People win in many ways, and winning means different things to different people. They might win gracefully, or celebrate loudly and emphatically. I would suggest that the way in which women are encouraged to win and also to be competitive affects their overall performance in sport.
There is a clear trend of a gender gap with respect to a ‘willingness to compete’, and this can be seen within sport, the labour market, and is backed up by laboratory studies where men on average enter more competitions than women.
I am not suggesting that positive attitudes in women’s sport towards winning are not generally encouraged, but more that there needs to be a special focus on these attitudes in the face of any negative cultural preconceptions about women in sport that still exist.
The success of the Oxford Women’s Tennis teams, combined with the collective confidence built in their competitive ability over the year, could indicate a refreshing boost in self-confidence and self-belief to be competitive, ‘allowing’ women to win in their own way and breaking down the conceptual barrier between women in sport and words such as ‘aggressive’ and ‘strong’.
Fortunately, at Oxford there is a wide range of sporting opportunities, and women are actively encouraged to participate. Oxford Women’s Tennis is most certainly one of those sports, with fantastic support throughout all the teams, an emphasis on individual improvement, and also motivation to compete, irrespective of the outcome.
Additionally, we have built a very positive attitude towards winning: women’s tennis allows players to win both quietly and loudly, aggressively and calmly, and the women are also allowed to be competitive, letting go of the preconceptions or self-consciousness about being engaged in a sport.
The outstanding results of Women’s Tennis at the recent Varsity match reflect more than just an outcome of simply encouraging participation; women’s tennis instils a desire to be competitive, a will to win, and to win in whatever way feels natural to the player.
All of the women’s teams won Varsity at the end of Trinity Term 2017, an amazing achievement. The Blues had a comfortable victory (16-5) over Cambridge at the North Oxford Lawn Tennis Club, and the Women’s Second team saw a very similar result with an impressive win (14-7) at the Cambridge courts. Furthermore, the Third and Fourth teams both had decisive wins, defeating Cambridge on their own turf 12-9 and 13-8 respectively.
No team was phased by playing away matches, and some of the Blues players barely dropped a game, let alone a match. This being said, there were certainly some close three-set matches, particularly in doubles, proving that the women’s teams had the attitude to finish off matches staying focused and strong mentally in order to fight through the harder games.
In Varsity, you are part of a team, but on the court, you are on your own. Cheering your teammates from the court edge might boost your spirit temporarily, but the self-belief that you can win comes from an attitude within that is developed over time.
This was brought to the forefront in training sessions, and prevented what could be considered as negative preconceptions about competitiveness and women which create a barrier between each player and their goal. It is an element of women’s sport that is often overlooked, when in fact, in a psychological sport such as tennis, it can be the factor that defines the difference between winning and losing.