Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ladies, Seriously (A Tennis Post)

I hope you guys won't think I'm mean spirited when I tell you that there is a girl on my tennis team who is a crazy ding dong. Bless her heart. She started out as merely annoying, but she has become so much more.

I mean, I'm going to spare you the details of the low-grade drama that is constitutive of ladies' doubles tennis, drama that's pervasive and constant, like microwave radiation in deep space. So, for example, when my bud T calls me after practice one day to tell me that Gravelly-Voiced pal asked her if she likes to play as my partner, because she heard maybe she didn't, and T was upset, nay, outraged, by this implication and wanted to air it all out and tell me all about it and how she loves to play with me and how Gravelly-Voiced girl is mistaken, I don't really give a crap. I mean, it didn't cause me a moment of, "Well, what if T doesn't want to play with me?" or "Where is this malicious chatter coming from?" Because while I am not laboring under the delusion that everyone thinks I am a great tennis player, I do assume that everyone likes me and wants to be my friend. This could also be a grand illusion, but it's how I move along in this world.

So there is some nitter-nattering of this kind all the time. But everyone is having a good time and improving her game, so it's a good team.

But this woman! You would recognize her as a basic Debbie Downer. Or that's how she struck me when I first met her: nothing is ever right and we're probably all walking straight into some hidden peril. She doesn't live in our neighborhood, and nobody really knows her very well. So okay, she's annoying, but this season, her behaviors and negative talk have gotten worse, and more to the point, they now take up more and more bandwidth in practice.

The way this plays out is that she is so down on herself and her playing, so loudly and constantly down on herself, that it is ABSOLUTELY CRAZY-MAKING. Reader, I don't even know how to tell you. Every shot she misses, she either wants to explain why, or she wants to berate herself, not with a quick, "Um, whoops?" but with an entire monologue that starts with how terrible she is and ends nowhere. It's like playing tennis with Eeyore.

At the beginning of this season, I thought her endless bellyaching was strategic: This is a group practice that we pay a coach to run, and the etiquette of the situation dictates that everyone is entitled to the same smallish amount of the coach's individual attention. But if you moan and bitch like you're actually dying instead of not swinging through on your backhand, the coach will pull you aside for a little private session at the end of practice. The squeaky wheel and all.

But as we've spent more time practicing together, I've come to think that, yes, in some ways she receives positive reinforcement for her behavior, but that there is something clinically wrong with her. A whole big bundle of things. I would say she has anxiety issues? But I know plenty of people dealing with anxiety and they do not bother the shit out of everyone around them.

Okay, so if we fast-forward through my venting, we get to how I was paired with her as partners for our match the week before last. When I saw the line-up, I was fine with it. The hilarious part is that the girl can actually play pretty good tennis. So I thought, okay, this isn't a cross-country road trip together, it's a morning tennis match. Let's play.

Then our team captain sidles up to me in practice and says, "I'm sorry that you're playing with Eeyore. Somebody has to play with her and this week it's you." And I was embarrassed that she even said that, I was embarrassed that she drew me into a situation where I was expected to speak ill of someone, which I would rather not do. (That's what blogging is for.) I don't know, it was awkward. So I just said, brightly, "It's fine! It's great!"

Then, THEN, the next day I was up at the courts before Laura's lesson, and our coach came over to me. She began, "Now Becky, when you play your match this week, you're gonna have to be sort of a psychologist."

Okay, you know you're crazy when the coach is trying to help other people deal with how crazy you are.

She went on to advise me to stay positive and not indulge the girl's constant self-downing, to remind her to focus on the point at hand, etc. The best part was when she said, "I'm sorry, because I know this puts more pressure on you," and Pretty Neighbor, who was standing nearby and who was glued to this exchange, piped up and said, "Oh, Becky doesn't care about that." I laughed because it was true! Honey Badger don't care!

Long story short, Eeyore and I went out to play our match and won the first set, 6-4. Then we lost the next set 4-6. Okay, it was close. We were in good shape and we should have won in the third. One of the girls we were playing against was somebody I beat last year. But my partner was just in a tailspin over the errors she had made. It was crazy. Like, if she were an actress, I would have been like, "Okay, you're hamming it up here. Not believable." At one point, during a changeover, she goes, "I feel like they've gotten in our heads!" And I said, "They're not in my head! Come on!"

I'm not good enough at tennis to overcome that kind of inertial typhoon of pain, and we lost the third set worse than the second.

Then, then, THEN, just last week, she was paired with Pretty Neighbor. Their match did not go well, and PN told me she knew they were doomed even before play started. Standing chatting before warm up, Downer Girl said, "I just hope I have a good match." And then she turned to PN and said, fearfully, "But what if I don't?" PN told me, "I knew right then we were screwed." I mean, "What if I don't?"

So y'all, I feel bad for this person! I also want to stay away from her. I am sorry this post is so long. I just need to process? Just hug me, we don't have to talk.

The other night, on a whim, I thought, "I wonder if there are any books about tennis psychology?" So I googled "tennis psychology." Um, yes, there are books about that. (I'm new to sport, I didn't know sports psychology was a thing, like, at all.) So I ordered a couple of them, not to help Eeyore, because I think her issues are deeper, but to work on my own focus and discipline in match situations.

On the bright side, I have been playing a lot of tennis. I'm kind of on two teams now, did I tell you that? Hilarious. Two practices and two matches a week, plus pick up games, shirts-and-skins style, with the girls in the 'hood. Some of it is sinking in, as I have been winning more. Tiger blood.



Allison said...

Give her this book.


And then tell her to harden up! Boo yah! Good post. Seriously, I read this when I was having trouble being a mountain bike weenie. So there you go.

Pam said...

So sorry for you.... I work with someone sort of like that, there is always some new drama, and it always affects her, she has to talk about it to everyone and then leave early. I got a coffee mug that says" How about a nice cup of Shut the Fuck up? But I think it's too subtle for her, or else she's like Eeyore, nothing you do or say is going to stop her from being that way. You describe it so perfectly, your writing is spot on. Can't wait for your book.

Anonymous said...

Non-Southerners are handicapped by the lack of a "bless her heart" equivalent. It's a potent phrase. Maybe in Korea I can use it and no one will know what a poseur I am? Sadly though, the full depth of "bless her heart" will be flattened in the mind of an ESL speaker. A guy just can't get a break....

Christian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christian said...

Perhaps you might remind homegirl that she didn't grow up in Korea, where, if she were really that bad at tennis, she'd be disowned by her family for bringing so much shame, or she'd be forced to practice her game until she got better.

Hey, whoa, look at that. 6 weeks in Korea and it's all I can talk about on YOUR blog too!

janimal said...

Well, I live in Atlanta and I could play with you. Although, I totally suck at tennis. If I hit the ball and it somehow manages to stay inside the courts (not in bounds, just in the courts) and not be lost forever over the fence, that's a victory for me. On the upside, I would bring vodka and bloody mary mix for after practice. Or heck, during. So I guess, how desperate are you to replace her?!?! Hehe.

M said...

So sorry you must be forced to play with such a scenery-chewing racket diva. The rest of it all sounds super fun.

puncturedbicycle said...

Oh, this is SO not a tennis post.

I love getting a glimpse of how you process this psychosocial stuff. I have been known to sport a touch of the Debbie Downers, but nowhere approaching this gold medal level. Good luck.

gretchen said...

Here is your virtual hug, because I have no words of advice. In my business, there is no room for Eeyores - you never book a job if you don't believe you will. Maybe it's time for some tough love?

AlGalMom said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I relate to people that drive me nuts. I feel like there's a scene in CS Lewis' "The Great Divorce" where one of the Bright People appropriately responds with mirth (not derisive mirth, though) when confronted with the absurd moans of one of the Shadows. I wish I could genuinely do that, but I think I take my own self too seriously to be able to. (Sorry if the book reference is too obscure....)

Amy said...

Well, boo. I wrote a long comment on my phone and it got eaten. Basically, what I said was, I think you might be the most suitable person for this lady to play with, cause unlike me, you won't get sucked into the "please reassure me all the time" vortex. Soul draining! I feel sorry for people like that--I imagine that level of anxiety is pretty awful. Mind you, I usually can feel sorry from a distance--in person, lasers shoot from my eyes and reduce them to a greasy spot on the sidewalk. I'm working on that!

But the part that made me LOL was when you're like, "Oh wow--sports psychology is a thing?!" Yup, definitely a thing. :)

Great post!

Kate said...

that crazy ding dong needs to be introduced to the wonderful world of pharmaceuticals.

Camp Papa said...

AlGalMom, any reference to C. S. Lewis is always appropriate!

Aimee said...

"I do assume that everyone likes me and wants to be my friend. This could also be a grand illusion, but it's how I move along in this world."

Oh, that is totally me. Can I tell you the level of mortification when I realized this was NOT the case??? So, yeah, I just pretend I never found it out and prefer to believe everyone loves me.

Poor Eeyore. I cannot imagine trying to overcome that as her partner. You are so smart to get the book for yourSELF, though. You are, like, a total ALTA Mom now, aren't you?

Beth said...

Is this the kind of league where anyone actually tries to get in anyone else's head? Or is it just, "hey, y'all, let's play some good tennis and get a good workout and all have fun"? Someone might want to sit her down and point that out to her, but I suspect that she does need medicating. Poor girl. She probably got kicked out of the league in her neighborhood for being annoying.

I also hope you post a pic on Instagram of you playing on the "skins" team.