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Bringing Sportsmanship Back into Junior Tennis PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Written by Pamela DeLoatch   
Hand shake at the end of a match

Kicking an empty tennis can across the court, smashing a racquet into the ground, yelling curses in frustration. While this is bad enough when it occurs on the professional circuit, increasingly, this type of poor sportsmanship happens with our younger players, in the world of junior tennis.

Although players are guided in sportsmanship by both the rules and the Code of tennis, bad behavior is becoming even more prevalent among young players.

Sad to say, if you roam the courts of a tournament long enough, you'll begin to see tell-tale signs of players who allow their frustration to get out of hand. They may yell at themselves or their opponent, or even their parents and officials. Sometimes, you'll hear parents threaten to remove the child from the court, but it rarely happens. Even officials may turn a blind eye to certain behaviors.

Maybe it is the individualized nature of the game that puts pressure on players. It means making sure our players know what the rules are that govern behavior—as well as penalties for failure to follow those rules.In a basketball game, five people on the floor have a chance to make or prevent a shot. In tennis, at least in singles, one player is responsible for making or missing the shot. Maybe it's natural that lone players on the tennis court feel compelled to perform well, no matter what. And, at a young age, handling that pressure and frustration can be difficult.

Tim Heckler, CEO of USTPA, says that bad behavior, even cheating, occurs in epidemic proportions at junior tournaments, and even at practices. In a USPTA forum, Heckler questions whether today's young players lack a developed conscious that fully understands right and wrong.

Tennis guru, Robert Lansdorp, says that the problem involves more than just the player. In Bob Larson's Tennis News website, Lansdorp writes that when parents and coaches get caught up in the competition, they, too, may lose sight of right and wrong.

At a recent entry-level junior tournament for example, after a court official gave a player a point penalty for racquet abuse, she had to warn the child's family against cheering the opponent's errors. And this was in the 10 and under division.

How to Stop Bad Behavior in Junior Tennis

Because the problem is pervasive, the solutions need to be system wide.

As Robert Lansdorp suggests, the USTA should enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward unsportsmanlike behavior. That means, removing the opportunity for players to misbehave at tournaments by hiring more officials so they can monitor more courts. It means keeping track of players who receive repeated complaints about their calls and behavior, and developing –-and implementing-- consequences.

It means making sure the court officials are consistent in recognizing and disciplining unsportsmanlike conduct, and that the officials receive support in their decisions—even when players or their parents protest.

It means making sure our players know what the rules are that govern behavior—as well as penalties for failure to follow those rules.

It means, that as we size up our children's coaches and academies, we ensure that regardless of the level of prestige, that the culture emphasizes integrity.

It means that as parents, we first try to understand the cause of a child's frustration and anger. What expectations is the child facing—whether it comes internally, or from coaches or from us. Are those expectations realistic? If not, frustration is bound to result. We need to give our children strategies to recognize and handle their frustration and anger. As parents, we need to teach our children to respect the court officials, their opponents and the game itself. And the best way to do that is to demonstrate it ourselves. In our quest to help our children develop their tennis game, we can't overlook the opportunity to develop their character.

It means, perhaps most of all, that as a tennis community, we continually teach our children that a win that comes at the cost of good sportsmanship is really a loss.

Take part in our effort to promote Sportsmanship within Junior Tennis, provide comments below, join our discussion on Facebook and/or email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to find out more about what you can do within your USTA District or Section.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 16:25
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