Waiting for a Court? Play Dink!

Dink is a game you can play while waiting for a court to become available.  It is a replacement for boringly,  uselessly staring, longingly from the wrong side of the fence, wishing that you were the lucky bastard actually playing tennis instead of waiting for tennis.  Waiting stinks.  You should play dink instead.  There are a variety of ways in which this game can work, and it’s up to you to get creative with it.  Waiting at the courts is the same as waiting in line at the store or DMV; it’s aggravating, and as a tennis player you do a lot of it.  I propose filling the time with no-net-no-court-tennis — Dink!  Besides, it’s fun and there’s no pressure.  “Tell us more!” they plead.  Okay, I will.

How to Play Dink:

It’s pretty much exactly how it sounds.  Step one: Find a sidewalk.  Step Two: each player gets one concrete slab to function as his/her/your court.  The dividing crack between the slabs is the “net”, and the object is to keep “dinking” the ball back and forth until one of you misses or hits it out (Out is defined as anything not inside your concrete square).  If you lose a point you move back a slab (now there is one full concrete slab separating the two courts).  If your opponent loses the next point then you get to move back to the slab on which you started and your opponent has to move back a slab.  Each consecutive miss results in more distance between players.  He who gets three misses in a row loses (because he is pushed out – like a sumo wrestler out of the circle).  Picture 6 slabs and players facing each other on the center two slabs to start.  The object is to win enough points to be sole possessor of all 6 slabs.

You may play the game however you want.  There are really no rules except the ones that you make up.  For instance, you can play first to 3 points without moving squares at all.  You can play with multiple players (doubles maybe?) on adjacent squares.  You can even play so that the ball never hits the ground, volleys instead of dink.  The purpose is to do something with your down time that is fun and that makes you into a better player.  Most people think tennis is defined as rallying baseline to baseline.  When they get onto a court they automatically position themselves 78 feet apart and stay there. I say that creativity is the key to self improvement.  Get creative. Play Dink.

Tennis is the Gentleman’s Sport – Except When it Isn’t

There are few sports who’s participants are themselves entirely responsible for keeping track of scores and deciding, on their own, the quality of play (are the shots in or out?). Soccer, football, baseball, basketball, hockey, rugby, cricket, racing sports, and even boxing have umpires and judges to ensure fair play.  But tennis, at every level other than the very top, demands that the athlete police himself.  This policy of honesty works pretty well most of the time. It’s a testament to the sport that players honor it enough to not cheat.  Think about the chaos that would ensue if players were not generally honest with each other.  We’d be dealing with constant bickering and players trying harder to deceive than simply playing good tennis.  I’ve seen adults call balls out that I saw as in, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it done intentionally (I actually probably have seen it, but it’s so rare that I can’t remember the last time I witnessed it).  The errors, in other words, have been almost all cases of mistaken eye to brain processing, not deceit.  However, and you know what I’m going to say next – juniors are a different story.

There are Cheaters Among Us

Let me begin by stating clearly that 90% (a completely fabricated number but one I feel is true based on my experience) of junior players are honest.  In fact, if I were to point to one trait in juniors that drives me crazy more than cheating it would be not calling balls out that are obviously out (sometimes by as much as a foot!).  You can tell a kid loves tennis when he goes out there to just hit balls and doesn’t care if they’re in or out – just keep running around like crazy and hitting the ever loving snot out of it, right!

But there are always the cheaters.  The kids who, when under stress and finding themselves losing control of a match, will start making intentionally bad calls.  Tennis is mentally draining.  When a kid starts to feel it all getting away from him it is not unusual to see him trying to regain some control by cheating.  It can be infuriating as a coach or a parent to watch it happen.  I sometimes want to walk right out onto the court to straighten it all out myself, but I can’t.  All I can do is let the kids try to sort it out themselves.  If things get bad enough either player can summon an official to oversee the match, and I’ve seen it happen many times.  But, while it is occasionally necessary to get help, I don’t like it.

Coaching Sportsmanship:

It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent or a coach; your job is to ensure that your student/child learns that it is possible to learn more in defeat than in victory. To get a victory by cheating, before it is time to win (to everything there is a season), is not a victory.  You might be surprised if I told you that sports are 90% mental (Not a fabricated number – there is research to back it up which you can read in books like Peak Performance and Finding Your Zone).  Thus, winning falsely creates mental barriers that do much more harm than good.  Cheating actually makes it more difficult to win in the future, not less.  Failure, on the other hand, strengthens our resolve to win.  It is the stone that sharpens our blade so to speak.  Mental coaching is vital in any sport but especially tennis.  There are a lot of players out there who can beat you, your student or your child on a good day; as players we have to be mentally strong enough to believe we’ll win but also strong enough to learn from defeat when it happens after our best efforts to win.

To win requires the absolute confidence that victory is yours.  Imagine how hard it is for a kid to reconcile his emotions when defeat is near.  It is natural for him to have an immature reaction.  That’s what growing up is all about after all.  But, our job is to foster confidence in players without creating win-at-all-costs attitudes.  Coaches and parents exist to provide an atmosphere where the player knows he can win without cheating.  Cheating is a player’s worst undermining agent.  The pressure to cheat is nowhere as strong as it is on the tennis court.  If a growing player can learn how to pull victory from the jaws of defeat the right way then he/she has become a real player.  They say cheaters never prosper.  It’s true not because of cosmic retribution, it’s true because cheating stanches progress — Stops it right in it’s tracks, and that’s not good.