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I played tennis with my friend almost daily, and as my commitment and rate of improvement increased, we reduced it to two or three times a week on average. He's improved too but since there's a skill gap, we don't play standard matches with serves, we play an informal format "21." Since the format's scoring starts after three rallies, there's a level of ambiguity with how to start the point in a fair manner, so I just look at it as practice that happens to have a scoring system to have more of an incentive.

However, he takes losing this very seriously, most recently dismissing my win as cheese and insinuating I used gamesmanship to win by constructing a point with the first few rallies instead of just starting it normally. He was clearly angry since he started rallies by hitting the ball extremely hard and sacrificing any semblance of accuracy ("I no longer want you to use the rally start as an advantage"). I ended the session early and told him we shouldn't play anymore.

He's exhibited sore loser behavior before - spitting on the court, threw his racket once, and quit a couple of scored sessions early before. It's somewhat a double standard I'm holding, since I've many times been in a sour mood playing with him, but it's only in a self-critical manner and I try not to express it unless he asks how I'm doing (I'll respond with something like "my form is shit and I'm mistiming everything").

I've been friends with him for about 20 years since we were kids/neighbors, so I feel I notice little things more like when he tries to rattle me on the tennis court despite accusing me of gamesmanship later. Part of why my patience was worn thin is because the sport is most fulfilling to me when I'm playing proper matches with a variety of people. It feels unreasonable when he expects to play multiple times a week while also pulling these antics.

What might be a good way to follow through on not playing together anymore, while ideally not sabotaging our long friendship?

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  • Hey Jakory! I gave your post an edit, to get rid of the off-topic part. As our help center states, try to focus your questions on the interpersonal skills you'd need to resolve a problem, not on asking us whether there is a problem, as the latter is primarily opinion based.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Aug 13 at 8:07
  • As for the rest: Your question is lacking a bit of a goal. What do you want the outcome of navigating this situation to be? You've told him you think you shouldn't play together anymore. Are you asking about following through on that, or are you rather interested in skills you could use the next time he's acting out on the court? Essentially, what's the 'this' in your question referring to? :D I picked 'acting as a sore loser' for the title, but I may have chosen wrong...
    – Tinkeringbell
    Aug 13 at 8:08
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    I think the edit captures the essence of what I'm interested in help with, thanks. I'm more wondering about following through on not playing together anymore. I feel a bit guilty about this because I'm the only committed tennis player he's regularly played with, I tried encouraging him to play with more new people for added perspective and development in the sport, but he hasn't for one reason or another.
    – Jakory
    Aug 13 at 8:27
  • Okay, thanks! I've given the body and title another edit to reflect this. In general, we also encourage askers to include their ideas on what they would do and why they think that wouldn't work, just so answers can take that into account (and someone doesn't spend time writing an answer that you know will likely not work). So, if you could edit your post further to include things like how you would proceed with this, but why you think that would damage the friendship, that would be great!
    – Tinkeringbell
    Aug 13 at 8:32
  • Apart from the tennis, what exactly is your relationship/friendship like? Do you still hang out/talk outside of it or is your contact mostly based around the tennis?
    – AsheraH
    Aug 13 at 10:45
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First things first: There is no guarantee this will work, but then...

When communicating with him, don't put blame on him, but use me-sentences: "I really value our friendship, but I'm no longer having fun with our tennis matches. I'd like to find another activity that we could share and both have fun."

This shows him that you still value his friendship and want to invest into it, while setting your (new) boundary as something subjective to you (and therefore non-arguable).

Now, it very much depends on how much your friend is inclined to respect boundaries and how much value he attaches to your friendship beyond your tennis matches. I've found this approach to work in the past, but not always.

This is mostly based on a few years in politics and with situations at work. But there were some - not many - situations in the private context as well. All have in common that other humans aren't predictable. So, this approach will increase your chances, but nothing can be for sure.

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    +1 - a non-competitive activity preferably! Aug 14 at 17:03
  • You say you've found this approach worked in the past, but not always... can you elaborate? Were there differences between the situations/people it worked for and those where it didn't work? Can you give people reading this answer any clues on when to try this, and when not to?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Aug 16 at 6:36
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    @Tinkeringbell Unfortunately I cannot tell beforehand who this approach will work on. People are different, and some want to be difficult and will always find a way. But it really is something that I always came to realise after the approach failed. I will always try this approach, because I don't know a better one, and it works for me much better than open confrontation. But when talking to people there are no magic words. Aug 16 at 7:54

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