Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s heroic landing of US Airways 1549 into safety with no victims on the Hudson river last year was largely credited to his great communication skills with the entire flight staff. He was modest when he said he just did what they’d been trained to do. But in addition to his command of the aircraft, he had good command of the crew via communicating them through the intense moments of their descent into the river. Had he not communicated well, the outcome might have been much more sinister.
Tennis players are not facing such crucial decisions during a game and people’s lives certainly are not determined by the outcome of a match. But the amount of on court communication a player has to deal with is hardly given enough credit.
I get self conscious playing tennis in the park, when there are two people sitting on a bench watching us play. And more likely, waiting for us to finish than really watching. But the stuff they might say and comments they might make could really mess up my game.
I think about what professional tennis players have to deal with when they’re playing in front of a 24,000 people crowd on Arthur Ashe stadium. Can you tell 24,000 people to shut up?
But the crowd is only one of the elements of on court communication. Here are some of the other ones:
- 1 umpire
- 8 linesmen
- 6 ball boys
- 1 opponent (if playing singles)
- 2 opponents and 1 partner (if playing doubles)
- fan booth and relatives
- physical trainer
- tournament trainer
- TV greeter before the match
- TV reporter after the match
- and of course, the player himself
Whereas communication is not always verbal, all of the above points demand eye contact and interaction, or at least attention. Best case scenario, the crowd loves you and the umpire is your childhood friend and there are no questionable calls or annoying people in the crowd, yelling things out before between serves. In all other scenarios, tennis players engage one way or another in some form of communication with all of those people.
And, of course, they have to play some tennis meanwhile.