Author: Jeff Borengasser, Senior Assistant, High Altitude Tennis, LLC.
In discussing the situation of playing opponents that use mental games or gamesmanship, I think it is important to start with something I strongly believe. A player should always strive to walk off the court after a match with their character and reputation in tact. One can do this in victory or defeat if they played hard and if they played with fairness and good sportsmanship (even if their opponent did not). Winning a match is never more important than playing with fairness and sportsmanship. As the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.
So how can you handle opponents that play with gamesmanship? It is not easy, but it is simple. It starts with a point of emphasis that every coach I have known has attested to. Focus on the things that are within your control. When you play an opponent that is obviously resorting to gamesmanship (for example constantly asking the score after you already said it, constantly hitting you the third ball when you don’t want/need it, asking you to wait when you are about to serve, never hitting the ball directly to you between points, constantly questioning obviously correct calls, loudly shuffling feet as a distraction when you are about to serve, playing really slow or really fast as a way to distract you, etc.), you have zero control over what they are doing. I can tell you with 100% certainty that players that resort to these tactics are doing it to distract you from focusing on your game.
These opponents love it if you get frustrated, start arguing, start name calling, complaining etc. This is their comfort zone, and they will perform well with the added tension and frustration coming from your side of the court. The only way to handle this opponent is to ignore their tactics and focus on what you need to do to play your best tennis. What often happens is you might keep your composure for much of the match, and then lose emotional control at some critical part of the match, which is exactly what your opponent is going for. Instead turn this into motivation by realizing they are resorting to these tactics because they do not think they can beat you. Constantly remind yourself to ignore your opponent and focus on your strategy. A last note, you can call a line judge on these players, but many of their tactics will continue in less obvious ways. It ultimately falls on you not to try and stop them from doing these things, but to instead focus on playing your best anyway.
Part of what makes tennis great are the unique challenges it presents. We have to compete one on one, and at the same time be our own coach and official. Tennis can bring out the worst in people. But, over my years in the game, I have held onto memories of seeing fair play, good sportsmanship, and graciousness in defeat. These moments are noteworthy and can have a positive impact on you and the people around you. I urge you to do all you can to create these positive memories from your time on the court and to always walk off the court with your head held high in victory or defeat!
Notice I didn’t mention bad line calls above. I think this falls into a different category that I will look to address in the near future.
Are there other topics on your mind that you would like for me to address? Leave a comment below and I will possibly address it in a future post!
I will see you soon on the court!