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by Saul Shrom

Through sports people can learn and experience things that may stay with them for a long time; even for the rest of their lives. I experienced one of these moments at the 2008 JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit, Michigan. Not only did it shock me at the time, but it amazes me until this day.  I was competing in the Boys 15-16 competitive tournament over the week. Due to the popularity of the event, the tournament director changed the format from a regular draw to separate groupings. There were eight groups of six players. Based on the players placing, they would then be placed into the appropriate group. In my group, I had players from Great Britain, Poland and locals from Detroit.  On the last day of the round robin, I took the court against a boy named, Jonathan, from London, England.

Although I had played players from different countries previously in my tennis career, as well as days before in this round robin, something about Jonathan being from the prestigious, well known, London, made me slightly nervous. We walked out onto the court in the early afternoon. We exchanged a few questions with each other to learn a bit  about each others tennis careers, age and other small details. I could tell that Jonathan took his tennis quite seriously and was probably at the Maccabi Games for the sole purpose of winning and not to meet people.
In the warm up, I did not learn as much about Jonathan’s game as I would have hoped. Usually I would focus on different aspects of my opponent’s game to discover which weakness to pounce on when the match started. However, I was not focused on anything about Jonathan’s tennis game at all. Rather, I watched a man approach the back fence of the court. He was wearing a Great Britain uniform, tennis shoes and dark tinted black sunglasses. I could hear him muttering things to Jonathan, but could not pick up on the words. This periodic muttering continued as we started the match.
Jonathan jumped to a quick early lead in the match. This man’s constant chatter not only bothered me, but made me play poorly. I had lost all my focus and could not even think of a way to come back and win the match.
After some time, the man left our court and walked to watch another match. Today, I believe that this man left because he was convinced that Jonathan could handle me. But, this man had it all wrong. The instant he left, I suddenly felt the urgency to focus on the task at hand. Before I knew it, I had come back and won the match.
At the end of the match, Jonathan briskly walked up to the net which struck me as odd. Usually, the winner will walk to the net confidently and the loser will walk slowly to the net forcing the winner to wait those few extra seconds. I put my hand out to shake hands with him when abruptly Jonathan said, “Saul, can we tell my dad that I won the match. You can go to the draw desk and report the right score, but let’s just tell my dad that I won, okay?”
Before I could even respond to this outrageous question, Jonathan looked over to the back fence where this man, who I now knew was his dad, was standing. His dad looked, waiting to hear what happened. Jonathan then said to him, “I won in two close sets. Let’s go back to the JCC so I can eat before my next match.”
As I walked off the court, Jonathan’s dad put on a fake smile before saying, “Nice try man. Good luck in your other matches.”
I kept thinking about Jonathan’s situation throughout the rest of the competition. I realized that the fun that all of the competitors  at the Maccabi Games were having wasn’t what Jonathan was feeling. I learned that tennis, or any sport, is fun when the desire to win and compete comes from the athlete themselves and not from another person. Any parent or coach that puts inordinate amount of pressure on an athlete that doesn’t have a stronger desire to win than that person putting pressure on them will not have a positive sporting experience.

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