Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Are You Prejudiced?

Are you biased against people who play tennis a certain way? It’s my experience that tennis players respect and emulate players who are “left and right” oriented and that they dismiss tennis players who are “up and back” oriented. Let me explain.

If a certain player hits the ball hard and hits the ball to the deep corners, we call him a good player. People admire that style. Other players respect the skill it takes to hit the ball hard and to direct it successfully to the corners of the court. That’s the style of play seen most often on TV nowadays. That style of play is based upon a left to right orientation--opening up the court and hitting winners to the left or the right of your opponent.

I like to joke that I rarely hear people come to me complaining that “So and So hits the ball really hard to the corners. Why do I always lose to So and So?” That’s no mystery. Everyone recognizes that So and So is a good player.

Instead I hear questions like, “Why do I lose to crappy players who just dink, lob, and spin the ball? That’s not even tennis.” In my opinion, this attitude betrays a prejudice, a bias against players who use the up and back dimensions of the court instead of the left and right dimensions of the court.

It just so happens that up-and-back players succeed at every level. I think there are several reasons for that, among them that people may not be very good at recognizing and adjusting quickly to balls hit short or with varying spins. It may be easier to see that a ball is heading to your left or to your right than to see that the ball is coming slower (short), or spinning more than you expected. Baseball batters face similar troubles with pitchers. Pitchers largely (though not exclusively) fool hitters with changes in the height, speed and spin of their pitches. I think tennis players are similarly fooled.

Ultimately whether it’s prejudice or simply a preference for a certain style of tennis, I think I’ve identified an all too common mindset. I think it’s a mindset that prevents people from achieving their potential as tennis players. If you find yourself falling into this trap, snap out of it. Recognize the nuances of all the different styles of play you will encounter. You may learn something about this wonderfully complex game. And you just might win more matches as a result.

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