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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

TLC Blog – How TLC is Like GVS

TLC Blog – How TLC is Like GVS

I walked by the court. Two fifty-year old brothers at family camp were lining up. I knew from before GVS started that their understanding and internalizing of our Three Crowns℠ philosophy (positive attitude, full effort, good sportsmanship) was, let’s say, stunted, but then I thought, “Naw, not even they would do this.”




By far the favorite game of campers (adult and junior) created at TLC years ago. Campers beg for more of it all the time.

This is how Brian Johnson, whose family has attended TLC for years and who runs his business with the same principles as we do, describes GVS:

Former TLC instructor and Gustavus All American Mya Smith-Dennis and young camper in GVS.

“GVS speaks to the core and essence of TLC because it’s a game that is shared with all levels and it’s full of positivity and energy. The team-based doubles format (where your partner might be much better or worse than you by chance) reminds all that the “winning” is in the participation or effort and not outcome-based. It’s all about the journey. So, when you break down GVS it’s 100% reflective of all the values that TLC is built on………You’re building people up.

And you’re always reaching out and grabbing a hand and pulling someone up over their obstacles because you allow ALL levels to play together. That’s what a healthy family does and a healthy camp does…..”

Here are the rules, for those who don’t know:  At the net on one side are the champions.  On the other side, at the back fence, are  two lines of challengers ready to come in and dethrone the champions.  In order to do so, they must, as a doubles team, win one point that starts with a groundstroke fed by the instructor; then win one point starting at the service line that is fed as a volley; and finally win one point that is fed as a lob for the challengers to hit an overhead smash on. If they win all three, they are the new champions. They run full sprint, usually laughing, and high-five the champions they beat as they all pass at the net post. But they only have a moment to get in position as the instructor shouts, “THREE! TWO! ONE!!!!!” and feeds the next challengers whether or not the new champions are in place. If a clean winner is hit, you bypass all rules and become champion. So much fun! SO… MUCH… FUN!!!

And, the beauty of it is, as Brian states, all ages and abilities can be on the same court.


When the 50-year-old brothers showed up.

I saw them in the challenger’s position. One of them had let other people in the lines go ahead of him, so when it became his turn, he could be paired with his brother, instead of our chance pairing system. They were the two best players on the court. No worries, usually. It is all good fun.

Then, what I had feared in the far back reaches of my mind would happen – but had pushed away with another “Naw” – happened. On the champion side was an eight-year-old beginner and her dad. How did they possibly get over there in the first place? It’s TLC, folks. Read Brian’s explanation again.

Father/daughter combo at TLC’s GVS-A-THON (not the one mentioned in the post)

The brothers stepped up and one of them pounded a groundstroke at the eight-year-old. First point won. They stepped to the service line and the other blasted a volley that blew the racket out of her hand. Second point won. Then they stepped in and hit an overhead at her that had her running for the fence. The teenaged sons they had brought were so sullen and unhappy all camp. And now, if I needed no further proof, I knew why.

The 50-year-old brothers, thus, became “champions”. Winners. In my most compassionate moments, I realize that this was a way for the brothers to prove they were somehow worthy. Somewhere they had received the message (from their parents, who received it from their parents, who received it from their parents, with no intervention in between?) that this was not only ok, it was required to make it in the world. And they could not see the destruction they were leaving in their wake, in their own kids, and in the traumatized campers.

But for every team of “the brothers”, there have been hundreds of teams who understood, who hit a gentle shot to the eight-year-old and received the “victory” of that girl’s expression of pure joy when she got it back. And if the challengers happened to “lose” that point, they returned to the back of the line where the other families high-fived them, planning on doing the same for someone else’s child.

The two 50-year-old brothers returned the next year. I was surprised. And they were just as clueless. But they returned with their sons. And I was heartened.  Because even though the 50-year-olds could still not seem to grasp the Three Crowns, one of the boys stepped out of his dad’s shadow and began practicing them. Even smiled on occasion. And when he had the opportunity to bully an eight-year-old during GVS, he passed on it. He hit a gentle shot that was returnable.  Really.

I discovered again there is always hope when you are surrounded by people who believe in you and in your capacity to become your best self.  We will keep working on the 50-year-old brothers…

Brian (lefty) heading to the net with buddy Mike in GVS.

We believe at TLC that there are so many ways to “win” in life and on the court. When we expand our vision of what that word means, maybe – just maybe – we can escape the narrow version of what many of us were taught as youth.  And see what Brian sees, for the first – or thousandth – time.


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