Improve your street smarts
  | By Chris Lewit
Photo courtesy of Getty Images


Many people don’t realize that tennis is a brutal game of psychological warfare. Far from the country club, genteel reputation of the sport, real competitive tennis is full of legal and illegal psychological manipulation and outright cheating.

Why is this so?  Three main reasons:

The tennis rules

The rules of the game are actually anachronistic with many grey areas that allow a manipulative person to take advantage of situations in a match.

For example, tennis is one of the only sports that allow tournament competitors to call their own scores, lines, and arbitrate rules on their own. This should never be allowed in serious high stakes tournaments.  It is too tempting for players to call close balls out or cheat in other ways.

Another example is that, in the rules of tennis, players keep their own score, and if the score cannot be agreed upon, players must return to the last mutually agreed upon score. This rule has caused legions of unscrupulous players to manipulate scores in their favor.

There are many other rules—too many to list here—that allow for cheating and manipulation as well. 

Scoring system

Tennis has a relatively unique scoring system, which overweighs certain points over others, giving cheaters more incentive to cheat on those big points.  Rather than keeping score to time or a simple total of points, tennis has inflection points in the scoring which carry great weight, such as game points and set points.  It is in fact possible to win more total points yet still lose a tennis match, which is very rare in sports indeed. Cheaters are savvy and they know to try and cheat on the big points to maximize the reward from their dirty deeds.

Time aspects

Tennis has A LOT of downtime. In between shots, points, sets, and changeovers—all those moments of time add up to major opportunities for devious players to employ psychological manipulation and cheating.

Sports that have shorter and fewer breaks in time, and less total time to complete a match, are inherently more resistant to determined foul play. That is not to say other sports are free from these dirty deeds.  They certainly are not, but tennis offers more opportunities for cheating and manipulation.

Many kids don’t realize any of this at all. They are just hitting balls. Clueless.  “Let’s go play a tournament and have fun!”  Naive.  I teach my students not to cheat, but I want them to be street smart and prepared for any traps their rivals may set for them.

With that goal in mind, here are the top 20 most common dirty tricks that I have seen over the years on the junior, college, and pro circuits:

Top 20 Dirty Tricks

1.  Calling balls out that are close to the line

2.  Playing out balls as in. Then arguing about it

3.  Arguing about anything

4.  Calling or creating false lets

5.  Calling false serve lets

6.  Changing the score

7.  Talking to the opponent—about anything.  Watch out for small talk or compliments

8.  Bathroom breaks

9.  Stalling or speeding up play

10.  Illegal coaching

11.  Drop shot and lob

12.  Moonballs

13.  Grunting

14.  Making noise during the point

15.  Bouncing around on return of serve. Squeaking feet as a distraction

16.  Cheering or celebrating loudly

17.  Insults

18.  Intimidation

19.  Bouncing the ball many times before serving

20. Asking the score repeatedly

This list is a great place to start when helping yourself or your player(s) become less naive and more street smart. A dirty tricks player might take this list and look for strategies to improve his or her manipulation. That would be shame, but at least the most common dirty tricks that I have seen on the junior, college, and pro circuit are on display here for all well-intentioned players to learn about and guard against on match day.

Are there any dirty tricks that I have missed?  Write me at to let me know!

I explore these top 20 dirty tricks in detail on my live show and podcast, The Prodigy Maker Show. Check it out for more in depth discussion.

Good luck amigos!


Chris Lewit is a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player. He is a high-performance coach, educator, and the author of two best-selling books: The Secrets of Spanish Tennis and The Tennis Technique Bible. He has coached numerous top 10 nationally-ranked players and is known for his expertise in building the foundations of young prodigies. Chris is currently working towards an advanced degree in Kinesiology/Exercise Science with a focus on Biomechanics. Chris coaches in NYC and year-round at his high performance tennis academy in Manchester, VT, where players can live and train the Spanish Way full-time or short-term. He may be reached by phone at (914) 462-2912, e-mail or visit