As Professor Preston Ni, M.S.B.A. explains in Psychology Today: “In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of another. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power, and exploits the victim to serve his or her agenda.”
Take my friend, Rose, for example. She started playing tennis at age 44. After some years of lessons and league play including ALTA, USTA, T2 she had become an avid tennis player. 10 years later, her win/loss record showed that she was a true contender and had climbed the ladder to a respectable competitive level.
Watching her play, you might describe her as a “backboard”. The type of player who doesn’t necessarily have beautiful strokes or a killer serve but who can get to every ball, hit it over the net and make you hit one more ball, increasing your chances of making an unforced error. She’s “That” player. The one you would rather play with than against.
But the real secret to Rose’s winning record is not what she has up her sleeve but what she has in her bag. Rose will tell you that she does not have a “trick bag” but rather, a “shit bag”. Unlike a “trick bag” where the player conceals the fact that they have a winning shot which they can perform, at will, and likely win the point, a “shit bag” contains every shot ever created. What makes it even more distinct is that, while it contains every shot you can think of, the actual execution of these shots does not come with a high success rating. In fact, Rose rarely practices these shots. At one point in her tennis career, she was taught the basics of each of these shots and then stowed them away in her “shit bag”.
"There Is No Rose Without Thorns" ~ Pam Munoz Ryan
The deployment of the “shit bag” results in exactly what Pofessor Preston described above in regard to psychological manipulation. If you are the unlucky one, (and believe me, all of Rose’s opponents are “the unlucky one”) she will size you up from the start and decipher from your demeanor, wardrobe and warm-up, exactly which shots will cause you to psychologically “crumble like an Oreo cookie”, as Rose so delicately explains.
“No one can beat me at mind games” she claimed during a recent conversation. “Tennis is all mental and you can bank on winning if you can get in your opponent’s head.”
Prof. Preston described 4 ways to help identify if you are being psychologically manipulated. You’ll see that the “shit bag” is a tool for this kind of deception on the tennis court:
1. They try to confuse you with their “expert knowledge”.
Rose is famous for trying to rip a down-the-line return on the ad side. But if anyone had actually calculated the percentage rate of how often she converted that shot into a point for her side, it would probably amount to less that 5%. And in reality, Rose could not care less whether she wins the point or not. Her goal is to convince her opponent that she actually has that shot mastered. She wants you to believe that she pulled it out of her “trick bag” but, in fact, it came out of her “shit bag”.
2. They pressure you into making decisions
“The best compliment anyone can make about my game,” Rose explained, "is to switch up their strategy when they are serving to me.” That’s the true power of the “shit bag”. Whether or not, Rose’s down-the-line or drop-shot attempts are successful, she accomplishes her real goal when her actions make her opponents stop and think about how to deal with her. She draws them out of their comfort zone and introduces them to unfamiliar territory, one wrought with unforced error potential, by simply convincing them that she has a weapon or two that she can pull out and use whenever she needs to. Sadly, what the opponents don’t know will probably kill their chances of winning against Rose.
3. They use guilt trips to make you do things for them.
A good example of this is the time Rose encountered an opponent who was horrible, at best, in her ability to call a ball in or out. It seemed that any ball which landed near the baseline was deemed “out”.
Just before they started the 3rd set and after many confrontations about whether the balls were in or out, Rose approached the net:
“Ok, ya’ll, I just need to understand. So, if anything hits the line, we’re gonna call it out. Is that how y’all’ve been doing it?
Frantic at the accusation of cheating, the opponent responded, “You’re a bitch! You know if the ball hits the line, it’s “in”! THAT’s how we’ve been calling it!”
Unfazed, Rose responded, “ I just wanted to know YOUR understanding of the lines. I talked to our division manager about this type of thing before and she said it would behoove us to level the playing field by using YOUR interpretation of the lines and applying it to what we see on our side. I’m just trying to play by YOUR rules. That’s all."
4. They resort to outbursts of anger.
In the middle of a mixed doubles match and during a contentious argument between the male players, yelling from the baselines about something stupid like . . . whose racquet was bigger, Rose gently put her own racquet down. Right there in the middle of the court where she was standing she, placed her racquet on the ground and crossed her arms. A silent protest but a protest nonetheless.
The men suddenly quieted down noticing her dissatisfaction with them. When she was sure that she had everyone’s attention she addressed the men, “Are ya'll finished? Tell me when ya’ll are done fighting and then we can play tennis again.”
With her subtle outburst, she took control of the situation, was able to stop the men from arguing and restarted the tennis match. She totally got her way.
If you suspect that you may be facing a psychological manipulator on the tennis court, God help you. Unless you are one, yourself, escaping their control is nearly impossible. So it’s important to practice your own mental game as much as your physical one in order to be your genuine self in a match, play your strengths and be fully prepared to show Rose and others like her, just what you can do on the tennis court.
I don’t know who said it but an easy way to avoid the power of mind games is to ..."Watch the ball, not your opponent!"
Suggested Reading: The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
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