I hope all of you with an interest in junior tennis have been reading Lisa Stone's blog ParentingAces, which I mentioned last week in my post on resources for tennis parenting. Yesterday the topic was cheating, which I've explored before, and Andy Brandi addresses in one of his past Coaches Q and A entries here.
Stone has also asked several coaches the best way to handle cheating, and got several different suggestions. I remember hearing a few years ago that legendary coach Robert Lansdorp thought the rampant cheating in junior tennis was driving players from the sport, and I can't say he's wrong.
In my experience, cheating is a problem, especially in the 12s and 14s, and I've no doubt this is related to what Patrick McEnroe calls "the professionalization of youth sports" in this country, a trend that pushes younger and younger children into the position of pursuing a "career." The pressure to win naturally builds as increasing amounts of time, travel, and money are devoted to the sport, and tennis, with its "code" of calling your opponent's shots, seems increasingly anachronistic. Of course, unlike golf, which demands this self-policing, integrity-first policy even at the highest professional level, tennis does not. It results in a bewildering contrast, as we ask children, who are still sorting out their emotions and becoming acquainted with ethics, to always do the right thing, while not requiring or even allowing it from professionals who are old enough to face such situations maturely.
David Benzel, the sports parenting expert I spoke with last week, marveled at the opportunity tennis provides for these life lessons in trust and integrity, in contrast to the team sports, which rely on adult authority figures to monitor the games and their rules. I agree, but I also understand why the problem is so difficult and will always be so.
And there's another important point, an additional life lesson to teach, one that is often brushed aside or minimized when talk turns to cheating: innocent until proven guilty. One college coach I know, who also had a long professional career, told me he had never intentionally called a ball incorrectly in his life, but knows he made mistakes.
To automatically presume that a player of a particular nationality or status will cheat is unfair, and to assume every missed call is an attempt to cheat is a sign you need to move to another sport. Bad calls happen, and your child will make them too, so make sure you have ample evidence and sample size before you begin counseling on how to deal with a cheater.
I also know that once a player gets that reputation, it's very hard to shake it, even if there is no longer any evidence to support it. Try to remember that it is possible the player in question has, gasp, grown up and matured.
Lately I've been getting quite a few comments, but some haven't been posted because they are coming through as "anonymous." This has been a long-standing problem for the comment system here at blogger, and in the past four years I've insisted on use of a name, any name, (url not required) in order to post a comment. This allows people to exchange comments; if there are many "anonymous" comments it is impossible to sort them out. If I have time I will occasionally post an anonymous comment with the first word or two from the post for the name, but this is very hit-and-miss and often depends the time of the day and my mood. So if you want to assure your comment is posted, at the very least click the "name" button and enter something or sign your comment at the end. Do not use the anonymous option unless you want me to be the only person reading it.