Return to Tennis Brings Life Lessons

By GABRIELLE GOTTLIEB Special to the Palisadian-Post Being the only girl in my family with two brothers, excelling in sports was never a problem. My brothers were quite competitive in tennis. I was a different story. I didn’t like competitiveness as I knew it then. Well, you know how the story goes’children seek independence. My brothers and I lost interest in playing tennis. So tennis took a back seat. Actually the trunk. Now we’re up to speed. Two years ago I moved from Brentwood to the Palisades, bought a condo and had a ball (no pun intended) renovating and decorating it. Running was my sport of choice. I ran and still do run all over the Palisades, from El Medio to the beach, to Chautauqua. One day I decided to take a different route and venture over to the Palisades Recreation Center. Memories of my old tennis days there started creeping back. I began to think more about my parents and brothers. Since we are so busy with our own lives, I kept trying to think of ways to reconnect with my brothers. I thought tennis just might be the way to go. Around that same time a friend told me he had put himself through Harvard Law School teaching tennis. I was so impressed’maybe there was more to tennis than I remembered. I decided right then and there it was time to give it another try. Before I picked up a racket I had a list of conditions for my would-be instructor. First, I determined that they needed to be in the Palisades (I wanted no long commutes). The second condition was observing the instructor beforehand. Third was flexibility: I wanted to go at my own pace, slowly and without being penalized. Fourth was approachability: I wanted an instructor I could ask questions and talk to throughout the lesson. The fifth condition was credentials: he or she had better be good! Last but not least, I wanted an instructor with a sense of humor. Luckily, I landed a home run my first time at bat. The instructor met all my criteria and even had a few unexpected perks. When I observed this particular teacher, I knew something even bigger than tennis was happening on the court. Her name is Yuriko Knoblich. She is ranked No. 4 in the national doubles 50-and-over division and she is rated a 5.0 player by the USTA. Yuriko was self taught and has been teaching since she was 19. Yuriko started teaching because someone told her ‘You look so good, I want to look just like you.’ She teaches private lessons to women from West L.A., Malibu, Brentwood and Palisades (which she calls ‘Pacific Paradise’). Many of her students are local residents, including Barbara Travis, Helen Geller, Lisa Borja, Rikki Gordon, Sissy Vogel, Wendy Landis, Noelle Polacek and former Palisadian Joann Ralph. What I like most about Yuriko is that she uses a psychological approach to teaching that applies not just to tennis but life in general. She emphasizes being an individual and communicating well with your doubles partner. Doubles is her specialty. Being an artist, I work alone a lot, so doubles sounded intriguing. I could be out in the beautiful sun, learning and relating to others all at the same time. ‘In doubles you have to have team work,’ Yuriko says. ‘You have to like your partner. Communication is everything.’ She asks each new student to meet for coffee or lunch off the clock to get to know them, which helps her understand how best to teach that individual. Yuriko cherishes her circle of friends and students like family. I have learned many valuable tennis techniques and great tips on the game of life. Just to mention a few: Don’t hit the ball too hard because you give your power away. That goes for life as well. ‘It almost haunts you. It comes back and bites you,’ Yuriko says. ‘It’s ironic that you blame someone else when you should be blaming yourself.’ Her first rule is to see the ball for what it is. Don’t get fooled by the age, gender or reputation of your opponent, so you can execute your strokes the right way. In the beginning, I wanted to play well to impress her. ‘Your not supposed to impress me,’ she said. ‘I’m supposed to impress you.’ Then I didn’t feel pressured. The encouragement I received was perfect. Yuriko evaluated my game and said, ‘You can get the shots and return the serves. We need to work on your serve to get you to know you can do it, enjoy the process and be patient with yourself.’ I was also hitting in an open stance. Yuriko said, ‘You want to see too much. You don’t need to see unnecessary things. You want to see the right thing. You need to focus, look the part and your partner or opponent won’t see any insecurities. They only see what you perceive to see. Even though you’re scared you may want to challenge them.’ Yuriko lets her students hold the grip any way that works. ‘If you want a top spin, you may have to change it. If you want to see a life change you need to change your grip.’ Since I’m a runner, I was overrunning the ball. Yuriko encouraged me to save my energy. For example, ‘the slice will never come to you, you have to get there when the ball bounces and even then the ball dies.’ As with life, know how to relate to others. Judging does no good in the game of life or tennis. One last example that stands out is how Yuriko dealt with a situation when I wasn’t playing my best. I decided to take a break. Yuriko filled in and played for me. After awhile I went back in. I knew I might not do well, but I ended up winning. Yuriko was more impressed that I took a risk. For Yuriko, learning was the best part of tennis. She encourages her students to ‘give yourself the gift of enjoyment. Enjoy the process and have fun now. Tennis is so lively, energetic, priceless, and youthful.’ And I have learned to trust her advice. So over the holidays I’ll be playing doubles at the Palisades Park with my father, older brother, and his young son. All in all, I’m looking forward to three generations having fun and learning a life lesson. I have a lot to be grateful.