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The Role of Sportsmanship in Athletic Performance

December 4, 2007 08:24 AM

Tennis is one of the few sports where participants compete largely in unofficiated matches requiring each player to make their own calls and trusting that their opponents are making accurate, reliable and honest calls as well.

Given the speed of the ball, movement of the players and variability of perceptual and visual abilities, mistakes are made on both sides. On top of that, the desire, sometimes “need” to win by some athletes occasionally result in dishonest calls and unsportsmanlike behavior. These behaviors may distract one or both players and detracts from the integrity and enjoyment of the game.

As a sports psychology consultant who has worked with a number of players, coaches and parents over the years, I have discovered that perceived cheating and other unsportsmanlike behavior is often at the root of some players frustration and anger during matches which can give rise to increased tension, loss of focus and reduced performance.

Here are some common complaints I have heard:

“I never got a descent warm-up. She just hit the ball as hard as she good and fed me overheads mostly out of my reach.”

“ My opponent kept stalling-tossing and catching the ball repeatedly on their serve, tying their shoes laces in the middle of games and so on. It was very annoying.”

“Any time the ball was even close to the line, he would look like he didn’t believe the ball was out and frequently challenged my calls.”

“She kept losing track of the score and calling it incorrectly, always in her favor.”

“Every time he won a point, even if it was because I missed it, he would pump his arm and shout “Come on”.

There are many examples of questionable behaviors, which stem from unhealthy attitudes and beliefs. Sportsmanship, like most behaviors can and should be taught to keep the great game of tennis a fair and enjoyable competition for everyone.

Players, parents, coaches, officials and organizations all have an important contribution they can make in this area. Ask yourself, “What can I do positively influence the promotion of good sportsperson behavior in the sport of tennis? Then, commit yourself to doing it.

Dr.Robert Heller is a sports psychology consultant and tennis teaching professional in Boca Raton, Fl. He is the author of the mental conditioning program, “Mental Skills for Match Play, Mental Toughness and Managing Your Stress.” For information on public speaking appearances, private consultations and products go to www.robertheller.net.




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