Understanding the importance of respecting opponents, rackets, equipment, etc. is something that has been alluded to in some of my previous articles. In the end it really boils down to what you value. For me, I think of it from a parent’s perspective and consider how they hope their child acts on the court. A parent hopes that their children appreciate the opportunities given to them and act accordingly.
It really depends on what the player on the court feels is most important. Does the value of a win outweigh the importance of good sportsmanship and displaying good on-court behavior in difficult circumstances? Because rest assured, you will face many challenging circumstances as a tennis player. It might be challenging conditions, an opponent that plays with bad sportsmanship, a poor official, unfair circumstances on your match time, and so many others. But if the way you conduct yourself on-court depends on these circumstances, then I would caution you that you might be placing a higher value on a win, than on your character (a win at all cost mentality).
Another way to think about it is like this…it is easy to have good sportsmanship when you are winning. An example from my individual experiences is when I took over a college team that had a very long losing streak in conference play. At that time, all of our opponents were incredibly gracious to us. Then when we started competing hard with these opponents and even winning matches (how dare us), there was an increase in instances of opposing coaches yelling at officials and yelling at their players. There were many more displays of poor sportsmanship from opposing players, and as a coach, that is really disappointing to see.
I think one of the wonderful things that draws people to tennis and makes our sport unique is the opportunity to show graciousness, respect, and good sportsmanship in the face of some of these difficult circumstances you will face. You are often your own coach, official, and only teammate. Athletes that take on this challenge and demonstrate respect for opponents and equipment in all circumstances are a remarkable thing to see. It is all too common to see players take a heartbreaking loss and walk off the court making excuses, smashing rackets, blaming coaches, saying the opponent was lucky, and getting mad at parents or coaches. I think this behavior is embarrassing to both the player and our sport.
We all lose matches, play poorly, and even face “bad luck”. I strongly believe how we handle ourselves in these moments is just as important as how high we might get in the rankings or how good our forehand is. Conducting yourself with high character and respect, even in the face of adverse circumstances, is not always the norm and is generally obvious to the people around you. I’ve seen awesome instances of athletes that give everything they have physically and mentally for 2 or 3 hours, only to lose a heartbreaking match. When these players shake hands, thank officials, compliment the opponent, and say “I did the best I could and lost,” it is awesome to see. By the way, this is another area where we would do great to emulate Roger and Rafa! These guys walk off the court after losses in grand slam finals and are nothing but professional, gracious, and complimentary of opponents. Personal memories of seeing players who truly cherish the opportunities the game of tennis gives them have stayed with me both as a player and a coach. I hope you will strive to create some of these same memories in the challenging but amazing sport we play!