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Cheating In Tennis Happens
How Should You Handle It?

By Annette Broersma, M.S.

Coaches spend a lot of time teaching forehands, backhands, strategy and footwork. Yet, in one of the only sports that expects players to officiate their own matches, what have they done to teach youngsters to handle the occasional, or chronic, bad call? Do juniors know the difference between a missed call, and a genuine 'hosing' by the opponent?

Not every bad call is deliberate

This is such a simple truth, yet so many juniors are scurrying and screaming for an umpire at the very first questionable (or even obvious) line call. ONE bad call is just that, and it should be pointed out to each player that they have likely NEVER played a match in which they have not themselves given a bad call.

The mind and eye are connected, and what one wishes to see is often what one will see. It should not occur to a player that the opponent is actually cheating until the third clearly (not maybe) missed call.

When the call was missed is more telling than how far in it was.There is an easily read pattern of bad line calls from a true cheater. The cheater will save the hook for important points: game point, or 30-all points are their favorites. The 30-all point allows them to enter their opponent's brain like a boll weevil so that he/she is thinking more about the bad call than the following point (which is a game-deciding point!). Either way, they steal games at these crucial times, because they know it is even more frustrating and fruitful than to take a 15-love point. End-of-sets or tiebreakers are always going to bring out the bad calls in a true cheater – so opponents should be ready.

Reality Self-Check

Since we all think our balls are in (because our mind wants to see them in). It is easy to become a cheater without knowing it. Players need to give themselves the check:

  • Is your player often being questioned by many of his/her opponents?
  • Are umpires being called on him/her more than once or twice a season?

If the answer is yes to either of these questions, it is likely they are the one with a problem.

Once you are SURE you are being cheated . . .

If the opponent gives you more than 3 bad calls in two sets, and particularly if they are at crucial points as described above, you are facing the issue of what to do about it. There are many, many choices.

Whine and scream at their opponent “Are you SURE?” Of course, have you ever seen someone reverse their call because of this tactic? More likely, it makes the non-cheating player look like a sissy who can't figure out what to do except to whine and scream; not pretty.

Give the opponent a retaliatory call to even things up. Many people feel that the very next point should be called out no matter where it lands, to send a message to the opponent about the previous call. First, this is against all codes of conduct expected from a tennis player (USTA or high school sportsmanship rules).

All you prove is that your player, too, can cheat. And if the opponent had taken a game point, then your player is taking back a love-love point and not really leveling the offense. Waiting until later will ensure that no one around will know that it was retaliatory, and they will certainly think the retaliator is a cheater if they happen to see this. Bad idea.

Hit the balls further in. This actually can work if one just doesn't let the issue burn a hole in their psyche. Cheaters rarely call balls that are 6 inches inside the line 'out' – and are only looking for something on or next to the line upon which to work their magic.

Clearly, if one is hitting the line they did not really aim the ball there, and probably have hit the ball out anyway; they just think it is in. Accept that a ball hit on the line or next to it is genuinely out, and the mind will be much more at peace. There is still plenty of court to play in, and the better player will still win.

Call the opponent up to the net and have a quick and quiet 'talk.' Again, this is only after 3 or more bad calls. Let the opponent know that their vision is off, and that a linesman may need to be called if they can’t work this out. One can even threaten to retaliate if they do it again.

Try to embarrass him or her into doing the right thing. It tends to make your player look like the Superior Human Being (that they are) and serves notice that the next incident will prompt a request for action.

And that action is:

Under complete control of their emotions, quietly and deliberately have your player put the racket down next to the fence and leave the court to seek a linesman or coach to help with the situation.

Surprisingly, this is not a great solution. Great cheaters know how to steal points even with the linesman there . They will consistently make bad calls on the far wide line where the umpire can not see it.

Remember that USTA linesmen are actually taught NOT to overrule anything close, so as not to create a dependency on the need for umpires. This means they are loath to overrule a call even if they know it is in. It has to be WAY in.

With high school players, the solution is often to put a teammate on each side of the court to verify calls. How is that going to help? Who would overrule their own teammate? And who would not overrule an opponent? It just doesn’t work, but it is an attempt to make everyone feel better.

The Final Call is up to the individual

Line calls are up to the individual. So is the decision on to how to handle a cheater. Tell the junior never let anyone off the court influence their perception of the line calls – spectators are just as prejudiced as the players (and spectators should, if they are honorable, keep their opinions to themselves).

Parents are the absolute worst judges of whether cheating is going on. Remember, parents thought their kids' diapers didn’t smell that bad. The solution to take in dealing with the cheater is also a personal decision that affects the player’s reputation, and integrity.

What is important is that the coach, player, and parents have this discussion about cheating off the court, so they will all know how it is going to be handled before the player is in the heat of battle.

Annette Broersma, M.S.

More Articles by Annette Broersma:

Is the College-Bound Athlete a 'Commodity' or 'Client'?

Related Articles by Chris Lewis:

Tennis Ethics

The "Ugly Parent Syndrome"

Have You Experienced Cheating In Tennis? If So, Please Share It With Readers

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What Other Visitors Have Said

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worst advice ever 
Really, accept that balls on the line are out? I don't think you have any business giving advice on this subject. Parents don't think their kids diapers …

Cheating in tennis 
In a tennis lesson, we did a sort of round robin game where no matter what the skill level was we had to play everyone. I was set up to play …

The integrity boy Not rated yet
I experienced cheating for the first time when I was 12. I was always honest in making my line calls and called it in when it was close to the line. I …

Mom Not rated yet
All of the time every tournament my son plays he is 9. We are not tennis players thought it would get better now playing u12 and it is worse. We have been …

My final match in a tournament Not rated yet
I played this girl, she cheated from the very first point. I knew she was cheating when i saw her line call on the third ball i hit. It was on the sideline …

California Parent Not rated yet
Good article. But in Orange County, CA best players are even more advanced. We have a boy in U12 who even won Little Mo International when 2 years ago. …

Umpire Needed Not rated yet
About 6 weeks ago, a tennis center opened in my town. I joined and went to the junior beginner clinics twice a week. My first match was great, but it was …

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