| By Steven Kaplan

The USTA rules against coaching during matches are unambiguous; it's not allowed except during breaks. Coaching is defined as: "Any communication between players and parents, coaches and spectators."

How widespread is this illegal practice? USTA.com writes in the "Improve Your Game " section, "Maria Sharapova gets coached every match, not just semis and finals. In fairness to her, MOST players receive illegal coaching during matches." I guess the USTA sees illegal coaching as a problem too and it starts at the top since it's in THE OPEN as well as in the open.

The Spanish newspaper El Paris asked Rafael Nadal about looking to the coaches box and Uncle Toni during the U.S. Open Final when he beat Novak Djokovic and he had this to say, "It was the last game, when I was serving for the match ... I didn't know where to serve. Down the center, to the middle or to try the classic play of the wide serve and then try to hit the forehand. They told me to serve wide and that's where I served."

Maybe Rafa was absent that day when the rules against coaching were discussed, but I doubt it. He knows the rules, and he doesn't even pretend to care.

One of the most important junior tournaments in the world The Eddie Herr Championships is being conducted now in Florida. This tournement, followed by The Orange Bowl, hosts the best junior players from all over the world. It seems like 30 different languages are actively spoken at these events by players, parents and coaches especially during matches. Illegal coaching is one of the defining experiences of attending these tournaments, and while it is against the rules, it is a common practice much the same as "stacking" lineups is a frequent practice in Suffolk County Girl's High School Tennis. There is nothing "flexible" in the rules of the USTA or Section XI that allows these violations to occur, the word "flexible" does not, in fact, appear in either rule.

In Section XI, for example, the rules state:

"4. Line-ups: Coaches must exchange lineups and matchbooks, showing previous lineups for inspection. Lineups must be in order of strength for both singles and doubles."

The problem with rules that are violated so many times that they no longer seem like rules, is that those who get away with it feel above the rules.

Steven Kaplan

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.