I’ve always thought that tennis is a gentleman’s sport. Where the spectators need to ‘behave’ and not acting too rowdy like football, baseball or soccer. When you watch the US Open or the Wimbledon, you’d see the female spectators were dressed ever so elegantly. Big fancy sun hat, fashion shades, cute dres… tres chic!
But, having gone to some tournaments for our daughter, Davi, I quickly learned that it’s not always the case. I saw a lot of poor sportmanship from those young athletes. See, junior tennis has an interesting rule that -IMHO- contributes to their cheating behavior. I was dishearted because we, as parents, and the tennis academy our daughter is in, are always pushing the kids to be honest, fair and to be a good sport. My daughter always serves from behind the serve line, not even an inch of her foot crosses the line. She never announced purposely that a returned ball is out when it’s actually in; she’s taught that getting a point that way is disgraceful. The way junior tennis players were taught was, if you’re not sure whether the returned ball from your opponent is in or out, you should declare it as in. Of course, not everybody’s following the rule.
That was the case when Davi had her first tennis tournament in Omaha, NE. In the final, she was playing against a girl who’s two years older and much bigger than her. Let’s call her Morgan. Oh wait… that was her real name. Anyway, the snobbish attitude didn’t bother Davi too much, but the number of time she cheated, frustrated Davi. Nine out of ten, Morgan would yelled ‘OUT’ when Davi’s return was clearly inside the lines. Even the ‘line official’ was frustrated with that and sternly said,” Was that in or out? You want to declare it as out? Okay, but WATCH YOUR LINE BETTER next time.” But Morgan kept doing it. As her point went up, Davi’s confident went down. I saw the frustration on her face, like she’s trying hard not to cry. I could understand her pain, because not only it’s her first tennis tournament, but she’s playing older and bigger girls.
On the event website, anybody would be able to click on a participant’s name to see their history or records. We noticed that Morgan had played some tournaments before and definitely had some experience. But when we asked her parents, they told us it was her first ever. Why’d they lie?
Jonathan Casper from North Carolina State University wrote a report entitled You Can’t be Serious, that Ball was IN: An Investigation of Junior Tennis Cheating Behavior:
Cheating in youth tennis is a prominent issue. There are many opportunities to make a bad call or call the score in one’s favor without an outside spectator being able to overrule because the players make the line calls and report the score themselves,. When faced with a game or match point a player can call a ball out that was obviously in. The opponent can question the call, argue, and disagree, but the call will stand under the rules of play. The opponent is rendered helpless against cheating due to the rules and the lack of an official.
Casper also wrote that cheating in junior tennis is a result of three influences: coach, parental, and personal. While there hasn’t been any direct link to cheating, parental pressure could influence cheating. He wrote, according to Robert Giltinan, a junior coach for the Australian National Tennis Association:
The parents are putting a lot of pressure on them (junior players) from a much younger age now because of all the money in the game. I think every match they play is really important and a lot of the time they are not playing for themselves, they’re playing for their parents.
I’ve always been afraid to be one of those ‘hardcore parents’. Our son joined the city’s program of Tee Ball and it was not a competitive program at all. But oh my, there’s this dad who’s always shadowing his son, shouting at him, “COME ON, BILLY, RUN FASTER. YOU GOT TO PUSH IT! NO, NO, NOT THAT BASE, YOU’VE GOT TO GO BACK TO SECOND BASE! ” It was a program for 6 and 7 year olds, for crying out loud. Let them have fun. Let the coach/instructor takes care of the ‘teaching’ part. Just sit down on your folding lawn chair and enjoy your beer, I’d rather not see your butt crack from your super low rise jeans.
Back to tennis. All I care about is that Davi is still having fun playing this sport. As long as she loves doing it, I don’t mind paying for it, drive her back and forth to practice, even out of town to go to tournaments. I’d wait for 2 hours by the hot and no-moving-air court instead of the air con visitor area. Got roasted under the sun waiting for her tennis match. There is a difference between being supportive and pushy. The first one was based on love and putting the kid first, while the later one was based on your ambition thus putting you first.