Taking a Note from Youth Soccer

Image courtesy of Fair Play Movement
Image courtesy of Fair Play Movement

The past two guest posts from Bill Patton about what we can do to put an end to gamesmanship and cheating in junior tennis have sparked some passionate discussion.

I’m at the beach this week with my extended family and was talking with my sister-in-law about my niece and nephew’s youth soccer experiences. They are 7 and 9, respectively, and are just embarking on the Youth Sports Journey.

Earlier in the day, I was kicking around a soccer ball with Max and Sadie, trying to get the ball away from the two of them without twisting an ankle on the powdery sand (note: soccer is NOT my best sport!). Their foot skills and quickness were pretty impressive. When I was talking with their mom about what soccer looks like at their ages, she was telling me about the technical development and tactical lessons they are now learning on the field. The conversation turned to the Women’s World Cup and my lack of knowledge of the rules of the game despite the fact that all three of my kids played at some point in their early years.

My sister-in-law told me that she was forced to learn and understand the rules when she started volunteering as an official at her kids’ games. That got me thinking . . .

What if USTA developed a weekend class – it could be in-person or web-based – for parents to learn the rules of tennis inside and out, become certified as court monitors, then serve on a volunteer basis as supplemental help to the tournament officials? Instead of getting paid, these parent monitors would receive entry fee credits for their children’s tournaments, helping to offset the expense of junior competition. Monitors would not be permitted to work matches in their own child’s age/gender division, but since most tournaments have multiple divisions, that shouldn’t pose a problem.

It seems there is agreement over the fact that all the on-court antics in junior tennis are hurting our sport and even causing some kids to leave it all together after only one or two tournaments. There have been several efforts by families to use social media to bring attention to the problem in hopes of curtailing it – take a look at the Fair Play Movement and Players Against Cheating – but I’m not sure what kind of impact they’re having so far.

I haven’t thought this all the way through but wanted to put it out there for input and discussion from those of you in the trenches, too. What do you think? Could this be a workable step toward reducing or even eliminating cheating and gamesmanship? Please comment in the space below.

15 thoughts on “Taking a Note from Youth Soccer

  1. Great idea! ALL players will miss calls. Anyone who has played the game or watched knows that. However, there are serial cheaters against whom an opponent has very little or no recourse. My son lost a finals in the boys 14s yesterday to a kid that kept cheating AFTER the ref was called. He was overruled three times while the ref was there! The ref at one point looked at the kid and told him to stop cheating. He told my son after the match he would have defaulted the kid if it had been a college match but he was not allowed to do so in a junior USTA match. It was also disconcerting to watch the ref thumb through the rule book looking up the rules on what he could do DURING this ordeal. Refs not having a clue is a topic for another time.

  2. Another thought….I would be very willing to volunteer as a monitor and I bet a substantial number of other parents would, too. This would be a relatively simple thing to implement. The difficulty would likely be getting the USTA to accept it. It’s their turf and they protect the fiefdom at all costs. Relentless pressure and persistence will be necessary to get some action.

  3. There are some changes in motion to improve the quality of officiating from the USTA. This includes court monitors. I like your idea about involving parents in this role!

  4. AGREE 100%! The worst cheating happens at the tournaments where there is 1 roaming official for 15 courts. The best experience we have ever had was recently at our Southern 10’s Championships in Nashville – the tournament director solicited volunteers to be court monitors. Some were local teen players, some were seniors who play tennis, but there was a warm body on every court. It was the first time ever that both of my kids have completed a tournament without dealing with a cheater.
    * My daughter was at a USTA camp in Atlanta recently and this was a huge topic of conversation at a parent meeting. What we were told: the only “record” USTA keeps to track official cheating is when a player makes 3 bad calls WITH AN OFFICIAL ON THE COURT and that is documented on the player’s record. Which rarely happens! But the USTA leaders at this meeting said that it comes down to each tournament director on how much money or effort they want to put into court monitors or volunteers. But of course, until USTA can make it a much higher standard of what they EXPECT tournament directors to do and they push for a big change, then nothing will change. Maybe tennis parents, coaches and the people who DO care can write up a proposal/petition of what we expect the minimum standards to be – that will probably have far more impact than expecting USTA to take action on this.

  5. I just read “gta34” comment above. Yes, another huge frustration is that we pray to have court monitors, but so many times the court monitor doesn’t know the USTA rules, doesn’t give a point deduction when needed, stands on the sidewalk (instead of the court) and when the player needs help the monitor says “I can’t see the ball from over here”, the opponent messes up the score and the monitor has no clue what the score is, and on and on and on. The key is to have court monitors who KNOW THE RULES, FOLLOW THE RULES and PAY ATTENTION to every point.

    1. There is a difference between officials and monitors, at least in the scenario I’m proposing. Tournaments would still have hired officials if my monitor idea is adopted. The volunteer monitors would simply serve as additional eyes on the matches to help ward off any problems. It goes without saying that both officials and monitors would need to have a thorough knowledge of the rules. 🙂

  6. For clubs with more money a great tool is Playsight. I think it is pretty expensive though, but very effective overall.

    1. Em, that would require the approval of using “instant replay” or something similar which doesn’t seem likely at the junior level. However, I do agree with you that Playsight is a great tool! 🙂

  7. Soccer is pretty big here in the NE and I have been a soccer ref ( I was required to ref a different age group). My first game was 5 year olds. Some of the kids had a hard part with the rules, but the real difficulty was the parents. Screaming all during the game, you would have thought it was World Cup, and not a bunch of kindergarteners. So, as an aside, parents seem to ruin all sports. I did it for the year, and didn’t volunteer again, although my son played for years.

    Based though on parents running our soccer league ( the number of refs was astounding), I did suggest a similar idea to my Sectional head and was told a flat out no. But, I should volunteer on a board. So, I think they might have heard this idea before, Lisa.

    The problem with cheating is not someone honestly making a bad call, it is the boy who intentionally cheats to win. And he is doing it at every close match.

    I have been at tournaments where my son has had to get the ref at least 3 times during a match, and the refs over ruled maybe 6-9 times collectively, and yet the kid never got written up as each ref didn’t know what the other ref had done!!!!!

    And I have been to tournaments, I can think of one in CT, where the ref wrote up a three kids.
    How did the kids act after they came back from a suspension period. Laughing, saying it was a vacation from tennis. NO REAL PENALTY, as nothing is on their record.

    However…… if a coach gets wind that you are a cheater, that is a kiss of death as they have no idea how good you are and if you are going to be a trouble maker on the team.

  8. As a college coach we have problems with very bad officials as well. I make sure that officials that do not know the rules, don’t pay attention etc. are not assigned to our matches again. They get paid a lot of money to not do a good job. It is amazing to me to travel to junior tournaments and see officials not paying attention, socializing together off court and worry more about their lunch break then their job. Tournament Directors need to do a better job of getting rid of bad, lazy officials. The best officiated junior tournament I go to is the main site of girls clay courts in Memphis where the officials are being critiqued by a supervisor. More reviews of officials at all levels should be done and the bad ones let go or forced to retrain.

  9. I once asked an official about a serial cheater, that was universally known by all refs and players as someone who was unable to complete a single game without a blatant cheat. My question was how someone with that reputation hadn’t been penalized in a substantial way. His answer was that the clock resets after every tournament, so that player may be defaulted out of the event, but would start with a clean slate at next weekend’s tourny, and on, ad infinitum.

    If officials tracked overrules and code infractions, and they accumulated toward a benchmark for suspension or revocation of USTA membership, that would have to impact the worst offenders, while not adversely affecting those who make honest mistakes.

    If you make two or three mistakes a year, you’d never approach the threshold for penalty. However, if you are caught making two or three bad calls a month, every month, there should be repercussions. For every overrule, there are 10 bad calls that the ref never sees, so if you suspend a player after 12 overrules in a year, they probably have really stolen 120 big points. At that volume, there’s no way it’s a “mistake”.

  10. I have had similar thoughts for years. I think it’s a great idea.

    Parent of 3 juniors and former collegiate tennis player.

  11. Lisa, any way you can communicate with the ** new higher ups at the USTA ***
    as the big tournaments are coming up and I am personally sick and tired of the refs:

    TEXTING during a match.

    Standing on the court, but they didn’t see the ball. Really? What are you watching then?

    Refs are at lunch. No one ever heard of staggering lunch?

    TD couldn’t hire enough refs…. Always hear that.

    Not imposing penalties on F–k, Jesus, throwing racquets, spiking balls, cheating.

    It is literally a disgrace at these tournaments, Clay Courts is usually terribly run in the boys 16’s and 18’s. Why are we paying $100 dollar tournament fees for a zoo atmosphere?
    Trust me, anyone I can tell, I tell them to stay away from boys tennis in the US.
    There is no upside to an organization that lines their own pockets and doesn’t fund juniors.

  12. Lisa, thanks for offering positive suggestions to help at tournaments. My daughter plays both local league soccer and USTA tennis tournaments, and the difference is night and day: there are refs at the soccer games but as you know none or few at the tennis tournaments. But I do love that our kids are being counted on to do the right thing, to call the balls fairly. That shouldn’t be a burden, it’s a good expectation to set: do the right thing. There will always be cheaters, but in a way the ABSENCE of refs is putting an extra responsibility on our kids – and I think responsibility is a great thing to teach!

    By the way, I had no idea how big your audience really is. By mentioning my Fair Play Movement (and showing the tshirt) in your post, our online traffic exploded! Unfortunately, we weren’t ready to take more orders for shirts. But we are now, and we’ve added some shirts. So I’d invite anyone to check them out at http://teespring.com/stores/for-the-love-of-fair-play

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