What is gamesmanship?
Gamesmanship is the use of various tactics (often dubious ad not technically illegal) in an attempt to gain an advantage over your opponent in order to increase your chances of winning the match.
Imagine you were down all match but you’ve finally broken your opponent’s serve. You can feel the momentum shifting as you find yourself battling your way back into the match. In this scenario, your opponent will start to find ways to test your mental strength as they look for ways to throw you off your rhythm.
Examples of gamesmanship
Gamesmanship is prevalent in matches and competitions all across the world as players are constantly looking to gain an advantage over their opposition. Below we’ve outlined some of the most common examples of gamesmanship within tennis.
Changing tempo at crucial moments
By slowing the match down during vital moments (or even speeding it up), your opponent will be attempting to disrupt your natural playing rhythm. By shifting momentum, your opponent the is trying to regain control of the match. If they notice any impact of these shifts, their confidence will grow and, in turn, will improve their chances of winning. Additionally, if they take extended breaks between points, there may be danger you will start to ‘get cold’ making it hard to play to the best fo your ability.
Taking a long time to walk back to the service line, taking toilet breaks, or tying their shoes are examples of how a player can slow the tempo of a match during key moments such as a breakpoint or match point.
Distractions as an opponent are preparing to serve
Players need complete focus when serving to increase their chance of hitting an ace or forcing an error out of their opponent. Because of this players will look for ways to break their opponent's concentration in order to potentially impact their serve. Making noise by tapping their racquet on the floor, squeaking their shoes or rushing forward suddenly are common tactics players will utilize in the attempt to interrupt players focus when they are preparing to serve.
Similarly to when a player makes noise during a serve, players who grunt excessively do so in order to impact their opponent’s focus. By making an unnecessarily loud noise after they have played a shot the player is attempting to break their oppositions focus or intimidate their opponent, in the attempt to increase the chance of them missing that shot. There are clear rules around hinderance (and grunting).
Dealing with gamesmanship
Being able to remain focused while your opposition is doing everything possible to throw you off your game shows the mental strength of a player. The best players are able to ignore these tactics and continue to play out the match with their full concentration. Here are a few ways to handle gamesmanship within tennis.
Plan and prepare for gamesmanship
Unfortunately, gamesmanship is often an unavoidable aspect of sport at all levels, therefore, it is something all players should plan and prepare for. By preparing for these tactics players will have a plan for how to counter them and know how to respond. Players spend hours preparing for all possibilities and potential scenarios that might arise within a match. Failing to prepare for potential gamesmanship tactics is like failing to prepare for a loss in confidence, it’s a key aspect of the mental side of the game.
Know the rules
This is arguably your greatest weapon to combat gamesmanship within the sport. By knowing the rules and knowing if what your opponent is doing is breaking them you are able to minimize potential gamesmanship. For example, players who take long breaks between points may be unaware of the fact that under Grand Slam rules the server is supposed to begin serving within 20 seconds of the last point. If a player is unaware of that rule they and takes longer than 20 seconds they will be warned with a time violation and if they continue to exceed the limit they will be deducted points. This is something to bear in mind if your opponent is exceeding this time limit between their shots.
Gamesmanship tactics are intended to get under a players skin and frustrate them in order to make them lose concentration and composure. By remaining calm and continuing to play your normal game you are showing that these tactics aren’t getting to you and aren’t going to work. This is often easier said than done but by remaining focused on your game and ignoring your opponent's tactics you’re showing that they aren’t affecting your game and they will likely stop using them. Players who use gamesmanship often have weaknesses in their game that they are trying to compensate for. By remaining focused you will be able to work out these weaknesses and play on them in order to increase your chance of winning.