When I accepted an invitation to be the fourth in mixed doubles, I had no idea that my partner would be a soft-spoken woman psychiatrist with gray hair and a very strong net game. We won the first set and were forced to end the second at a tie, due to time constraints. But the real blessing was the many 90-second chats we enjoyed during the changeovers.

I have always said that tennis is a metaphor for life: what you do on the court is probably a small-scale version of how you live your life. The biggest criticism some people have of my mental game is that I do not have–or hold back–my killer instinct. Especially when I am facing an opponent for whom tennis is EVERYTHING, and losing is the worst punishment. For me the sport is a sport, a game, a physical challenge that I’d like to improve at and win. However people around the world are starving, refugees, dying. How can I be miserable over the loss of a few tennis points? Not in my nature.

I am definitely competitive and almost always do my best…except when winning is the only thing to the man across the net…the guy who knows his life is over if he loses, who says to his doubles partner, “Take no prisoners…make them bleed…no mercy.” Yes I have heard these words.

In these cases, I notice that I make a lot of errors, when the scores are close. I definitely feel sorry for the guy for whom winning is the only thing. And I think my errors are subconscious…I never make them intentionally.

So here is the gist of what I learned today from my 90-second tennis changeover therapist…with a few other extrapolated conclusions of my own: I shouldn’t worry about the other guy. Losing is his problem, not mine. He has to deal with it, and I shouldn’t worry about his “suffering.” The fact that I have these sympathies suggests one obvious explanation: deep down I have a big need to be liked, and if I beat a player who thinks he should beat me, then I won’t be liked by that loser. It is very important for me to get along with people and have them think I am a great guy. I want to be included and invited back to play another day. I might have some fears that winning will keep me out of the group.

Wow!! Pretty mind-blowing for me. Needs some digestion and reflection time. When I started playing so late in life (just six years ago), I lacked the skills of others who had been playing weekly for 40-60 years. So the first impression I conveyed was of a worse than mediocre player. But I have improved continually, so my current performance is a surprise, when I play someone I haven’t seen in months. They are startled to find that they are losing. They still see me as the beginner they knew earlier. They can’t relate to this guy who is winning points against them. And it pisses them off.

Of course it doesn’t happen all the time or even most of the time. But I see their pain on those occasions when I rise to higher performance levels. Now that I know more about the psychological game that is going on, I am going to beat the crap out of every guy I face.

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