Parent Advocacy Revisited
I mentioned on our Facebook page a while back that I had spoken with Tim Russell, Chair of the USTA’s Junior Competition Committee, and that he shared some useful information with me. Two of the specific issues I addressed with him had to do with cheating in junior tournaments and the non-uniformity of junior tournament officials in terms of enforcing the rules. After speaking with Tim for almost an hour, I realized that it all comes down to, once again, parents being advocates for their children.
Tim Russell says that the USTA believes in “fair play.” Juniors are allowed to continue entering tournaments until point penalties keep them out. In order for a player to be penalized for cheating, the officials on duty must write him or her up for a code violation. The problem is, according to Mr. Russell, that some officials simply aren’t doing their job. Therefore, we parents have to make sure we teach our own children the proper steps to take when facing repetitive bad calls from their opponent. First, the child should ask, “Are you sure?” But, we all know that a player who is intentionally making bad calls rarely (if ever) changes their call when gently confronted by the other player. So, the next step is for the child to ask for an on-court official. Again, we all know that doesn’t always go as planned either. The offending player stops making questionable calls when an official is standing on the court, and the official then leaves because play appears to be fair. Of course, as soon as the official leaves, the bad calls come back with a vengeance. So, what’s next?
Here’s where we parent advocates come into play. I have been told by several officials and tournament directors that they *know* which players are notorious for bad behavior and bad calls, and that they try to keep a close watch on those players. But, I have seen plenty of bad behavior and bad calls overlooked by officials who are standing right there. Why? Favoritism? Politics? Laziness?
Tim Russell says we parents have to step in and report specific officiating lapses and inconsistencies to our section heads, preferably in writing. We need to provide the names of the offending officials, and then we need to insist that our section heads mandate that the tournament directors (TD) tell the officials, “We want you to do your job!” We need to pay attention to which TDs properly monitor their officials and which do not. We can then “put our money where our mouth is” by supporting those TDs who provide consistent rule enforcement for our children. Hopefully, TDs and officials will get the message loud and clear when tournament entries are affected.
But, change is going to be slow, so we parents must be patient and diligent and consistent in our efforts. Yes, it’s a pain in the neck to call or write our USTA leadership after each cheating or officiating problem, but if we don’t speak out and hold those in charge accountable, nothing will change, and the cheating and rule-enforcement inconsistencies will continue unchecked. Consider this another life-lesson that your child will learn from playing tennis – use your voice to advocate for those who are voiceless.