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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

When The Competition Heats Up, Do We Have To?

We’re in the girls’ high school tourney season in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Which makes me pause. And wonder. When the competition heats up, do we have to, too, in order to win?

I will answer this with a story from a coach, a mom, and me.

The coach wrote me about two TLC campers in Wisconsin who had won their first two rounds and were now in the semi-finals. The match is going back and forth when it hits the coach that her girls, two smiling friends and partners, are so much more supportive than the team they are playing. They talk after every point, make eye contact, and stay positive. (The four things we teach every camper in between points in doubles are 1. Smile 2. Eye Contact, 3. Encouragement and 4. Physical Touch of high five or fist bump). No matter what happens, they just keep grinding out points. The other team is frustrated, over-hitting. Unlike her players, they touch racquets, but their eyes don’t often meet and the comments are approaching sarcastic. The coach’s players close the set 6-2 and take the second set 6-3.

The girls then watched the end of the other semifinal match, and looked at their coach in horror.  “They are GOOD!”  “That’s what you two just looked like,” the coach told them. “This is gonna be a great match.” “We’ll try,” they say. (This is where kids get the “How dumb do we look?” question mark in their eyes, when a coach sees something they don’t yet see).

The girls won the first set in a tiebreaker.

But the opposing coach has a new game plan. The net player is now very active.  The girls find themselves down 0-3. There is not one indication from the TLC campers that the tide has turned. No pouting, no racquet ‘ticks’, just smiles. Their coach talks strategy to counteract. “Ok,” they say, “we’ll try.”  They claw back and go up 6-5, 40-love. Triple match point. And then lose 3 straight points. Still the smiles, eye contact, positive talk. Two more points lost, and instead of winning the match,  they find themselves at 6-6. From the sideline their coach can tell they know they missed an opportunity, but they just keep plugging away. The second set tiebreaker is back and forth. No one can break away. Until, exhausted, the girls pull it out 10-8.

Coming off the court, the coach looked up and saw a TLC shirt on a boy in the stands and thought, then wrote. . . “This TLC stuff is everywhere. . . And it works!”

So, if we follow these four doubles habits we are guaranteed to win, right?

A camper’s mom sent me a photo of her daughter at the end of a sectional doubles final. She is about to shake hands with two other TLC campers. The mom wrote, “My daughter and her partner were unwaveringly positive, supportive of each other, and gracious to the other team. Can you tell from this photo whether she won or lost? Answer: straight set loss.  (The mom’s photo, which we can’t show because of NCAA rules, shows her beaming at the net as she reaches out her hand to congratulate her opponents).   Thank you, TLC, for your role in making her the person and player she is!”

And, finally, I got to watch two more campers play in the 6AA sectionals. I could not stop smiling. Every point. Every single point, they smiled, found each other on the court even if they had to cross all the way over, high fived, made eye contact, and encouraged each other. Whether it was a volley dumped in the net or an ace to seal a game. Couldn’t tell if they won or lost a point by watching their reaction.

Did they win? I don’t know. I had to leave before the match was over. Wait. I do know. And you, if you are a parent or a coach and are seeing beyond “this moment” to the larger picture, know, too.

I ask again. When the competition heats up, do we have to, too, in order to win?

You be the judge.


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