At What Cost? Posted on November 17th, 2022 by

One of our campers shared a story this summer in an off-court classroom session that still haunts me. 

It didn’t have to be this way.  He is the greatest kid.  He was courageous to share his experience.  And everyone in the room left thinking more deeply about what is important to them, and what should be important to their parents or caregivers.

I ask at each camp for campers to raise their hand if they have been cheated before on the court by their opponent.  Every hand goes up immediately.  Then I ask them how many of them have ever made a questionable line call, one they were not positive was out but called it out.  Every hand (including mine) goes up every time.

Then I ask what would we call that?  And the answer, of course, is “cheating”.  Because when we are not sure of a call, we are then sure to be cheating our opponent at least some of the time.  Hence, why at TLC, we say if a ball is 99% out you call it good for your opponent.

Usually, we move on from there to other talking points.

But this summer, one of our campers raised his hand.  I called on him and he began, “My dad gets so mad when I don’t win.”  He said this with a look of anguish and continued.  “I was in a tournament once, and I was ahead 5-1 in the second set after having won the first set easily.  And then my opponent started playing better.  He won his serve to get to 5-2, broke my serve to get to 5-3, won his serve to get to 5-4, and broke my serve to get to 5-5.  At that point, my dad was so angry he left the match and went home.  At 6-6, we went to a tiebreaker.  I got to 6-5 in the seven-point tiebreaker and only needed one point to win the match.  My opponent hit a groundstroke that landed right on the baseline.  I called it out. I knew it was in.  I won the match.  And I have regretted that call to this day.”

Everyone in the room was completely silent.

And then he said, “But I didn’t want to go home and face my dad if I lost.”

I believe this parent loves his child.  And I believe that if he knew the damage he was doing, he may stop.  If he knew another way.

What are we doing to our children?  Will we trade their happiness for a victory?  Will we trade our relationship with them for a victory?  When we do, we all suffer because of it. This dad is not a monster.  He is human.  He learned this from somewhere, probably his dad.

But what can be learned can be unlearned.  I have seen it countless times at TLC.  I have had parents come up and talk about how taking the focus off winning has changed their relationship with their child for the good, forever.

Our one job as parents is to be our biggest supporter of our child, to focus on what they can control, the Three Crowns of positive attitude, full effort, and good sportsmanship that Steve Wilkinson first introduced at TLC decades ago.


When that message is brought home and received, I have had parents approach me with amusement, and say how when they forget, their child reminds them, “Dad/Mom, please remember what they say at TLC, not to coach me, to focus on the things I can control, and to let me have fun.”


This past Minnesota girls high school state tennis tournament, a parent of a TLC camper who was playing (one of the 88 participating in the tourney) said a brief hi to me after his daughter was eliminated 6-0 6-0.  She had the biggest smile on her face throughout the match.  And her dad approached me and said, “I am so lucky to get to watch her play.”

We get to choose.  We get to choose.  It is not too late to apologize to your child if you have burdened them with your own baggage.  And it is not too late to change your mantra to “I am so lucky to get to watch you play.”


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  1. Kathleen Maginot says:

    Hi Neal,
    Thanks for the story and words of wisdom.
    I had an awesome weekend when both my kids were back in town, playing club tennis for their college teams.
    They played mixed doubles against each other at a tournament in Madison this past weekend.
    We hosted over 30 college kids for some meals at our home over the weekend and it was great to feel the TLC spirit both off and on the court.
    When they went around the table to talk about their “rose, thorn, and bud” (best, worst of the day and the thing to look forward to tomorrow); it was great to hear the worst thing that happened was having the cookies fall out of the car onto the driveway.
    Thanks for your guidance and for the TLC counselors who have influenced our lives throughout the years!

  2. Elly Black says:

    Hey Neal!

    Greetings from the Winnipeg Canadians!

    You and your team are changing the world my friend!

    Best to you and your family!
    Elly and Rial

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Elly and Rial, Go Canada! You always give me hope (both you two and your lovely country :)).

  3. Susie Lott says:

    Gratitude for this story, Neal, and both gratitude and respect for the camper who stood on the foundation of the three crowns and was strong enough, open enough, and humble enough to share his story at camp. What a beautiful testimony to him, to you, and to TLC!

  4. David Jussila says:

    Thanks Neal, a great reminder that winning isn’t the only goal for why we play and compete, especially winning at the expense of others. And, though we want our kids to be successful in all areas of their lives, it would be tragic if our kids felt that our love was conditional based on performance.

    Since we are all subject to error, I’m thankful to God that agape love exists, and that it is in relationship that we can express it, especially with our children.

    I’m also thankful for all you and TLC do. Wishing you the best this summer. Hoping our paths cross soon.

    Sincerely, Dave

  5. Clare Zupetz says:

    Love this Neal and a great reminder for us all. See you in July!!