One of my first tennis instructors when I first began taking lessons in the late 1960s-1970s taught me something I will never forget. I preach this message to this day to many of my students, as well as my own two boys who compete in college and the USTA Junior Circuit: “Just let your racquet do the talking for you.”
The game of tennis has changed drastically over the last four decades, as has the technology of the racquets. That would be an understatement, to say the least, but can we just go beyond that for a moment and realize this … the person who plays better on a given day will win the match … case closed!
I have attended many USTA junior and collegiate matches over the years, and the competitive trait I have come to admire most is of those competitors who go out on the court and go about their business competing. I can live without the tantrums, the endless array of line call questioning, the fist-pumping after winning “every” point and the sense of entitlement that top competitors feel they have when they walk on the court that all is going to go their way. Guess what, you have to earn it! I am not suggesting that everybody should be a robot on the court without expression or enthusiasm, but there is a time and a place for everything. I will even add some more controversy … I am willing to bet that some coaches teach their students to fist-pump, shout after winning almost every point and generally be as obnoxious as possible. This strategy may work from time to time, but over the long haul, the player who stays in the moment, thinks logically and strategically and relies on their tennis and mental skills will go further in the game. Leave the antics behind and get on with the game!
There are those who say, “What about John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase who made a living on being obnoxious and intolerable on the court?” Sure, there are exceptions, and when you have the talent of those players, you might be able to overcome those attributes. I often wonder how much better McEnroe could have been? Could Nastase have won more Grand Slam titles? Connors was one of the fiercest competitors to play our sport and he sold a lot of tickets, but he was an exception and perhaps a freak of nature having reached the U.S. Open semis at the age of 39.
You can find exceptions from the norm in every sport I suppose, but for every McEnroe, Nastase and Connors, there were great champions, including Chris Evert, Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Ivan Lendl, Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Steffie Graf and Martina Navratilova just to name a few. I believe those players represent traits we should choose to emulate. These players represent a cross-section of those who tirelessly worked on their game with attention to detail with every stroke. It seems as though as their careers advanced, they continued to show improvement when the average weekend warrior could even argue why improve when you are already the best. You improve because a great champion is never satisfied with the status quo and besides that there is always the next player who would be happy to take your throne away.
Let your racquet do the talking is my way of saying “Go on the court and prove it!” Work on the details of your game with great devotion and because it is the “hard that makes it great.” It seems to me that the obnoxious behaviors I see in today’s juniors never really change this fact: “The better player will win.” I will be fair though, it is not the majority and for those who do not engage in this behavior I say bravo. So go out there and just “Let Your Racquet Do the Talking!”
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail email@example.com.