Why Does Junior Tennis Prohibit Coaching?


Photo courtesy of https://srfalcons.org/

Tennis Parent Mike Frank emailed me the following thoughts and gave me permission to share them with you. He raises some great points about coaching and junior tennis, many of which have been discussed in the past but which warrant revisiting in the new year. Please feel free to add your 2 cents in the Comments section below.

The majority of competitive juniors will play high school tennis and some will play tennis in college. Very few will play professionally. So why do the organizers of junior tennis events use a rule for professionals that prohibits coaching during match play?

College tennis allows coaching (page 20): http://www.itatennis.com/Assets/ITA+Rulebook+2017-18-2017-09-19.pdf

New Jersey high school tennis allows coaching (on changeovers, page 4, section 10-4): http://www.njsiaa.org/sites/default/files/document/2016-2017%20B%26G%20Tennis%20Rules%20%26%20Regs.pdf

The USTA is the only sporting organization that does not allow coaching during junior competitions. It has serious ramifications for player development and enjoyment of the sport.

Coaching is a critical component of any learning process. Coaching does happen in tennis, unfortunately it happens all at once at the end of a match. It involves a parent or coach opening the fire hose of compliments and criticism. You’re driving home, you’re tired, you’re hungry and neither the coach nor the player remembers half of the details of the match (oh, and video recording is prohibited also). By that time, all opportunities for learning are long gone. It would be much more efficient for a player to receive it in real time. Just like every other youth sport and high school and college tennis.

A perfect example presented itself just yesterday. I witnessed a UTR event where a 12-year-old girl was matched up against a 16-year-old boy. UTR events, as many know, are designed to make matches extremely competitive. Unfortunately, the organization holding the UTR event defaulted to USTA rules that don’t allow coaching. UTR actually allows for coaching during match play in various formats. The manner in which coaches may communicate with players is left to the discretion of the organization holding the event.

True to UTR form, the 16-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl were evenly matched in every aspect, except for one. The boy served like a man. She had no answer. He hit ace after ace. She whiffed. She hit off the frame of her racquet. She got beamed. She couldn’t even see if the serves were in or out they were coming at her so fast. The entire time, she hugged the baseline as she would successfully against any 12-year-old. She became frustrated to the point where it was no longer fun. The match wound up being very lopsided.

All someone needed to do was to tell her to “move back.” She’d be back in the match. It would be more competitive and enjoyable for both players. Instead, she would have to wait until the END of the match to hear her mother tell her “move back.” Those 2 seconds of advice would have saved 3 hours of driving (to and from for both players and parents), 3 hours of tennis and $70, plus money for gas and food.

A perfect opportunity to learn flushed down the drain because we think kids need the same rules as professionals.

Basketball, soccer, hockey, football, baseball and especially in individual sports like track, wrestling, swimming and golf all have coaches or parents guiding athletes during competition. There’s a wide range of etiquette, depending on the sport of course. Wrestling coaches scream almost constantly two feet from the mat, even while multiple matches are taking place. Golf coaches (caddies) whisper advice only when other competitors are not playing a shot. Tennis coaching has its own set of etiquette and it doesn’t mean that kids are “just figuring it out.”

Allowing coaching also solves the cheating problem. Every competitive activity ever created has checks and balances that identify and punish cheating. That’s why people don’t do it. If you cheat, you get caught and you’re punished. That’s it. Lesson learned. Do we really expect kids to “just figure it out?”

14 thoughts on “Why Does Junior Tennis Prohibit Coaching?

  1. Great to have a fellow parent ask a sensible question. The fact is that the system that we have in the USTA needs a fix, not enough parents and coaches participate in the dialogue to fix the system. You are 100% correct in the sense that we should have some tournaments with the 100 year old format and others with a new (adjusted to reality format). The issue in my opinion is that the USTA fails to understand how to serve a customer and fails to see us as one. There are too many layers of decision making that unable the organization to listen to parents and other voices. Of course coaching should be allowed especially since we all know it is so unlikely that any of the kids will ever be a money making pro. We make the system harder on ourselves and our kids and that has a consequence which is low participation.

    1. This if very frustrating for me. I have been coaching volleyball to players of all ages for 20 years now. I would NEVER expect newcomers to the game to “figure it out”. It is very hard for me to watch my 9 year old son struggle during tennis matches. A lot of the times young players need simple reminders that their little brains can’t think through because they think of only the point. This causes frustration and nerves. Who needs to be bombarded with emails and letters to make a very needed change?

  2. A 12-year-old girl who is evenly matched in every way but one with a 16-year-old boy yet can’t figure out on her own to “move back” against the big serve has bigger problems than on-court coaching. The fact that she couldn’t figure this out on her own indicates this was also a mental mis-match, and the match should not have taken place.

    I am 100% opposed to on-court coaching, and this includes in high school, college, and the pros. One of the beautiful things about junior tennis is the way that players learn to problem-solve during a match.

    I’ve seen so many players shut their parents down during a match for coaching. I’ve seen Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ husband nearly get tossed from 2015 Winternationals in Tempe for coaching. I’ve seen parents and coaches and players who speak better English than me suddenly revert to Russian (and it is always Russian) once the match starts.

    No coaching!

  3. As a parentcoach I have multiple times advocate for coaching in tennis (youth and adults). The arguments in this article are all not relevant except that the speed of development of the player will be enhanced by coaching and everybody in every sport/discipline has the right to the best education possible.

    Wether that they will probably not become professionals isn’t relevant, like it isn’t relevant in other sports.
    The cheating problem will not be solved by coaching but that is also not relevant and is a task of the players or the acting umpire.

    The argument that I hear the most for not being in favour of coaching is that only the rich players can afford a coach and they would gain another advantage over the players without a coach. Altough this seem true when you hear that, in the reality it is not, IMO.

    First in the beginning (5y-10y) all the players of all levels have their parents, grandparents, uncle, aunt, schoolteacher, local clubcoach to help, to encourage, to coach. Rich or not so rich the 99% of the tennispopulation. After this the roadmap of the normal mortals and the high perfomance players take his own path.

    The 1% (and later on, 0,0001 %) high performance youth will all have a coach that will be on lots of tournaments to coach and to develope their players. If these kids want to have a shot to the top they need a coach and they better have the money to spend, thus no advantage for any player.

    To close my argument, again every athlete/player has the right to the best education/training possible, why not a tennisplayer?

  4. Very well put article. I am on the side of coaching during matches. From a cometitive top junior this could have saved me from some not so good occurrences on the tennis court.’

  5. To continue my thoughts … here are problems in junior tennis that are more important than the absence of on-court coaching:

    – Greedy tournament directors who don’t cap the draw sizes at a reasonable limit (with a special place in h**l for those who let in players after the deadline). [My daughter just played in a tournament that required 8 matches in two days.]
    – Cheating, and it’s corollary, tournaments that don’t have enough officials. [My daughter just played in a USTA tournament that had no officials – none. You might be thinking that the entry fee, instead of paying for officials, paid for cool swag. Nope, nothing.]
    – 8:00 a.m. matches (typically caused by the first item above) … get up at 5:00 a.m. … get ready for your day … get a warm-up (if you can find one at that hour of the morning) … drive 45 miles to the tournament site … yeah, that really promotes good tennis.
    – Players who “play up” when they aren’t ready. That 0&0 beat-down my kid just gave your kid didn’t help either kid. I’ll bet there is good data that indicates players who get thrashed are more likely to quit the sport than those who pay their dues in their age group.

  6. The USPTA allows coaching. It doesn’t really change who wins. I feel like the kids should learn how to problem solve on the court themselves. My husband was an ATP pro and feels the same. Allowing parents to coach just empowers the crazy parents and makes their kids more dependent on them. Part of winning is having internal strength and a kid doesn’t get that from a parent who controls their every move.
    We feel like the biggest issue in junior tennis is the cheating, and the fact the kids do it so often with total impunity. The USTA doesn’t want to deal with cheating. They’d rather punish the kid who hit a ball into the fence because he’s so mad he’s getting cheated. The invested and emotional kids come up short against the cunning cheaters. This doesn’t benefit the game of tennis.

  7. I think in tennis, traditionally team competitions such as junior Davis Cup, collegiate tennis and Davis Cup have allowed coaching. The individual formats such as regular junior and professional events have not allowed it. Although now the WTA allows coaches to come on court a few times during a match. I suppose we need to ask ourselves “what problem are we trying to solve” with this rule change? The original post seems to suggest that by allowing coaching on the court, we would be helping to make the match more even and therefore more worthwhile of everyone’s time and investment to play the tournament. Personally I don’t agree with this perspective and not sure that the rule change should be made to address this specific issue. To me, tournaments provide a platform for players to perform and certain players and teams look deeper and use them as a way to take away a few lessons to work on and improve. To me the more relevant issue or problem is, are players learning from matches in a positive and constructive way and would coaching help in this aspect or solve the problem of overly competitive environments that are unhealthy for the development of junior players? If yes, we should have a serious discussion and start with a few pilots to test the benefits of on-court coaching out.

  8. Has anyone been to a 10 and under or 12 and under L2 tournament? Tell me those kids don’t need coaching. Most of those kids play other sports besides tennis and tournaments are a new experience for them. If the kids goes a whole match doing something blatantly wrong, do you think that’s going to be a positive experience?
    Why is coaching allowed in every other sport?

  9. Hi Tracey,

    Good questions. I think there are a few fundamental questions that precede the ones you raise such as, when is the right time in a player’s development to introduce them to tournaments? From my experience, this question is not considered enough. For example, I’ve seen players who are unable to rally 5 shots in a row or place a serve in the box, signing up for tournaments and expecting results.

    Secondly, the positive or negative experience to me is a matter of perspective. I encourage my players to make a shift from a results-focused mindset to a process-mindset where matches are opportunities for them to perform and for us to learn from and adjust training if needed. This perspective helped me grow as a player and I feel it’s valuable for my players to develop from a young age.

    Regarding the comparison of tennis to other sports, I feel that every sport has its nuances and culture. The fact that other sports allow coaching, isn’t by itself reason for tennis to include on-court coaching.

    Lastly, if a player is making a mistake in a match, it may be that they have not developed the requisite skills. The answer here is not on-court coaching, but more time on the practice court working on the specific skill.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts and for introducing this important topic as it relates to player development and match play.


  10. Thank you Harsh for providing a coach’s opinion on “Parenting” Aces. I’m still confused as to why coaching is allowed in college tennis. Aren’t our kids competing for UTR status with those same college players who have the benefit of coaching during matches?

  11. Thanks Tracey. I’ll begin with a response to your 1st question. I feel that on-court coaching fits well within the U.S. college system which is a team environment with well defined roles. Each team generally has 1 or 2 coaches who are the only ones allowed on the court. The junior tennis system and environment is quiet a bit different.

    To your 2nd question, it is a matter of perspective and I feel the comparison and potential advantage of on-court coaching in college vs junior tennis is a peripheral issue from a player development standpoint. My experience has led me to a deep focus on skills development. The programs we support too focus on the process which includes clear goals, high quality training plans, and excellent communication and feedback to help players progress. I’m happy to discuss the benefits of this approach in more depth.


  12. On court coaching would put many players at unfair disadvantage! Only a handful players (or their parents) can afford to bring coaches to watch tournament matches. Some other young players are lucky enough to have tennis playing parents who can coach them during tournament. But some like my daughter who are the first generation of tennis players in their families would definitely suffer when her opponent received coaching on court. That would really upset and discourage them! We are from a small town and 99% of tournaments 100+ miles away, we have enough expenses for our travel and accommodation, cannot bring the coach with us.

    You cannot compare junior tennis to collegiate or even high school or team sports when all players have coaches traveling with them and all players are in a similar position.

    Kids can play practice matches where coaching is not just allowed but highly recommended. Play practice matches, get coached but be on your own on the tournament!

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