May 6, 2022  ·  Barbara Wyatt

Madison shoved the racquet in her tennis bag and stomped off the court. She collapsed onto a bench a few feet away from me and covered her face with her hands. 

“You played well, Madison.” 

“I sucked.”

“It’s not about the score.”

She lifted hands from her face, cheeks red, and said, “Riiiiiiight. That’s what they say to losers.”

“I’m saying it because it’s true.” 

Though I suspected she had turned off listening to me, I continued to talk. I reminded her of the solid serves and no double-faults. I had seen down-the-line shots delivered with a pace that won points. In the match, Madison tried more topspin on her groundstrokes, a new skill from a recent lesson. 

“It takes courage,” I said, “to take what you learn in a lesson and apply it in a match. Plus, your line calls were clear, loud, immediate, and accurate.” 

Madison’s head gestured sharply to the opponent sitting on the other team’s bench. “But she didn’t. She called a bunch of my shots out. And they weren’t!”

“But your calls were solid. You showed sportsmanship.”

“But she won.”

“Madison, it’s not about the score. Imagine if I had a bouquet of flowers to give you after every match. Each stem represents an aspect of your play: serves, down-the-line shots, positioning on the court, returns, and placement of balls. A stem for each skill and how you did in that match. Today, your serves were solid. That would be a beautiful radiant rose. Your sportsmanship? Another big blooming rose. Your positioning? Another rose. Your down-the-line shots?”

“Yeah, I know. Some big fat rose.” Madison rolled her eyes. 

“Yes,” I said, “Your topspin was not as strong as you hoped. But you tried. That’s one healthy stem with a little bud. Not there yet, but will be.”

“I lost the match,” she said. “I deserve a bunch of dead weeds covered in dog shit.”

Had I failed? My effort to use a flower bouquet as an analogy didn’t work. Madison is a talented young athlete, but much too hard on herself when she experiences a loss. Her shoulders started to shake rapidly. She turned her face toward me and covered her mouth. She was repressing a grin.

“I get it,” Madison said. “You want me to think of what I did right. Big fat red roses for my serving and down-the-line shots. Itty bitty buds for what didn’t work. And to remember tomorrow’s another day. Maybe my topspin or something else will be better. I could win.” 

“Yes!” I said. 

“You’re so wacked.” She raised her hand for a high-five, and I slapped it. She stood, walked a few steps, turned, and smiled, “I get it.” She leaped over a bleacher seat and sat with her teammates.

The game of tennis is about how you play, not necessarily the score.

Published New York Tennis Magazine, July/August 2019.