Cheated but Wiser

December 30, 2016

Whoever coined the saying “cheaters never win” was wrong, and I have evidence to prove so. When school was still in session, I played tennis at Tennis Capital, an organization dedicated to helping kids prepare for tournaments. There, I took part in drills designed to craft me into a faster and stronger player, and I played multiple sets a week to practice my skills. Unfortunately, I learned more than skill development through the experience.

My worst -- and, by far, most memorable -- experience at Tennis Capital was when I played a set against a boy named Dan. He was a very talented player, around my skill level. He had many strengths and few weaknesses; however, I knew it was nothing I could not handle.

At the beginning of the set, it seemed that we were equally matched. We both made dazzling plays, smashing the ball deep into the corners or tapping it over the net as a drop shot. We kept exchanging games. I would win one, then he would win one, and we continued in that pattern. It really seemed like it was an even matchup until I managed to pull forward and win an extra game, breaking the win-loss pattern. At this point, it was 4-2, and I knew I was going to win. Dan seemed to realize this, too, because he committed a final act of desperation.

More confident than ever, I served the ball deep into the left-hand corner of the service box, which, for him, was a very tough shot to return. Lucky for me, he hit a weak shot and the ball bounced very shallow, allowing me to move up and take a more aggressive stance. I carefully set up my feet, brought my racket back, and loaded my weight into my legs. Once the ball was in my strike zone, I unleashed all of my power into the ball and smashed it through the air. The ball landed just next to the double’s alley. I turned around and walked back to the baseline nonchalantly. Dan, however, had a different idea.

To my amazement, he called my shot out.

“There’s no way that my shot was out! I clearly saw it land inside the boundaries!” I yelled back at him.
He looked at me with an innocent gaze, then proceeded to look down at his feet and play with his racket strings. From his actions, it was evident that he knew my shot was in. I repeatedly called him out for cheating, but he ignored me and continued to adjust his racket strings. By this point, I was already furious and ready to throw my racket.

Eventually, I gave up and decided to just continue playing. I still had a one game lead, so I thought to myself that I would simply play my game and close it out. However, with every shot I hit, I continued to contemplate the event that had just unfolded. My focus strayed, and I started to make pointless errors, leading me to lose faith in my ability to compete. I lost my winning mindset, which ultimately led to my downfall. I was eventually defeated, 6-4.

At the time, I was irate at what happened. But now, a couple months later, I think back on the situation and realize that the experience was not necessarily detrimental. I learned that my opponent’s decisions are not within my control; only my own response is. If I return to the court with resilience and an even stronger winning mindset, nothing, not even cheaters, will stop me from accomplishing my goals.

It may be true that cheaters often win, but I take a different view. Winning is a state of mind, not a mere numerical score.

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