal training session with a group (today only two) of young players. I have no intention of becoming a great tennis player in the sense that I want to be good, but am realistic in knowing that as I am already over 50, and only started playing five years ago, my chances of making it to the top level are virtually nil, except in the over 55 categories.

The mentors for an athlete, often a coach, are always a mixture of love and hate; when the coach is also the parent, look out. The mentors love to see you improve and they hate to see you under perform: they know how hard you have worked and wonder where all of the consistency, flair, fight, etc. have gone when they watch the limp rag performance against a no-hoper. For this story, my mentor is Sydeny Lopez, a former Barbados Davis Cup player, who has now graduated from mentor to TORmentor. But, with his cute baby face, how could you not like him?

As I left the training after my one hour session this morning, my "mentor" asked me to assess my year and where my tennis had gone since I started working with him. Actually, it's not been anywhere near a year, but it seems like a decade!

In a word, it has been painful. I know that one object that he has is that if I decide to help train Miss Bliss that I will teach her good technique.So, he has reconstructed my game to be not a modified squash player trying to play tennis: I naturally slice the ball with a one-handed backhand, and it dips wickedly as a result, but I need to know how to drive the ball, so I have had to learn how to play with a double-handed shot. Unnatural? I'd say. I carry my racket low, as one does on a squash court--in part to avoid hitting your opponent in the face or head, but on the tennis court, the racket needs to start high, then go low, then end high. My body is hurting today, not because of these changes but because in his effort to make me good, I have to drive myself even harder. We do not have bodies that heal rapidly like the teenagers, and if we are injured, the healing takes much, much longer. But, we have what the teens do not have: muscle memory from when we were their age and many things work just the same now as then, and although the speed of movement is less, we can show that we are not slouches. We have done it before and have to believe we can do it again. So, what do I say about my mentor? Under my breath, I mutter, "This will get better." I don't cry, but I do cry out. And at the end of a brutal session of "Give me one more. Give me one more. One more and you're done. That's out. I need it in. One more like that. Throw away the left hand. Bend that elbow. Good. Punch that elbow...." I look to the ground, wipe the sweat from my bottom lip, take a deep breath, and go to pick up balls.

The church bell rings. Escape! Seven o'clock. Time for me to make my exit, and check that Miss Bliss is ready for school. Everything is burning in my legs. My breath is fast but not uncontrolled. Sweat slides into the corner of my mouth, and tastes bitter. "I'll try to see you again later this afternoon and maybe tomorrow morning," I yell over my shoulder as I go to my car. What did I say? Am I on some medication that makes me amnesiac in minutes? The paunch that I had that had spurred me a few weeks ago to decide to go on a boot camp crack with tennis training, wobbles a little, as if it is laughing at me. "How do you fell, buddy?" my right leg asks my left hand. "Pretty sore, man. Pretty sore. I need ice. How about you? I feel bad, but I'm passing the pain on to the butt," groans my hand. But I feel better than one of my similarly aged friends who had his treatment last week (see photo alongside).

I reflect on the young player with whom I had warmed up this morning. He should have been able to put the ball on a rope to me again and again and again. But he hit one good ball, one bad ball, another bad ball, one good ball, one to the left, one in the sky. Does he have no sense that he needs to be able to hit the same spot time and again? Maybe he will get there and figure out that it's not about force, but about accuracy; it's not the flash, it's the final good shot. It's not the inches outside the court with a shot that was so good looking that it could be a highlight reel; it's the shot that is an inch inside the court that looks so boring that even a sloth would think that the stroke needed waking up. Does this young man have what it takes to put his body through the wringer, or does he believe that he can coast forever?

Although the pain is all about me, and the mental anguish is all about me, the improvement is shared. How do I feel after a decade of this that passed in a few months? If only I could share the pain. Agony! But agony plaited with so much pleasure. Really? Oh, yeah. My backhand is going in--down the line, cross court, lob. My forehand is regular and on fire when the ball comes to me short; I don't fear trying to hit it, and don't accept a little dink over the net. Coming to take the volley? Watch me pass you. "Aouhgnn! Yes!"

Have to thank the mentor. Sydeny, have a great Christmas and may Santa bring all you need. I don't want anything except good weather in Nassau so that I can show off my new stuff. Oh, and by the way, my inspiration is higher because I did break the mentor's service during the tournament.Sorry, had to get that in. Good ball! I am no longer afraid of his game. Bring it on!

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