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16TH February 2010

Leftovers - Sport

Finding Flow in the red clay at Rolland Garros


and yellow ballsI was lucky enough to be back in France for some beautiful early summer weather and I got to witness something truly interesting- to me anyways. The ball boys/girls at the French Open are absolutely fantastic in their economy of motion and their effectiveness. I don’t know who trains these kids, but I think they should consider a higher calling. Let me explain.

Roland Garros in the late spring is not shabby. Set in the Bois de Boulogne (woods) on the western fringe of Paris, the tennis center is tucked neatly into a few lush hectares that are made all the better by the hospitality provided by my friends at Quarterback.fr. This year’s tourney saw a vicious quarterfinal match between Murat Safin, a strapping Russian and fan favorite (most teenage Russian girls live in Paris these days) and a less loved- for no good reason- Italian named Starace. The match went five sets, and into the twilight. Each of us wondered whether darkness would prevail over all. And then I began watching the ball boys do their work. It was art.

I guess tennis players are temperamental, so everything is designed to serve them, alas. I have not seen any better service from tuxedoed staff in four star restaurants! Of the six boys stationed on the court (two behind each service lines, two at the net), none were in sight of the players at any time during play. None made any movement. Then, when a point was over, the service line boys would hold balls aloft so as to bounce them perfectly into the waiting racket of the server. No nod from the server- no ball. Server frown for a moment- boy runs with towel to dry server. Boys at net clean errant balls from area immediately. Boys on serve receive side do likewise, clearing service debris with a minimum of motion and maximum of efficiency. And, end of game, balls are transferred with a unique speed rolling technique to other side. I’m sure I was only observing half the idiosyncrasies. But they had reached the pinnacle of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “the Way” in his book FLOW (a great read BTW). It embodies the highest effectiveness at any task, so much so that the pursuit is pure pleasure.

But to me, it was a flow experience. These kids were so into it, and so good at what they did, I totally disregarded the end of the five set battle royale. It reminded me of one of my life pursuits, which is finding flow in as many things as possible. I highly recommend the book, as well as the practice. Paris in may ain’t hateful either.

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