Ideal Conditions

Practicing in ideal conditions means practicing under conditions that are never going to happen. The unexpected is the only thing we can expect to happen. This means that we need to prepare for things to go wrong.

Randy Pausch in his Last Lecture described the ultimate story of expecting the unexpected. While giving a presentation in college, his friend’s projector stopped working because the light bulb blew out. His friend then took a spare bulb from his backpack and installed it. That is preparation.

Tennis is an unforgiving sport where the variables to consider are countless. The most helpful tennis lesson I ever received was when I was playing with friends on a beat-up court filled with gravel and weeds. The ball bounced unevenly and would ricochet in random directions.  It was easy to blame an errant shot on the conditions of the court. But through playing, my reaction time got better because I couldn’t anticipate where the ball would go. My volleys improved because I had to use them so often. I improved many parts of my game that I tended to avoid. When I played next on a normal court, I was much better.

Conditions that are not ideal have so much to teach us. Just as playing tennis in the wind or on gravel can improve latent skills, embracing chaos prepares us better for life ahead.

We can choose to blame a late submission on a computer glitch, or we can take the time to save our work in multiple locations, anticipating a technical glitch. We can blame a loss in tennis on the wind, or we can practice playing more with wind. Many things are outside our control. But by embracing chaotic conditions as teaching tools, we can learn to pack that extra light bulb.

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