Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose

The book Extraordinary Tennis For The Ordinary Player explains that tennis could be subdivided into two games: the professionals and the rest of us. In other words, the book explains the crucial difference between a Winner’s Game and a Loser’s Game.

Players in both games play by the same rules and scoring. They play on the same court. Sometimes they share the same equipment. In short the basic elements of the game are the same. But the games are fundamentally different: Professionals win points whereas amateurs lose them.

In expert tennis, about 80 per cent of the points are won; in amateur tennis, about 80 per cent of the points are lost. In other words, professional tennis is a Winner’s Game – the final outcome is determined by the activities of the winner – and amateur tennis is a Loser’s Game – the final outcome is determined by the activities of the loser. The two games are, in their fundamental characteristic, not at all the same. They are opposites.

It means that ordinary players can win by losing less and letting the opponent defeat themselves; if you choose to win at tennis, the strategy for winning is to avoid mistakes. The way to avoid mistakes is to be conservative and keep the ball in play, letting the other fellow have plenty of room in which to blunder his way to defeat, because he, being an amateur will play a losing game and not know it.

So, the best players will start to develop a unique approach to play as they grow in ability. They will play conservatively when it is needed. But, if they are far enough ahead, they will push themselves to force a few shots. In that way they can grow from being a good amateur into having a more professional level of play. In time, the best will learn to play tennis as a winner’s game. If they continue to count on the opponent’s messing up to win games, they will never move to a professional level.

Summing-up: We need to identify if we are playing a Winner’s Game or a Loser’s Game and then we can apply the right strategy to win.


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