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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

The Gift of the Double Bagel

I love to win. And I have sometimes done things in my life in order to win that I am not proud of. That is for a future blog. But it is the background information you should know for this one.

Monday night, my doubles partner and I were the deciding point in our USTA league match.

Let’s cut to the chase. We were annihilated. Destroyed. Shredded. Obliterated. 6-0, 6-0. And the score wasn’t as close as it looks.


I watched as shot after shot whizzed past me, under me, through me, around me. It wasn’t that we were playing so badly (although I’m sure our team captain would beg to differ). But they were playing so well. Misdirection, short angles, slice serves into the body, topspin lobs landing on the baseline, passing shots painting the sidelines. It was amazing. We never even got in the match. Not a whiff. Not. One. Whiff.

I, at one point, looked around for Bruce, our team captain, to yell, “Bench me!” And then I realized I wasn’t playing basketball and there are no substitutions in tennis. You have to stand there and take your beating. There is nowhere to run (except when I was running full speed away from their overheads bombs), nowhere to hide, nowhere to crawl off and lick your wounds. You are out there for the whole, wide world to see.

But this is what I learned from the TLC girls in the state tournament, who I wrote about in the last blog post. You can still thrive under these conditions.

I had no idea I would have to put it to the test so quickly. After every point, my partner and I high fived, encouraged each other, made eye contact, and smiled. Those are the four things Steve Wilkinson taught me to do in doubles. We added a fifth: shrug your shoulders and say, “Whataya gonna do?”

The gift I received from Steve was not to be embarrassed. Why? Because I had done everything I could do to be successful, never got down, never gave up, played fairly, and complimented my opponents’ good shots. (Which was every…single…dag-gone…shot they took, I swear).

The gift I received from Steve was I still had fun the entire match. Why? Because my enjoyment did not depend on winning points. (Thank goodness, since we won so few).

The gift I received from Steve was the freedom of the Three Crowns of attitude, effort, and sportsmanship. This is how we measure success, these are the only things you can control, not winning or playing well. Steve Wilkinson said it for years. And I say to you, what I once thought impossible, is possible.

I struggle with this at times, so this was a huge victory for me, a person who has treasured winning over almost everything else for much of my life.

What a gift to have received from Steve. I want to keep giving that gift back to others. Because it works. It makes me a better person when I treat others well when things are falling apart for me.

I want to keep giving this gift to others. Because I have seen kids – and adults – transform the cultures of their teams by bringing it home from TLC and persistently practicing it.

I want to keep giving this gift to others, particularly those who can’t afford it otherwise. Because if we can raise the $65,000 for Current Scholarships before summer, nearly 200 kids will be able to take it home with them in the coming year who couldn’t afford it otherwise. I want them to experience the same thing I have had the privilege of experiencing.

And, finally, I want to give this gift to myself, by continuing to practice it on court to the best of my ability.

But I wouldn’t be terribly upset if, next time, the score was reversed. 😉

If you so desire, you can give at (Please designate “Current Scholarships” with your choice)


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