In all but the highest levels of professional tennis, for the most part, players keep the score and call the lines with no outside help. While most players perform this important task fairly and honorably, some competitors regrettably give in to temptation and cheat, because in the short run, cheating works and cheaters win.
One simple solution to the problem of cheating in junior tennis is to place a line judge on every court. Unfortunately, this is impractical because the expense would be prohibitive. Tournament entry fees would likely rise by 300 percent or more to cover the cost of referees who get paid for their services. You can cheat, but you shouldn’t and here is why … it will define you as a player and a person, and ultimately limit your opportunities to improve and progress both on and off the court.
If you cheat, you will be known to everyone as a cheater. It will make no difference to the tennis world that you are fiercely competitive, incredibly fit, remarkably dedicated and athletically gifted. These qualities will be ignored when your name comes up in conversation, as you will be simply known as that kid that “cheats” or “hooks.”
Perhaps your reputation is unimportant to you? Your reputation does matter to others, like college coaches for example, who seek players who will represent the team and school with honor, integrity and respect. Make no mistake about the extent to which your reputation for honesty is known to coaches, most check carefully and comprehensively.
As an honest player, you cannot completely stop others from cheating, but you can limit the extent and impact of those who would cheat you in the following ways:
►Be polite and courteous to your opponent immediately before the match begins as well as throughout play. It is human nature to treat others with respect when you are treated with respect. Cheaters will less likely cheat if you are nice.
►Question calls calmly, but firmly. Let your opponent know that you will not idly tolerate cheating and you will not be bullied, but do so without bullying them.
►If necessary, request a linesperson and ask for clarification on the rules they will use in calling lines. Sometimes, a linesperson call every line, and other times, they just overrule calls. Sometimes, they will only be involved if you ask for an overrule.
►Have a rule book (“A Friend at Court”) with you at all times and know the rules. While many players and tournament officials do not know the rules, it is hard to argue with the rule book.
►Keep score and call it out clearly on every point. Be careful to not get too excited about calling out a winning score with too much enthusiasm. Remember, it is more difficult for an opponent to cheat you if you demonstrate empathy for their feelings.
►Be wary of opponents who question calls that are obviously correct. This is a rationalization for cheaters to begin cheating. Most cheaters do not believe that they cheat, rather they see themselves as getting even by cheating back against those who are cheating them first. I have heard this called “reverse cheating” or “giveback cheating,” by parents, coaches and players. It is still CHEATING!
Sadly, behind most children who cheat are adults who impose enormous pressure on these young players to win at any cost. If you play a cheater, be compassionate and be grateful that you do not act as they do. Your reputation is far more important than the score or result of any match.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.