Don’t watch the ball, watch the seams

Thanks to tennis, we’re told to watch the ball.

My coach used to say, “follow the ball from their racquet to yours,” pointing out that “Sampras, Agassi…they’re always looking at the ball, even after it makes contact.”

We’re supposed to focus on that green dot like a cat on a laser pointer.

On a recent drive to LA, I was listening to The Inner Game of Tennis. Think Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but replace “Zen” with “Inner Game”, and “Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” with “Tennis.”

Really, both could be called “Life wisdom revealed in the pursuit of a hobby”.

In The Inner Game, author W. Timothy Galloway makes a point that I paraphrase thusly:

“Don’t watch the ball…watch the seams.


It’s the Inception of life advice.

On Level 1 (the reality level), Galloway is instructing us to watch the ball so closely that we see its seams.

On Level 2 (the rainy-city/van-chase level), Galloway is really telling us to pay attention to detail. If you’re truly watching the ball, you’ll notice it’s not just a fuzzy green object. It has a logo. It turns a disheveled, patchy yellow with use. And it has seams.

On Level 3 (the hotel level) – and that’s as far as this extended metaphor goes – it’s all about pushing our limits. Don’t watch the ball, watch the seams. Don’t make a 3, hit a swish. Don’t aim for a million dollars, go for a billion. Now THAT’S cool.

It brings to mind a Bruce Lee quote, one of my favorites.

There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.

Are you watching the seams in your life?

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.