SPORTSMANSHIP AND PERFORMANCE (published in the USTA Southern Section Newsletter, January 2009)

A good sport respects themselves, their opponents, officials and the rules and spirit of the game. These values and attitudes help them perform at their best during times of conflict and disagreement. Good sports men and women follow the code of “Winning with Honor” not “Win at any cost”. They consider that THEY could be mistaken about a close line call called out, and view their opponent as sometimes “missing” a call rather than seeking to “cheat” them out of a victory. When disagreements can’t be quickly and calmly resolved, they don’t resort to calling “names” but instead call an official.

Competitors overly fearful of losing and who base their self-worth on their performances are prone to being bad sports and perceiving opponents as more likely willing to “cheat them”. This mind set can lead to mental distractions and excess physical tension, resulting in decreased performance.

Even world-class players can be affected by sportsmanship issues. I remember watching Jennifer Capriati having a “mental meltdown” following a perceived bad call and lose the next 17 consecutive points!

If you want to enjoy tennis and play at your best more of the time, work on improving your sportsmanship and the behaviors associated with it.

1.When you are not positive about a call on your side of the court, give the point to your opponent.

2. For the most part, let your opponent make the calls on their side of the court.

3.Recognize that at times both you and your opponent will make a “bad” call.

4. Expect a few “missed” or “bad” calls in every match.

5. Don’t assume you are being cheated.

6. Never intentionally give a “bad” call to try to even things up, send a message or get back at your opponent.

7. Don’t dwell on the previous point.

8.Be polite and calm when attempting to resolve disagreements and conflicts.

9.Value playing fairly, with honor and self-respect above winning at any cost.

Dr.Robert Heller is a psychologist, sports psychology consultant and tennis teaching professional based in Boca Raton, Fl. He works with athletes, parents and coaches and is the author of “Mental Toughness”, “Mental Skills for Match Play” and “Manage Your Stress”. For comments and additional information, check out www.robertheller.net and www.thewinningedge.usptapro.com

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