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September 22 03:39
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To Say Good Shot, or Not

September 27, 2011 | 06:53 AM

Story # One

Many years ago, I was watching a junior girls 14 & Under tennis tournament. It was a close match, and somewhere at the beginning of the third set, one girl broke a string in her spare racquet. She only had two racquets and was beginning to panic. Let's remember that this was in the late seventies, the girls were playing with wooden Kramer Pro Staffs. They were lucky to even have two racquets.

The girl with the broken strings was close to tears. I saw her opponent walk over to her chair, pick up her spare racquet and hand it over to her. Again, remember that this was in the days before the mega-racquet bags.

Story # two

Not too long ago, my fifteen year old was a middle school kid playing in a mid-season basketball game. During the second quarter, a group of boys collided under the basket and one boy went down pretty hard. My son put out his hand out and helped him up.

During the half-time pep talk, the volunteer coach blasted my kid for helping his opponent off the floor. He pointed out that our school was known all over the league as the "nice and polite" school. He told the team he didn't want to be known as "nice and polite." "I would like to be feared and I want to win."

Story # Three

Last spring, I witnessed a 10 & Under Girls USTA match in Ft. Lauderdale. It was a classic slug fest from the baseline, with the points lasting for what seemed like hours. After a very long point that ended in a beautiful winner, one girl said, "Good shot!" to which the other girl replied, "Thanks!" A random parent on the sidelines said out loud, to no one in particular, "I tell my kid to never compliment his opponent, it's a sign of weakness."

Really? Acknowledging an opponent's good shots in the heat of battle is a sign of weakness? What's happened to civility? Why are parents and some coaches encouraging kids to behave in an unsportsmanlike manner? I would argue that sportsmanship shows a strong character and points to strengths, not weaknesses. I would also argue that the occasional compliment of an opponent's good effort in no way diminishes someone's competitive edge.

Let's look at the flip side of politeness in a tennis match: the excessive fist pumping and ever obnoxious, "COME ON!" This kind of constant yelling and gesturing is totally unnecessary and obnoxious. After Ana Ivanovic wins a 15-30 point at 2-1 in the first set, at some random tournament in the middle of nowhere, not only does she yell, fist pump and look to her box, she performs a little dance. What's up with that? You've won an early point, not a Grand Slam.

It becomes truly out of control when the "celebrating" is directed to the opponent. Serena Williams had a lock on this. She raises her fist towards her opponent and yells out her approval of her latest brilliant shot. If an MLB or an NFL player excessively celebrates, they are either plunked during their next at bat, or fined.

Please don't misunderstand, I am by no means advocating that players become robots, oblivious to an opponents' shot making abilities, and showing zero emotion, quite the contrary. I am merely asking that perhaps we take a step back and evaluate our values. There is nothing wrong with the occasional, "Nice shot," and the quiet celebration of one's own amazing feat. Let's just do it in a civilized manner. One can be a winner, and yet still be polite. So, "Come on! Start being nice!"

Liz Stockton

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