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Taking The High Road

Two female tennis players shaking hands at the net.
Photo: Flickr/Majorshots

By Carmen Garcia-Jersild, Associate Director of Tennis, Atlanta Athletic Club

Are we capable of taking the high road when it comes to a tennis match?

I’m going to start with a hard YES when it comes to this question but looking back, I think we all want to believe that we have taken the high road during a tennis match 90 percent of the time, but that other 10 percent will haunt us for a while. You might even think twice about what you said to your opponent, or how you called that ball during the tie breaker — or even for us coaches how we played in that last Pro-Am.

First, let’s define what this phrase means. The definition of taking the high road is “to approach an endeavor or problem in a fashion that is above pettiness, to travel the moral high ground, to behave decently.” The more I read this definition, the more I tell myself this is the way to act on a tennis court and in life in general. Of course, that’s not always the case for me, you, and some of the players on the tour. At least the players on the tour have chair umpires and the Hawk-Eye computer system.

It can be hard to think straight when the opposing team called the ball out right for them to win the set. Come on people! I remember saying one time, can you call the ball out at Love-Love and not at 5-4 ad in for your team? I do regret saying that, but I’m trying to be honest here. What about getting into an argument about a let call because one team thinks it was called late or even too early; is that even possible? Either way, the frustration is real, and the desire to win is real, too. Some people even say that competition brings the worst out of people. Well, I think this is partially true when I’m playing monopoly with my 5-year-old. But should it be the same for adults or coaches on the tennis court? Can we come to terms that we are not always right, that we can’t see the ball exactly the way we want to see it from the opposite baseline that the call is being made from?

I have been lucky to have great mentors in my career and they all have had a similar message that I hope to remember more often than not: Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.

A tennis match is life. Sometimes everything is going so well, sometimes we are having bad months or a bad match. Resilience is one of the best traits that tennis can teach you. You always have a chance to play better because there is always a next season, and you always have a chance to be a better person on the court, even when you are frustrated.

I have some tips for you that might help you in these situations. You don’t have to use all of them, but before you get frustrated on the court, maybe try all or one of these tips. First, turn your back to your opponents and take a deep breath. Remember, you have 25 seconds in between points; if you are frustrated, this is your time to use those 25 seconds efficiently. Second, put your racquet in your non-dominant hand. Trust me, this will be hard at first, but it will allow your dominant hand to release a bit of stress. Third, give the opponents the benefit of the doubt. Realize that it could be that you were right and they made a bad call, or it could be the opposite; you wanted that point so badly that you saw it in but it was out. Last, move your feet, stay active, and take another breath. Hopefully, you are in a better place than you were minutes ago and you are ready to compete again.

Also, if you find yourself not taking the high road most of the time, ask yourself why are you playing tennis? Is it for the praise? Is it for the thrill? Is it to be in shape? Is it to win? Is it to socialize? Well, I won’t know what your answer is, but I do know that if it is to win and solely to win (or to be praised and solely to be praised), you are going to have a tendency to get frustrated more often than other players. So try taking the high road at times and you will see how your tennis will improve and you will enjoy playing tennis even more than you did before. If you realize that you are one of those players who needs an edge to play better, figure out another edge.

Atlanta is a big community, but it is not as big as you think. You will compete against these players again; you will play these same teams again. This is a fabulous sport, so let’s keep it that way. Let’s have good, tough battles on the tennis court and be able to congratulate our opponents, win or lose. That’s what sports, especially our sport, should be about.

Let’s teach ourselves how to take the high road and realize that a bad call doesn’t define a match. It is better to be a great and good competitor than an ugly one. We are all in this together; we have a huge responsibility to ourselves to continue growing the sport and continue making it a great experience at every level.


Carmen Garcia-Jersild

Hometown (City/State): I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, but I have lived in Alpharetta for almost 20 years now.

How did you get involved in teaching tennis? After September 11, I was working in NYC and the company I was working for couldn’t renew my work permit. I happened to come across Heather Killinsworth through a friend and that started my coaching career in Atlanta about 20 years ago.

Best part of your game? Backhand and return of serve

Dream doubles match would be me and… Steffi Graf

When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… Spending time with my family

My favorite tennis memory is: The best memories I have are of playing on the tennis team at Jacksonville State University and being part of this mix of kids all coming from different tennis experiences and cultural backgrounds.

#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: I love seeing people develop a passion for the game. To walk along the way with students in this path is amazing

What important tennis message do you want to promote? Like many sports, tennis helps adults and kids to stay healthy. I think that’s an amazing message to promote. The other message tennis promotes is directed to coaches; our job as coaches goes beyond the tennis court, especially when teaching the next generation. We are not only responsible for their tennis skills, but also for their lifetime skills. We can have a huge impact on how kids view adversity, how resilient they are, and how they view the importance of hard work. We can also instill these traits in our adult tennis players.

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