Explore the Junior Tennis Champions Center's high performance program by clicking on the banner above

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Coach's Q and A: How Do I Know if I Should Retire in a Match?

Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida provides some insight into the delicate question of player retirements in this installment of Coach's Q and A.

Today's question: Retirements seem to be on the rise in pro tennis. How does a junior coach or parent know when their player should consider retiring from a match? How do you balance the health and safety issue with the desire to be seen as a tough competitor?

Tom Downs, director of coaching at the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute, responds:

Health and safety are of paramount importance for young tennis players. We think that it is important for players and parents to be clear about the risk/reward ratio for playing in situations which might cause long term damage to a players career.

Rarely do professional or elite junior players play matches where their bodies are 100%. That said, there is a big difference between playing or continuing a match where a player has obviously seriously injured a part of their body and continuing to may cause long term damage, and playing with a minor injury such as a blister, minor ankle sprain, or strained muscle.

There have been too many examples of professional players being determined to try and gut out a victory with an injury, when by continuing to play with that injury, they have actually put their careers in jeopardy. We believe that when a trainer tells a player that they are at risk of further injury or aggravating an injury, they should stop.

It is important to recognize how many players also try to come back too soon from injuries and once again put their careers in jeopardy. It is our belief that you always err on the side of caution. It is easy to get caught up in the moment of an important match or tournament but it is necessary to be able to keep everything in perspective and make sure that decisions regarding a player's health and well being are oriented toward the long term.

Harold Solomon adds:
Of course players are always dealing with minor injuries, most of which are not going to have long term effects on a player's career if they continue to play on. There is a fine line between a legitimate match-ending injury and one that is nagging, and it is important that players not use those nagging injuries as a back door to stop competing in a match. I never remember retiring during a match. I always wanted to respect my opponent and let them have a real victory rather then a default. I hate when I see players retiring being down 5-2 or 5-0 in the last set. Unless you are in serious physical trouble you always should have the character to finish out the match and walk always with your head held high.

Do you have a question for Tom or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coach's Q and A in the subject line.


interesting said...

This is a very interesting topic, particularly in light of the fact that the two competing ranking/rating systems (USTA & Tennis Recruiting) treat a loss from a withdrawn match differently: if you are in a draw and withdraw due to injury without playing the match at all, Tennis Recruiting will not count this against you as a loss (and I have witnessed one top junior girl in particular play this system intentionally and simply not play backdraw matches, and retain her Blue Chip status), but the USTA will not only count it as a loss, but you will get penalty points unless you can provide a doctor's note prior to the end of the tourney (and if you're a parent who's had this happen, you know that this is usually not a problem unless you happen to have traveled away for the tournament, your child is hurt & unable to play, and your doctor is away or cannot see you prior to the end of the tournament --- the ER room, at a high cost, is your only option! now you're out the flight/travel money to get to the tourney, maybe the hotel, the tournament entry fee, and $150 ER visit. and we wonder why tennis is not a growing sport among families??).

If you start a match, and have to retire due to an injury, Tennis Recruiting does hold this against you as a loss on your record, as does the USTA of course. I have a child who stubbornly attempted to fight through an entire year of match play despite a very painful sciatic/ back injury that would calm & flare randomly --- which brings up another point not discussed, which is how a parent can KNOW their child should not play (particularly before the tournament's entry deadline!), when the child insists the pain is absent now (and is a player who actually IS a tough competitor & thrives on it, not just one wanting to "look" like one!) and the doctors give you watery, conflicting advice regarding whether they can/should play or not ... and then they attempt to play and the injury recurs one or two matches into the tournament. Just as it is with bad drivers driving up insurance rates (so that good drivers pay the price), the players who manipulate the system and/or pull out of matches/retire to save face rather than out of actual pain have caused the rest of the players (and their parents) to pay the price in the form of penalty points, physician/ER costs, losses against their records which affect their rankings, etc. Of course, there is probably no other way to handle all of this as there has to be a winner and a loser and it is not the fault of the healthy player that their opponent withdrew with an injury (and it is logistically difficult to verify, on site, if someone is faking an injury or not), but there are multiple issues and complications in the system and it's good to look at all sides. I do believe that, when you have a child with a valid injury and your child is put in the position of defending themselves and loses rankings and ratings as a result, team sports start to look a lot better ....