Tennis On-Court Coaching

Should It Be Allowed?

Permitting tennis on-court coaching is currently the subject of much debate. Tennis has been affected by many changes to the rules over the years.

The most significant ones are:

  • Allowing the server to jump into the serve

  • The restrictions governing what tennis equipment is permissible

  • The introduction of the tie-breaker scoring system

The two changes first mentioned have been very good for the game, but I've always had reservations about the tie-breaker scoring system.

As a player, I find that jumping into the service, as opposed to keeping one foot on the ground, is a far more natural tendency, and therefore should be allowed.

Also, it's virtually impossible to determine if one or both of the server's feet have remained on the ground as the ball is struck. The rule change has eliminated all argument.

In the main, all the rule changes placing restrictions on equipment have been excellent. In particular, the rule forbidding certain types of racket stringing patterns is one that met with almost unanimous player acceptance.

For a time in the late 1970's, you could play with stringing patterns that made it possible to impart so much topspin on the ball that you could get it to hop over the back fence on the first bounce, almost as if you were playing with a superball. This effectively reduced the game to an absurdity. Banning such stringing patterns was obviously a good thing.

Regarding tie-breakers, I would prefer if all sets had remained advantage (as are the fifth sets at Wimbledon). Without question, advantage sets are more demanding, both mentally and physically, than tie-breakers, which is why I like them.

However, I can appreciate some players preference for tie-breakers, particularly those who have big serves and those who tend to tire easily. I also appreciate that tie-breakers are better suited to meet television requirements.

Over the years, and more so recently, there has been much talk about changing the rules to slow the game down. Another issue that often comes up is whether to allow tennis on-court coaching during changes of end.

In fact, the ATP Tour, one of the game's three governing bodies, has decided to allow a limited amount of tennis on-court coaching, on a trial basis only, at some major professional events on the men's tour this year*.

This is an appalling development. One of the greatest appeals of tennis is that it demands from players the ability to think quickly when under pressure. Relying on someone else to do that thinking flies right in the face of what an individual sport demands, or should demand, from every player.

Tennis on-court coaching strikes at the heart of what tennis is all about. While it may be a very popular idea with coaches, as it presents all sorts of profile-lifting opportunities for them, I cannot imagine any intelligent player supporting a move like tennis on-court coaching that negates, to any extent whatsoever, a superior ability to out-think an opponent.

That is exactly the point -- the beauty of the game is that you are completely alone out on court, facing a player who is equally alone (which is why it is called "singles").

In order to preserve the appeal that tennis has to independent thinkers and to the very integrity of the game, that aspect of the game should remain sacrosanct.

Of course, in a team situation such as Davis Cup, it is absolutely appropriate to have input from a coach or captain who is every bit a part of the team as the players. But it is absolutely inappropriate to allow tennis on-court coaching during individual tournament play.

After the three month trial period, I sincerely hope the ATP Tour decides against continuing something that never should have been allowed in the first place.

Chris Lewis (16 May, 1998)

* After the three month trial period, during which players were almost united in their disapproval of tennis on-court coaching, the ATP Tour wisely scrapped the idea.

(Please feel free to publish this article on your own website, as long as you provide a link back to and give credit to the author.)

Other Articles by Chris Lewis:

Sorry Pete, But That's No Sacrifice

Are Tennis Champions Born? Or Made?

Wimbledon Center Court: What An Experience

A Tribute to Maria Montessori -- An Article on Child Education


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