Playing with Sorry Sally**

I love reading the comments on this blog. We have such an insightful, supportive, curious, and witty online community! And sometimes someone posts an idea or question that makes me think, “Hmm. That would make an excellent blog post.”

That happened last week in the comment section to the Losing with Class article. Karla asked what you can do when you have a partner who apologizes every time she misses a shot. Here, lightly edited, was my response:

This is such a tough one. I’ve played with people like that–so self-abasing and apologetic–and it DOES get uncomfortable.

One thing that has NOT helped for me is saying, “Gosh, don’t apologize. We all make mistakes. I just screwed up my return on that last point!” The person who’s apologizing usually feels like the weak link in the foursome. Rightly or wrongly, she considers the other players above her level and feels very self-conscious. Through this lens, she sees her own mistakes as glaring evidence of why she doesn’t belong on the court with the other three, whereas her partner’s flubbed return is only a meaningless unforced error.

A number of years ago, I knew a woman–the late, great Sue Sargent–who had an effective approach to overapologetic partners. She’d say, “No sorries unless we see blood.” She’d repeat this line, with the same equanimity and intonation, after every apology. After hearing it a few times, you stopped apologizing because you felt stupid making her parrot the same phrase at you over and over.

Funny enough, once you stopped apologizing, you started to play better! I guess it’s not surprising, since you could then focus all your mental energy on the ball and not on whether your partner is mad at you.

So I guess that’s two possible approaches. You could try repeating that phrase, or something similar, every time and hope your partner gets as tired of hearing it as you are of hearing the apologies.

Or, you could start a conversation about how apologizing might be counterproductive. You could say, “You know what I discovered a couple of years ago? It’s so funny, but I used to apologize to my partner, and it actually made me play worse! I was so preoccupied with what my partner must be thinking about me that I wasn’t totally focused on the ball. So when I stopped apologizing, I played better…and had fewer things to apologize for! Isn’t that funny? HAHAHA” (A little humor always helps, too.)

These two ideas are okay, but I think this is a great topic for some community brainstorming. We’ve all been in this situation. What would YOU do?

[**My apologies (haha) to anyone named Sally. The phrase “Debbie Downer” always ruffles my own feathers,  yet I couldn’t resist using the same kind of name play in the title. I’m sure the Sallies out there never have anything to apologize for, anyway!]

12 thoughts on “Playing with Sorry Sally**

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  1. When partner say to many times “sorry” it makes me nervous, I start feeling obligated to say ” sorry” as well. But at the same time to am not a big talker when I am playing and trying to concentrate on the game. I think few “sorry” is enough during one match. Really few. I am curious if pro when play double also apologize for a wrong hit.

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    1. I agree–a few sorries are okay, but it becomes oppressive when it’s all the time. It kind of brings down the mood for both partners. You make a good point about the pros. I think they usually don’t apologize. On tv, even after a missed shot, they usually come together to do a “low-five”– a quick hand contact to keep the positivity going.

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  2. Luckily, Sally isn’t a very popular name these days. So you probably didn’t offend many people. And if you did, well, you could say you’re sorry. 🙂

    In lessons, I was told by the coach that we weren’t allowed to say “sorry” — it was his rule. I guess he got really tired of hearing it all day. Maybe you could make it a league “rule” and give some goofy penalty for each slip?

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    1. I like the idea of a no-sorry rule in clinics! I’ll have to suggest it. I was thinking push-ups as a goofy penalty, but that would interrupt the flow of the clinic. I’ll have to think of something else…

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  3. Yikes— I’m too old for pushups, ,Deb.
    Today I played here on the cape, on clay, against two DBH 2 players and one 1a. Needless to say, I was intimidated. The “sorries” came out of my mouth even though I know how grating they are. At the end of the first set, my partner said to me,” I don’t know why you’re saying sorry, I hit more out balls than you did. Just being Uber kind to the lesser player, or does a “ sorry “ attitude skew the view of your game ?

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  4. I’m too old for push-ups, too, although they’d do me some good. I bet your partner was being honest–she was making just as many errors or more, but you didn’t see it that way! The sorries definitely skew one’s perspective. Next time you play them, you should refuse to say sorry and see what happens. You’ll probably kick their butts!

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  5. So today I tried Deb’s idea from her blog post…the one about the blood. I was playing with a mail partner and the first time he said Sorry, I said something like, “There’s no need to say Sorry unless somebody’s bleeding.” He laughed and sort of nodded as if he understood and concurred. Anyway, he didn’t say sorry again. But the really interesting thing is that I stopped saying Sorry, too…I Had to, after a pronouncement like that! And I felt so much calmer and more focused. So…initial success. But will it work with a female partner? Let’s try it.

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    1. Isn’t it funny that we have to “try” to not say sorry? I remember being a little kid and having to be prompted and shamed into saying sorry. Now look at us! Our parents did too good a job, I think.

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