While junior tennis serves as a platform for young athletes to develop their skills and passion for the sport, instances of cheating can cast a shadow over the pure and fair nature of competitions. It’s important for us as coaches to address and combat cheating in order to create a positive and ethical environment for our young players. In this blog post, we will explore specific strategies and initiatives aimed at eradicating cheating in junior tennis. We’ll also share a few true stories that demonstrate how these approaches have been successful.
Educating Players, Coaches, and Parents
Not long into a match, a well-known cheat on the junior circuit had already begun the bad line calls. However, we all know the rules we teach:
- Call them on it and give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Let them know that’s two-line calls and on a third we need an umpire.
- Get an umpire.
However, my student calmly walked to the net and said: “Let’s get this straight from the off, are we calling lines out or in today? I just need to know from my end’s perspective.” A fair match was played, and it was a close win for our questioning player.
Education plays a pivotal role in instilling the values of fair play and sportsmanship. It’s crucial for organisers, coaches, and parents to prioritize teaching principles such as honesty, integrity, and respect for opponents. Junior tennis programs can incorporate discussions on fair play, ethical decision-making, and the consequences of cheating during training sessions or group discussions after tournaments. By empowering young athletes with knowledge and awareness, we can foster a culture of integrity from an early stage.
As our young champion, who has worked hard on and off the court, was on her way to a great victory over the number 1 seed, not only her opponent started to call lines out but her father started shouting from the stands “you don’t deserve to be winning this, you are nowhere near as good as my daughter.” But having been taught how to deal with criticism and harsh atmospheres, she merely touched rackets with her opponent after a great win under pressure. Her father, on the way out, shot a verbal array of “you will never make it as a player with those strokes” to which she replied “okay, but I think I just won” . To top it off, he (then enraged) said, “I will be reporting your dad over there for interfering during the match!” to which she waltzes off happily saying, “that’s not my dad.”
Emphasising sportsmanship is an important aspect. Encouraging positive behavior, such as acknowledging opponents’ good shots, displaying humility in victory, and grace in defeat, helps create an atmosphere of fair competition. Coaches and parents play a vital role in reinforcing the importance of sportsmanship, acting as role models and celebrating honorable conduct above mere victories.
Strengthening Officiating and Supervision
It was the semi-finals of one of the grade 2 summer tournaments, a hot day in sweltering conditions, and having won the first set and 2-1 up in the second set, the umpire proceeded to call the score wrong in the opponent’s favor. Of course, the opponent said nothing; the umpire called it as it stood, and the match, after much furore from outside onlookers, continued despite the protests.
Having got back on level terms, and with the once beleaguered player leading 5-4 in the second set, the opponent stopped, shook hands, and said, “I am retiring, you win, and you were right. Sorry for not saying so earlier.”
Strengthening officiating and supervision is crucial to ensure fair play in junior tennis tournaments. Well-trained officials should be present on courts to enforce the rules, detect potential cheating, and penalize offenders appropriately. Additionally, organizers should provide sufficient supervision, especially in lower age divisions where players may be more prone to unsportsmanlike behavior. A visible presence of authority acts as a deterrent and upholds the integrity of the competition.
Fostering Peer Accountability
We were playing a division 2 match, and our opponents were looking to gain promotion to division 1. We were safely sitting mid-table with another season in division 2 looming. Throughout the match, my big weapon, my serve, was called out every time it hit the line. If it was an ace, it was called out yet again. This fazed my partner more than me as I calmed him down time after time.
On match point, I hit an ace, plumb on the center service line, and roared with delight for the opponent to call it out. This time I said a few choice words, looked at his partner with a wide-eyed stare, who then backed me up and chose to agree it was in. I said to the offending ogre, “We have two problems, and I am not personally worried about either – 1. Your eyesight may need a check-up, which could be the case, don’t take it the wrong way, or 2. You feel you need to cheat a little to win, which is also fine as inadvertently you have just made me mentally tougher, and I thank you for that. Now let’s have a beer.”
Players should be encouraged to hold each other accountable for fair play. Promoting a supportive and respectful environment among young athletes allows them to actively discourage cheating within their own ranks. Emphasizing the responsibility to report suspicious behavior and providing channels for confidential reporting can help create a culture where players feel empowered to stand up against cheating.
Recognising and Rewarding Sportsmanship
The end-of-year prize-giving is the time to reward not only the MIP and MVP but other categories, and I would ensure the first to be given is the Sportsmanship of the Year award. We have toyed with naming this the Sportspersonship of the Year award, but it doesn’t quite sound right.
Incentivising fair play and good sportsmanship can motivate young players to prioritise integrity. Tournament organisers can introduce sportsmanship awards or recognition programs that highlight exceptional displays of fair play. Such recognition not only rewards individual players but also sets an example for others to follow, reinforcing the idea that honesty and integrity are highly valued in junior tennis.
Combating cheating in junior tennis is crucial for nurturing a healthy and ethical environment for our young athletes to thrive. By prioritizing education, emphasizing sportsmanship, strengthening officiating and supervision, fostering peer accountability, and recognizing and rewarding sportsmanship, we can create a foundation where fair play and integrity are deeply ingrained values. Let’s work together to ensure that junior tennis remains a platform for character development, skill acquisition, and the pure joy of the game.