There is a dirty little secret in the cloistered world of competitive junior tennis: Cheating and gamesmanship are rampant—and nobody is doing anything about it.
For many children and parents, the first exposure to the junior tennis circuit can be a shock because junior tennis is one of the few sanctioned sports that has the kids referee their own matches and keep their own score.
Many parents report a traumatizing first tournament experience for their little champ—full of tears and frustration. It is a well-known fact in the industry that many kids play only one competitive tournament and never return to the circuit.
Interestingly, the United States has more than 10 times the number of high school team players as compared to competitive junior tournament players. Why such a high discrepancy? Because most of the nice kids play high school tennis where the environment is less cutthroat, and the cheating and gamesmanship are minimized.
On a Saturday or Sunday morning, you will not find kids on the soccer field keeping their own score, or players on the basketball court calling fouls. But in tennis, kids as young as eight-years-old do just that. Moreover, parents sit (or pace) helplessly on the sideline and are not allowed to intervene when there are disputes.
It’s true that most sanctioned tournaments have roving umpires or umpires whom players can request to assist in a dispute resolution, but by that time, it is often too late. Savvy players know how to manipulate the system and the referee, or they just resume cheating when the umpire leaves the court after a short time.
The big question is WHY? Why can’t the leaders of the sport in the ITF, USTA, UTR, and other sanctioning bodies put an end to cheating in junior tournaments once and for all?
Some in the business say it would cost too much money to provide the necessary supervision. Others say that kids calling their own lines and scores makes them more mentally tough and independent. “It’s just part of the game,” they insist; “Makes the kids stronger,” they assert.
Many say that the responsibility lies with the coaches and parents—not the governing bodies or tournament organizers—to teach better values to the kids so that they can resist the temptation to cheat. It is a societal problem, in their estimation—not a tennis problem. There is also a contingent of deniers who insist that cheating is not really a big deal, or not prevalent enough to warrant concern.
There are, however, many coaches in the tennis community who have become alarmed by the extent and intensity of the cheating, and they have advocated for change. Unfortunately, their cries have consistently, for decades, fallen on deaf ears. There seems to be just an incredible institutional inertia on this issue which stems from a culture of rationalizing and excuse-making.
It is time to stop cheating in junior tennis once and for all. All stakeholders in the game of tennis have a common goal: to increase the number of kids who love the sport. And very few kids and families want to participate in junior tennis that involves inherent cheating.
Tennis should be designed and sold as a product that the consumer will be eager to purchase! The institutional leaders and tournament organizers should meet and coordinate to offer a NO CHEATING GUARANTEE. The sport—and the kids—deserve this simple promise.
One exciting avenue in the future is that technology may offer the solution to this crisis. Companies like Accutennis and Playsight—and other pioneers—now offer computer scored matches and line calling video review if a dispute should arise. These types of technological innovations hold the power to change the landscape of competitive junior tennis and hold the promise to end cheating permanently, and hopefully that can happen within the next couple decades.
Chris Lewit, a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player, coaches in the New York City area and also runs a high-performance boarding summer camp in Southern Vermont. He specializes in training aspiring junior tournament players using progressive Spanish and European training methods. His best-selling book, Secrets of Spanish Tennis, has helped coaches and players worldwide learn how to train the Spanish way. He may be reached by phone at (914) 462-2912, e-mail ChrisLewit@gmail.com or visit ChrisLewit.com.