Bully On The Court

Mitchell was in his first year of high school tennis.  He was the smallest on the team, having my genetics to work with (I’m 5’7” with shoes on), and he was bumped up a grade – a freshman at the age of an 8th grader.

But he played good tennis. He was smart on the court, fast and nimble, and had good consistency. Through team ladder play at practice, he eventually worked his way onto the varsity team, sharing the second spot on second team doubles.  His partner was his junior varsity coach’s son.  This was the kind of player who had the big serve, the big swing and no consistency.  Trying to be unbiased, he was good when he was good, but usually he was bad.  He towered over Mitch by nearly a foot and almost doubled his weight – and had the attitude and action of a nasty bully.  On the court, he’d tell Mitch, “If it’s close, call it out!” and if he made a mistake, which was often, he’d usually blame it on Mitch or take it out on him in some twisted way.   And Mitchell paid for it.

It got to a point where Mitch told us he wanted to quit the team. I remember the discussion in our kitchen shortly before another match.  He just hated playing with this guy.  We told him we’d support him no matter what, but that the best course of action might be to talk to the coaches and sort it out together. I would never have had that kind of courage.

He did.

He talked to his junior varsity coach the next day.  Remember, the coach is the bully’s dad!  And Mitch actually told his dad that he would not play with his son anymore – not could not, would not. No exceptions. Yikes.

Fortunately, this coach might have known a few things about his son. So the conversation went well, but because Mitch could not yet move up (over his son), he had to accept junior varsity again, which he gladly did. 

He finished the year, though, earning his varsity letter and went on to do so every year after.

Confrontation can be difficult, but handled properly and straightforward, maintaining purpose and respect, it can be highly productive.   Mitchell did not confront his teammate, but he did confront the coaches, who should have seen it all along.  And they respected his position, leading to an ultimately positive outcome. I admire that.

How do we see confrontation?   Maybe if we redefine confrontation, take away the assumed negative implication and see it as potentially productive, we’d engage in it with much more effectiveness at home and work , rather than attacking or avoiding – which does nothing productive.

Let’s seek the win/win in difficult situations. It’s usually there if we look for it.