Paddle Tennis: Learning to be a Good Sport

You may not win every game in paddle tennis (or in life) but being a gracious good sport is a skill some players need to hone more than their backhands.

Here are tips for navigating the social aspects of women’s sports.

Stop saying “I’m sorry”

Do Venus Williams or Mia Hamm apologize for a great move? No way! So why do you?

A recent study by Karina Schumann published in “Psychological Science,” proved that while both sexes are equally willing to admit wrongdoing, men have a higher threshold for what warrants apology. And winning a match with a killer shot is not sufficient reason.

“Don’t apologize if you made a good choice. Save it for when you didn’t try or played inappropriately,” says Marina Ohlmuller, director of Racquet Sports for The Winter Club of Lake Forest and a top-10 nationally ranked paddle champion. “Never be sorry for being competitive and win through the process not the outcome.”

Being competitive doesn’t make you mean

See how your kids play a game and make no qualms about wanting to win. With good competition there shouldn’t be guilt.

“Healthy competition means giving your best effort and learning something from each match—while having respect for the rules of the game, your teammates and opponents,” explained Kristen Klauke, a Winnetka mom and elite paddle player whose seasoned sports perspective comes from years on tennis teams at New Trier and Miami of Ohio. “When you dwell on the negatives and win at all costs, you lose sight of why you compete.”

It’s okay to want to win and be the best. But don’t take it personally if you don’t make the top team. Teams are chosen based on player ability and attitude, not popularity. Ohlmuller says, “If you don’t make the top tier, it’s not because you aren’t liked. Quite simply, there are other players who are better at the game. Make the most of your level, practice and be the best player where you are.”

Focus on the team and yourself

Young athletes learn early on that everyone has a role to play. This team mentality goes hand in hand with awareness of your own abilities and strengths. “We’ve heard the saying, ‘Your most powerful weapon is making your partner feel like they can’t miss,’” adds Ohlmuller. When you succeed, so does your team and vice versa.

Win and lose gracefully

If you’re not on the pro circuit, it’s RECREATION and supposed to be fun.

Winning a game doesn’t define who you are or make you more likable. And losing a game is good practice for life. When you lose, focus on what you and your teammates did well and learn from your mistakes. When you win, celebrate the moment and how lucky you are to have the time and ability to play a team sport.

Even when you encounter bad sportsmanship, don’t stoop to that level. “It’s counterproductive to react to bad behavior as you only empower the offender,” adds Ohlmuller.

Above all, reminds Klauke, be gracious. That same opponent may one day end up being a teammate, tournament partner or guest at the same paddle mixer.