USTA Kansas Official JK Patel on the Value of Sportsmanship
Here at USTA Kansas, we believe diversity and inclusion of all is vital to a fun and thriving tennis community. We’re honored to have many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) who are members of our district, which is why we proudly celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month each May and honor members of these communities year-round.
Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month was formally established in 1992 to honor the rich culture and heritage of AAPI individuals residing in the U.S. To learn more, please visit https://asianpacificheritage.gov.
I recently chatted with USTA Kansas Official JK Patel about tennis, sportsmanship, and how good sportsmanship can have a positive impact on your playing career. Here’s what he had to say.
Originally from India, JK Patel has been playing tennis since he was around 18 or 20 years old. He’s been a tennis official since 1996, starting with a position in USTA Southern when he lived in Kentucky before moving to Kansas in 1998. He’s been an official with USTA Kansas ever since.
Patel’s interest in working as an official started after his son encountered a poor sport during one of his matches. It was after that he realized he could make a difference in the sport of tennis by encouraging fair play and good sportsmanship.
“I had a bad experience when my younger son started playing tennis,” said Patel. “My son started playing tennis when he was young, and when he was 8 or 9 he was playing against 12 year-olds in a tournament in Louisville. I knew parents couldn’t get involved [on the court] while the kids were playing; however, my son was playing against someone who cheated. My son was crying on the court, and even though the official saw it he didn’t stop the play.”
In a separate event, Patel described an up-and-coming player with a bad habit on the court and how watching this first-hand further influenced his decision to become an official. “A kid from Louisville who was very talented had a very foul mouth. He was using very bad language on the court, which can’t be done in the USTA. I decided this [behavior] needs to stop at a very young age, so I took the [official’s] test and passed it. Since then, I’ve been officiating junior events all the way up to college.”
“I love to see these talented kids come up, and that keeps me alive in the business,” Patel continued. “I’m a stricter official, however; I will penalize for foul language or throwing racquets.”
As a long-time official, Patel has seen many examples of bad sports–and he’s seen many, many good sports as well. When asked what good sportsmanship looked like to him, he praised players who were fair, positive, and would err on the side of caution.
“I have seen a lot of good kids, good players or bad players, they will often play a ball that’s doubtful [of being in] instead of making a bad call. If an opponent hits a good shot they always appreciate it. If by accident they make a bad call, they will immediately correct it. And regardless of winning or losing, they will always have a smiling face.”
In a competitive sport such as tennis, and especially in junior tennis, where children and young adults are still learning what good sportsmanship is, Patel emphasizes the importance of being positive and having fun. “[Playing tennis] is more for the fun. You’re not playing like a pro. The more fun you have, the more you’ll have a tendency to learn whether you win or lose. Your attitude towards the sport will change, and it can be the difference between staying at the level you’re at or moving ahead.”
“Just keep smiling and learn whether you win or lose and work on how to get better. That’s it!”