I know there are many people out there who don’t feel cheating is a problem in junior tennis . . . or at least they don’t feel it’s a widespread problem that needs to be discussed. I disagree, and since this is my website, I will continue to facilitate a discussion around what we can do to eliminate this added stressor on our young players.
The following letter was sent to me by the child’s mom who also gave me permission to print it here. I have removed the child’s name but have left the rest of the letter in its original form. Please note that the letter was sent to Martin Blackman, the new General Manager of USTA Player Development, and Martin did reply very quickly that USTA is working on this issue and change is coming. I was very pleased to hear that! However, cheating and gamesmanship are issues that likely come under the purview of the Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee rather than PD, so I’m hoping some of those committee members will see this letter and respond.
My name is Junior Tennis Player. I am 9 years old. I love tennis. I am pretty good at it. I am #1 in my state, #2 in the Southern section and TennisRecruiting says I’m top 20 for my age in the country. I just made it to the semifinals of a Level 1A U12 tournament. I am very happy about this. But I went home crying. I said to my mom “Why do I always have to play cheaters? When is it going to stop?” My mom said, “It probably will never stop”. So I told her I wanted to write USTA a letter. She said that was a smart idea. So here it is (my parents helped me put my words on paper):
- I play soccer. At every soccer game since I was 3 years old there has been a referee on the field. If someone fouled me, someone was there to give me a free kick. Sometimes the ref was a high school kid. It didn’t matter. Someone was there to keep the game fair. Why is someone (anyone!) not required to be on the court during junior tennis matches?
- This past weekend, I played a girl I have played before and knew she was a big cheater. Before my match, my mom and I told a court monitor what happened last time I played her and kindly asked of the monitor could stay close by. The court monitor overruled 2 of her calls in the first set and then walked away. After he walked away, the cheating got so bad I had to go get a different monitor. That monitor overruled 2 more bad calls and gave her 2 ball abuse warnings. (4 overruled calls by officials – and this girl got no code violation). I told the court monitor before I started the trouble I had with her in the past, then two court monitors see with this own two eyes her horrible behavior on the court YET EVERYBODY WALKED AWAY AND NOBODY DID ANYTHING ABOUT THIS GIRL. Even though I won the match, the feeling is so rotten with these cheaters I wish I could have just lost and been done with the tournament.
- Then two matches later I experience the very same thing with another girl. When the trouble started, there were no court monitors anywhere in sight. When a monitor finally came, she also overruled two of her calls, gave her a warning and then walked away.
- A friend of mine playing in this same tournament quit her match and left the tournament because the girl she was playing was cheating so badly. And when my friend left to get a court monitor the father of the opponent started yelling at my friend’s father.
- This tournament is no different than any other tournament I have played across 5 different states in the past 18 months. These situations have happened at almost every tournament I have ever played!
- My parents have told me that the reason kids aren’t given much help is to teach them life lessons. During any given match, I have to know how to set goals and strategy, how to fight back from being down, how to keep a positive attitude and not show emotions, how to be sportsmanlike and respectful, how to deal with the heat and the wind, how to have teamwork with my doubles partners – and how to handle losses. Is this not enough? My school doesn’t tolerate bullying and my parents would get fired if they cheated, lied or stole at work…yet you expect 9, 12, 14 and 16 year olds to have to take bullying, cheating and stealing on a tennis court?
- Someone told me recently that there are no monitors in junior tennis because it is a “gentlemen’s sport”. I am not a man. I am a child. My dad is a man. He and his USTA buddies should be “gentlemen” and ref their own matches. I should be supported and given a fair, clean match from now until I play in college.
- My younger brother also plays competitive tennis. I watched one of his matches the other day and he had a big cheater to deal with. It was so hard and sad to watch. He went to get help. After a few points the court monitor said to my brother “His ball calls are perfect. I don’t see what the problem is.” Seriously?? Of course they are perfect when you are there.
I need to know what USTA plans to do to about the horrible cheating in junior tennis. I have my own suggestions:
- Starting January 1, 2016 require tournament directors to have volunteers or officials for every court. I recently played in the Southern 10’s Closed Championship in Nashville and the tournament director had volunteers on every court for every match. This is the only tournament I have ever played where I didn’t have any problems with an opponent. The tournament was a LOT of fun!
- Put more money from tournament fees into hiring officials. I don’t need another tournament t-shirt.
- Remind the USTA officials to follow the rules, penalize the unsportsmanlike players and give support to the players who are playing fair. Do not walk away.
- Have harsher penalties for the cheaters. A player is overruled for 3 bad ball calls yet merely receive a code violation? How about after 2 overruled balls that player is sent home and all of their points/wins from that tournament are erased?
- Although my parents pay enough money for my tennis already, I am sure they would pay more in USTA member fees or tournament fees to know that money went to have monitors on every court.
I need an answer on what you plan to do. I want to play tennis for a long time, but I cannot (and will not) play under these circumstances for much longer. My friend’s older brother (who is #1 in the state) just quit tennis because he couldn’t handle the cheating any more. Do I need to quit also and give more of my time to soccer where children aren’t having to referee themselves and each other? I deserve an answer. So do the thousands of other children who play tennis. We need change. And I would like to be part of it.
Junior Tennis Player