by Barbara McNichol
I used to delude myself that watching the pros play their brand of
tennis on TV would benefit my own game (even though I didn’t start
playing until my 40s). I’m not sure how much technique can be picked
up by watching. But what’s even more important to pick up on are qualities like tenacity, strength and deftness, and grace under pressure that the pros model.
Every day I watch the pros, I’m more eager to know how they overcome setbacks and build their careers. Yes, tournament play—like the recent Wimbledon Championships in England—fascinates me, engages me, almost possesses me.
Why? For the same reason it’s impossible to put down a good novel.
Each of the men’s and women’s singles field starts with 128 players
and, within a fortnight, only one man and one woman stand victorious.
In the meantime, unveiling character traits (who’s got the most
resolve? quickness? stamina?) keeps me involved. So does the suspense
(who can remain unphased by former champions?).
In addition to absorbing match after amazing match, I love reading
about the unfolding drama. I’m especially in awe of sports writers who
can hook a whole article on a minute angle. My favorite, Jane Voigt,
turns a sporting affair into a slice-of-life vignette anyone can
For example, she wrote a piece for Tennis Server about The Queue—a
line that forms for those vying to buy tickets to Wimbledon’s Centre
Court. She explained how The Queue has evolved into a culture of rules
“The Queue first became a part of The Championships in 1927 when some
27,000 appeared for entry to the grounds. The system has become such a
time-honored experience that the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
established a special exhibition t o trace the history of The Queue.
The Code of Conduct for The Queue details everything from what is The
Queue to the 10 PM cutoff time for music and game playing at the
campsite, plus the maximum number of people allowed in a tent (two).
Alcohol is limited to one bottle of wine . . . Some fans make The
Queue an annual celebration. They like the party atmosphere of the
campsite, which can draw musicians, jugglers, and hacky-sack players.”
What’s my point? That you can turn a seemingly ordinary event into a
slice-of-life masterpiece by writing about it with verve and
originality. Observe. Research. Look for variety. Tell unexpected
things. Within the writing process, you can build character, suspense,
drama—making it like a novel within a book, even a nonfiction book.
Our language is just waiting to be massaged with your insightful and
talented writing. Are you playing with that part of your game
“brilliantly” (as the Brits would say)?
Your turn. When have you turned an observation into a delightful
slice-of-life story? Leave your comments below.