On May 15, the Linfield College women’s tennis along with the Hope College men’s teams were honored as the recipients of the 2014 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Team Sportsmanship Award for the month of May. The award is given to teams across the nation monthly to teams that have exemplified outstanding sportsmanship, character and ethical conduct in the true spirit of competition and collegiate tennis.
When I got a notification from my coach that our team had won the monthly award, I was a little surprised. Not that I thought we didn’t deserve it, but that we had all been simply acting as good, respectable people. At least, I didn’t consciously think about being an example of good sportsmanship when I thanked the opposing teams.
According to the post on the ITA website describing the Linfield women’s tennis team after the Conference Final match, “The Linfield squad showed great sportsmanship despite the loss. Several players individually congratulated the Whitman players and as a team they cheered for us and wished the Pirates [typo: Missionaries] luck representing the conference at the NCAAs.”
Although it was tough to take the loss to Whitman, to me the fact of the match was obvious. Whitman had just out-played us. Whitman College has an amazing men and women’s program and there is definitely a reason for it. It is definitely challenging going into a match knowing how talented the opposing team is, but it is more difficult to play with the same tenacity and composure as you would any conference team and that’s exactly what my teammates did.
Despite some last minute changes we made to our line-up, the team competed probably the best we’ve ever competed against the 29th nationally ranked team. Although the final score was a 5-0 sweep, the individual matches were far from a full blow out. Our number two doubles lost by only two games while our number three doubles lost the final two points in a match tie-breaker. Despite barely losing the first set, our number one singles was playing (what I viewed) as the most elevated tennis of her career and although she had to play out of her comfort zone in number three singles, our original number four singles played with so much grit that it took her opponent three match points to finally end the game that decided the conference championship.
The Linfield women’s tennis team cheered on Whitman as they celebrated their conference win. It was tough to do but it was also the right thing to do. The Missionaries displayed as much class and respect as our lady-cats did during the conference final making it easier to wish them luck on their journey to regionals.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that it is easy to display good sportsmanship when you understand that winning or losing doesn’t define the merit, abilities, and capabilities of a team. Losing not only happens in sports, but it is absolutely necessary for the improvement of athletes and the progress of the athletic competition.
On too many occasions, there is excessive emphasis on the score and not enough emphasis on the game. Athletes compete not for high numbers or favorable percentages, but for the love of the game they play. I think a lot more individuals would be able to receive positive feedback for their sportsmanship if they were able to understand that at the core of all sports, the reason we compete is because we love the game.
Camille Weber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org