By P.J. Simmons

New Year’s Eve is probably my favorite day of the year. It’s the day I tend to dream biggest… the day when everything seems possible.

I love the tradition of considering “resolutions” for the New Year– essentially just setting goals. But I’ve learned through trial and error in past years that I’m much more likely to follow through if I keep the list short.

This year, however, I’m taking an even more radical approach, thanks to my amazing and inspiring friend Bob Litwin (whose friendship counts as one of the things I’m most grateful for in 2013).  Bob is a former World #1 tennis champion who is also an expert at kicking adversity in the ass in order to become a stronger, better person. He has become one of the world’s greatest personal coaches, someone who by drawing on his extraordinary life experiences effectively helps people “live the best story” of their lives. 

Following Bob’s lead, this year I’m dispensing with a long list of resolutions. Instead, I’m committing to one simple resolution, which I know will help me achieve many of the specific goals I know I want to achieve–personally, professionally, and in tennis :

To wake up every day and remind myself of my “new story” of who I want to be–and how I want to be. As I do, I’ll keep re-reading Bob’s wise and empowering words to remember:

“Almost everything I think, feel, believe, say and do is a habit. I can break old habits and create new ones that give me what I want. I am made up of software, not hardware. Everything can be reprogrammed…

…Nothing in my past has power over this present moment. In this moment, the past doesn’t matter. It has no power. It was yesterday, or last year. It has nothing to do with what I can do now. Right now. In this very moment I can think or say or feel or believe anything… My brain is the most flexible part of my body and, in this moment, it can be what I want it to be right now. And a moment…I get to define how long that is. It can be a second or a day. I am in charge.”

Here’s the gist of my new “big story”:

I live each day gratefully and effortlessly. I believe in myself – my ability to rise to any challenge, overcome any obstacle, be who I want to be. I can do anything. I embrace obstacles of all kinds as opportunities to learn and love problem solving. Each day I walk slowly and breathe deeply. I am a master of time management and embrace the 80/20 principle in work and life, which focuses me on what really matters and enables me to get an extraordinary amount of things done while enjoying life extraordinarily. I treat my body as the temple that it is, making a priority to care for it with great care. I treat others the way I would like to be treated. Most importantly, I am a great partner, relative, colleague, and friend to those closest to me, recognizing that meaningful relationships are absolutely the most important foundation of a life well lived.

OK, so what does all this have to do with tennis you might ask?

It’s what is provides the inner fire to get to the gym routinely and do the tough tennis-specific training I need to do. It’s what provides the emotional foundation to stay calm during moments of intense pressure or frustration or fear. It’s what keeps me grounded when I may lose sight of the joy of the process and get too focused on outcomes. And, now that I’m trying to balance my work with the Tennis Congress with my work in sustainability, it is the compass that enables me to navigate work each day with confidence and ease as opposed to fear and feelings of being overwhelmed.

All of that said…

I do have a list of tennis-specific personal goals I’m excited to tackle in 2014. Here they are:

1. Focus more on INTENTION, less on technical perfection

I’m grateful to Yann Auzoux for helping me see that at this point in my tennis development, I need to start letting go of my relentless focus on technical perfection and shift the emphasis to what I want to do with the ball. Yann gave me an awesome lesson last month in Washington DC and gave me this advice after we had some great rallies for 30 minutes or so. He basically said, “Your groundstrokes technique is solid. Of course it’s going to keep getting better as you play more — that will come naturally. But it’s time for you to get more strategic during points and concentrate a lot more on INTENTION.” Got it.

2. EXCEPT… on my SERVE

For the next few months, I’m aiming to make a big technical leap forward on my serve. If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that I set the goal to transform my serve from weakness to weapon over a year ago — but I’m still not there. I’ve purchased online serve courses from Florian Meier and Jeff Salzenstein and am excited to go through them in the months ahead. Look forward to sharing what I’m learning in the process.

3.  Be a Zen Master during practice and matches — and think “NEXT”

The iTPA urges coaches to make it a priority for 18 & Under tennis athletes to “maintain emotional control” on court. How many times have I stood on the sidelines and watched someone melt down or verbally berate themselves, only to think “How can they not realize that’s so counterproductive”– and yet then repeat that same behavior myself during practice. In 2014, I’m going to stop saying “sorry” to my coach or hitting partner when I mishit. I’m going to quiet that inner voice that’s so quick to focus on the negatives and replace negative thoughts with a simple phrase taught to me by the awesome Ryan Ginley: “NEXT“.

Below is the text Ryan sent to me after a USTA match this past Spring (he was an indispensable “virtual coach” during my matches):

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4.  Take my tennis fitness to new heights  

Workouts with Jay17 years ago I was a certified fitness trainer, purely as a side interest. Because of tennis, I have a new motivation to reactivate what I’ve learned in the fitness industry, catch up on the state of the art, and get grounded in the latest sports science for tennis athletes. Over the past year I’ve learned a TON from Mark Kovacs and the International Tennis Performance Association he co-founded, which has been a dream partner for the US Tennis Congress. I also have had the immense honor and privilege of working with Phil Wharton, whose active-isolated flexibility training techniques I was trained on 20 years ago and changed my life.

I just passed my exam to become an “iTPA Certified Tennis Performance Specialist (CTPS)” (the “Gold Standard” in tennis fitness certification), and also recently completed my training and exam to become a certified Personal Trainer from the International Sports Sciences Association. All of this is empowering me to devise the most effective tennis-specific workouts for me to enhance my power, speed, agility, endurance, and flexibility — while also seriously reducing the risk of injury. And it makes my time in the gym SO much more fun and rewarding. Excited to keep sharing what I’m learning.

Wishing you a healthy, happy, and deeply rewarding 2014!