More than a Game - June 7, 2021

lights-lower-courtsYou need to know why you play tennis! Even more to the point, the purpose must be grounded in something bigger than yourself. Tennis must relate to your core values, not your vanity. Unless athletes truly know why they are playing, their results will be mediocre at best. They will fall victim to the 80th percentile paralysis. Few players reach beyond the 80th percentile in tennis unless they know why they are playing.

For example, a player who is involved in tennis only because it is fun is likely to quit when the game is no longer fun. A player playing only because her friends are playing is again likely to quit if her friends quit. A player that plays only to win is likely to consider very strongly the option of quitting when they are in a long slump and losing many matches.

Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with playing tennis for social reasons or because it is great exercise or fun to play. It just needs to be understood that these players will not advance very far along in the game because what is drawing them to the courts is a very impotent force. The stronger the force that draws them to the courts, the greater will be their desire to improve and stay with the game, even in adverse conditions.

Tennis is a fun sport, a great opportunity to meet and grow socially and a great way to keep fit. But when the tough times come—injuries, slumps, your friends quit or you lose a tough match—many of those great opportunities may seem hollow and insignificant. Thus, players often stop trying to get better, or stop playing altogether.

The most common reason why players play the game of tennis is to win—why else would they play? It is the opportunity and anticipation of winning that brings them to the court. Our society has become obsessed with winning and this chance to win makes tennis all the more appealing.

Winning is the wrong reason to play tennis. It is not that winning is bad. It is when winning is all-consuming in itself that it becomes problematic. First and foremost when winning is the only acceptable outcome then cheating, intimidation, and gamesmanship become more and more likely. The reason for this is simple: they enable participants to gain an edge in winning.

Secondly, when winning is the only acceptable outcome, the athletic arena becomes more volatile. This is true because both competitors are vying for the same prize, to win. Thus, the greater the importance of the match the greater are the stakes. The greater the stakes the bigger the “hurt” losing brings with it. Thus a loss takes a big toll on the loser.

Thirdly, athletes assume they have much greater control over winning than they actually do. There are many factors that make winning elusive and mysterious. We must acknowledge that we cannot control winning as much as we think we can.

Lastly, winning assumes you accomplished your goal; this is not always the case. Here are several situations where winning is accomplished in less than ideal circumstances. For instance:
  • Winning but playing poorly and reaching far less than your full potential.
  • Winning against a sub-par opponent.
  • Winning by unethical play.
  • Winning even though you did not give you best.
I could argue the opposite, that losing could accomplish more than winning in the reverse of these situations. For instance:

  • You could lose and play the best match of your life.
  • You could lose against a superior opponent.
  • You could lose and yet never sacrifice your integrity and honor in critical match situations.
  • You could lose yet have trained to the best of your ability.
Next week I would like to discuss why playing tennis to be your best and give your best has a purpose and power that far exceeds winning … and is grounded in something bigger than yourself.