UK Racketlon Tour Organiser and Great Britain Team player Jon Spinks gives his take on the fabled “fifth sport” in racketlon – the mentality and psychology of the sport.
In our game made up of four sports, there is another unspoken, oft-forgotten fifth sport – that of mental fortitude. It is the ability to stay positive, stay calm, stay motivated which in my eyes separates the many good and able players from the true champions.
“In the end, it’s learning this mentality and focus that truly makes the sport of Racketlon”
Racketlon is almost unique in the sporting world in that players can win a match whilst being totally outmatched in an individual sport. There are very few sporting situations like it – where losing a set 21-4 rather than 21-2 can be the difference in winning and losing. The top players are strong at both ends, keeping their nerves to make the so-called ‘easy’ shots ten times out of ten, whilst at the other end fighting every step of the way for just a single extra point which thirty minutes later could be the final difference.
Now, many people reading this who know me might be thinking “How on earth is Jon Spinks our man to talk about mental strength?!?”. It’s true – my record and attitude towards matches in the past has been…less than ideal. But this has made me all too aware of what it is I, and others, most need to work on to improve.
I’ve had five years now in the sport and starting out it can be a difficult adjustment for new players too, some even joining as players at the top level of their individual sports but who are just not used to the importance of keeping a score as low as possible. But in the end, it’s learning this mentality and focus that truly makes the sport of Racketlon.
“If you are willing to keep running… then you are sure to do better than you might first think.”
I’ve run quite a few tournaments now, and one of the most common things I hear from new players is that they are worried because they have perhaps only played a couple of the sports before. To them I say – don’t worry! Most people have only really played a couple properly before entering the sport, and even then if you are willing to keep running; to keep going for every single point then you are sure to do better than you might first think.
I recently had my best ever Racketlon win – due in large part to my improved mentality on court. Already 7 points down going into the squash I then fought back from 15-6 to sneak a narrow 22-20 win, and from there the tennis too, ending with a +2 win. Sure, that was just one match and I’m a long way from perfect with a long, long way to go mentally speaking. But the old me wouldn’t have even made it to the tennis court.
Learning and improving this kind of focus will benefit you not just within Racketlon however! Interestingly I would now say I am a far stronger player in my first sport of table tennis right now, when train very rarely, compared to when I used to train regularly three times a week. I put that all down to the patience and persistence that playing Racketlon has drilled into me, and the knowledge that although I may be losing at one point, if I keep on in the game it could swing right back to me.
“No matter how one sport goes there is always a chance to recover”
The truly great players never stop trying, and while that is true in almost every sport, it is just that much more evident in Racketlon. Perhaps one of the most vivid memories I have of this comes from the 2017 European Championships Men’s semi-final in Vienna when Leon Griffiths bounced straight back from a brutal 21-0 loss in squash to win 21-9 in tennis and claim a win by five points to make the final. Scores like that show that even at the very highest level there are big differences in ability by each sport, but that no matter how one sport goes there is always a chance to recover, as long as you keep your head about you.
For me, this is summed up in no better way than the famous inscription above the entrance to Wimbledon’s Centre Court, from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘If–‘. It is a phrase that has no doubt helped inspire many champions throughout the ages but is just as applicable to all of us.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same;
When you next see the top players in a match at a Racketlon tournament and you watch a game for tips and advice, that is what I would tell you to watch out for. One might be a table tennis and badminton pro, one untouchable at squash, another unstoppable at tennis – but what they all have in common is an iron will to succeed, to stay in the game, to fight for every point. And when it comes down to it, that’s what Racketlon is all about – every point counts.
Jon Spinks / GB Team Player & UK Racketlon Tour Organiser