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Front foot or back foot?

By October 3, 2023October 29th, 2023No Comments

The grace of Federer and the power of Williams … said no-one ever
Michael practicing hitting off the front foot

Are you on the front foot or the back foot?

I’ve had some fun on this trip to Australia. My friend Jason Fox and I ran a wonderful session in Melbourne last week (thanks to those of you who made it out), and I’m going out dancing with 17 (!) of my (slightly bewildered) friends to an 80s club here in Canberra tonight.

But it’s not all bright lights and saxophone-infused rock. I’ve also picked up a tennis racquet for the first time in decades and am taking the chance to hit balls back and forth.

Every couple of weeks, I hire Paul for a one-hour session. He’s a good coach. He doesn’t say much, but what he does say is clear and specific. It’s typically, “I notice you’re doing X when you’re trying to hit that shot. Because of that, your shot isn’t working. Try doing Y, not X.”

In fact, he’s using the mechanics of habit building; notice what was previously just a reaction. Be specific about what’s happening and when. Identify a better alternative. Start mindfully doing the alternative.

Back foot

One of Paul’s observations is that I was hitting a lot of balls on the back foot. Having my weight shifted there had some benefits. It gave me a little more time. It, in some ways, opened up my choices on where to hit it. But there was a price I paid. Less power, less control, less assertiveness. Prizes and punishments.

What was most helpful was being told it was happening. I had no real clue that this was my default stance. And I thought Paul’s instructions on the next drill were clever and helpful: “Try hitting just the first shot on the front foot”.

The Inner Game

The fact that I’m dissecting my tennis game and making a connection, as I will in a sentence or three, to Life is not original. One of the forefathers of modern coaching is Tim Gallwey, who wrote The Inner Game of Tennis. (I just checked, and it’s the #1 book on tennis coaching. But just as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance shouldn’t be the #1 book on fixing motorbikes, that’s a miscategorization imho.)

Back foot or front foot?

What are you wrestling with right now? What’s the dilemma? A project that’s tricky. A particular relationship that’s hard. Something about the way you’re showing up in the world?

What would it mean to go on the front foot?

Step into the problem. “Attack it”. Commit to speed and power. Seek a fast resolution. Force your opponent to back down. Take territory. Be bold.

Or perhaps the strategy that is most useful is the back foot.

Take a little more time. Defend your current gains rather than seeking more. Keep things going longer so you can work to get into a better position. Be resolute.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.