How Can The SCTA Promote Better Sportsmanship At Its Junior Tournaments?

Rallying With The Executive Director

Bruce HuntThe Southern California Tennis Association wants each match played at its Junior tournaments to be about fair play, high quality competition, skills development, and friendships that last a lifetime.  There is a minority of players and parents that don’t live up to these expectations because of their behavior on and off the court.  These individuals spoil it for the rest of the players and parents who follow the rules.  How do we fix that?

First, if we had more certified officials available to work matches that would provide a strong adult presence on court to deter inappropriate behavior at those critical moments during a match.  If you would like to become a certified official, please call me at the SCTA office, 310.208.3838, so that I can connect you to the SCTA Officials Committee to begin the process.

Next, a court monitor program using older teens and adults could compliment the work of the officials and provide the on court guidance needed for some matches until an official is available.  The SCTA Junior Competition Committee and staff members are determining what a court monitor program would look like and how it could work.  If you would like to become a court monitor, please call Trevor Kronemann, Director of Junior Tennis, at the same number as above so that he can connect you to the right person.

Also, educating and training players and parents about the rules and expectations during tournaments is a vital undertaking for the SCTA and Trevor has made improving sportsmanship one of his most important goals during 2016.  He has already held several Town Hall meetings in Southern California to meet with players, parents and coaches about the 2016 Tournament Schedule.  Please look for a meeting in your area soon.

Finally, the Sportsmanship and Grievance Committee (SGC) supports the officials and tournament directors who enforce the rules and regulations governing fair play and competition in SoCal.  The SGC makes decisions regarding disciplinary complaints filed against a player or parent.  There are consequences for actions that violate The Code, ITF Rules of Tennis and USTA Regulations contained in Friend at Court.  If you would like a copy of Friend at Court (FAC), start with this website or call the SCTA office to purchase a copy.  https://www.usta.com/Improve-Your-Game/Rules/

These are the ways that the SCTA will use to improve sportsmanship.  Please let us know if they are working.  You may comment when you take the survey that we send after play is complete to all competitors who enter a junior tournament.  We have recently changed the survey so that you no longer need to provide your name and USTA number when you respond to the survey.  Thanks for your help and support to make sportsmanship better at Southern California junior tournaments.

Bruce A. Hunt
Executive Director – Southern California Tennis Association

 

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23 Responses

  1. Bruce,

    It’s nice to see that you are addressing the player/spectator sportsmanship issue that is affecting competitive tennis in southern California. However, it appears that support from tennis professionals, tournament directors, players and parents is far from where it needs to be in order to truly make a difference with this “fix”.

    After recently attending one of your town hall meetings in Santa Barbara, the lack of attendance from local tennis professionals was very telling. Even worse, the club that hosted the meeting did not have any of their numerous tennis professionals in the room to take part in the discussion. That’s not good either.

    While there was a lot of discussion about points chasing and how points are important and open other doors for higher ranked players, kids playing too many matches week after week, the draw process needing to be changed, the use of UTR for seeds and draws…the fundamental elements of what goes into coordinating and executing a fair and well run event remain a problem for all involved. Without some checks and balances in place and a more proactive approach from people in your office regarding upcoming tournaments at all levels, things are not going to improve.

    For example, if a tournament director is unable to have the appropriate ratio of officials in place for a USTA sanctioned tournament seven days before the event, cancel the tournament. There really aren’t that many events from week to week and I am sure someone in your office could be assigned to this task to contact and document this for all involved. Week after week and tournament after tournament there is rarely information found on the home page of a tournament on tennislink that has the referee’s information. Someone must have thought it was important enough to add it when the template was created but it’s often worthless. In addition, the same person could review the tournament director’s check-list at the same time to provide an added sense of urgency to make sure those things on the list come to life for players and spectators.

    I was just at a tournament in which a parent told a group of other parents about a really proactive, day-of approach to spectator behavior. It had to do with registering spectators with the junior players on each day of competition. Part of this registration process included the spectator being provided a list of “spectator expectations” and the potential consequences to both player and spectator if not followed accordingly. The players were held accountable by indicating who was with them for that day and required them to fill out a form and return it to the registration desk before the player could begin play. The form required a printed name, phone number, e-mail address and then a signature. If there was a problem, the paper trail was pretty easy to follow and administering discipline just became really easy. With a little time/thought/customization, this might be worth pilot effort in a few events to see how it goes. I am sure there would be resistance at first but it would definitely send a message that you are serious about addressing behavior at all levels.

    It would be very interesting to get some feedback from specific focus groups to see if concerns and issues are the same from players (age specific), parents (age specific), tournament directors and officials. There is a disconnect somewhere and you need to find the root cause before you can really address this problem.

    Things must be done differently in order to reasonably expect a different result. The “win at all costs” mentality that is around junior tennis in southern California won’t go away any time soon but you and your organization can make a difference with more “seeking to understand” and creating “buy-in” from all involved before plowing forward with another new person in a role and they have it all figured out.

    This brings up a fundamental problem with the USTA’s approach to junior tennis, sanctioning of events and the lack of consistency from section to section. I know exactly what I am going to get when I go to In-N-Out whether it’s in Irvine or Westwood. Should it be any different for kids who play competitive tennis in southern California or Florida? One of the parents in the room at the town hall in Santa Barbara shared her personal experiences throughout her son’s junior tennis career which was eye-opening to say the least.

    Somewhere along the evolution of junior tennis, people in decision making roles at the USTA (and other sections) seem to have forgotten that these are children. At 9 or 10 years old, should it really be their job to know every rule/aspect found in the Friend at Court? Oh, and if we move from southern California to northern California things might be different? Really? But if we move to Texas, Florida, Nevada – get ready because it will be exponentially different. Does that make any sense at all???

    I urge you to use a quality approach to both evaluating your challenges and ultimately generating and selecting a course of action. If not, I do not believe you will truly improve things for the children this most affects. If you take care of the children and the parents, the game of tennis has a very bright future.

    I hope this note is received in the spirit in which it is being sent. Players/parents/spectators/tennis professionals/officials should all be part of the solution moving forward.

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    • Mike,

      I am copying your comments below and responding to your questions above your comments to continue the discussion. I’ll use P to refer to the paragraphs of your message and P1 and P2… to refer to paragraph one and two, etc. I’ve included Trevor Kronemann, the staff Director of Junior Tennis, and Barry Friedman, the volunteer Chair of the Junior Competition Committee (JCC), and Eric Peus, the volunteer Vice-chair of JCC, on my response.

      P1 and P2: You mention the lack of turnout of teaching pros, tournament directors (TDs), players and parents at the town hall meeting in Santa Barbara. It is discouraging to see the low turnout. How would you generate a higher turnout? It could be that people are not used to the SCTA coming out to see them since the town hall meetings is a fairly new effort on our part having started in 2014. The teaching pros are not certified by the USTA or SCTA and are an independent group. The tennis facilities and clubs are similarly independent from the USTA and SCTA.

      P3: The SCTA surveys the participants of each junior tournament and the Junior Tennis (JT) staff and the members of the JCC review the results to determine if actions need to be taken regarding specific tournaments. What other checks and balances and proactive approaches do you think are needed?

      P4: We’ll monitor the tournament websites about the lack of information regarding the referee’s information and the TDs checklist. Improving the quality control of the tournaments is a key initiative for the JCC and our JT staff.

      P5: The proactive day-of approach to spectator behavior is a good illustration of a concept that the JCC should consider.

      P6: The surveys should provide us with some of this information. The idea of focus groups of differing ages of players and parents is a great one.

      P7: I believe that the SCTA is asking questions, listening, seeking to understand and communicating to create buy-in with the JT players and parents.

      P8: The uniqueness of the 17 USTA Sections is always going to make the JT product different from one part of the country to another; however, there has been a movement started within the last few years to create more commonality among the Sections so that consumers see more sameness. We do want a consistent high quality event experience for all the players and parents.

      P9: Asking young people to know all the sections in Friend at Court is unrealistic; however, knowledge of the rules of tennis and an understanding of what to do when a match gets out of control are important for us to teach all our players and parents.

      P10: What components of a quality approach do you recommend to evaluate the challenges we face, and to generate and select a course of remedial action? Your input would be appreciated by the JT staff and the JCC.

      P11: Your note is helpful and appreciated. We need more individuals like you who are willing to fix the problem rather than fix the blame. I look forward to your answers to the questions I’ve posed.

      Best regards,

      Bruce

  2. There has to be a better way to track a player to know that they are competing at the proper skill level. I know that on the tournament registration is asks that if you have won three tourneys at that level that they ask you either move up in skill level or age group. But parents are not abiding by this when registering their kids. In martial arts you don’t have black belts competing against yellow belts. What’s happening in youth tennis is that parents bounce their kid in skill levels as where if they are not winning in their proper skill level, they bring them back down to the lower level to pound on less experienced players to boost their own morale and to earn easier ranking points. This behavior is not only discouraging to the young players but also to parents investing for their child to compete only to face a player that should not even be in their division. The registration system should have a way to monitor wins and to make sure competitors are at the skill level they are supposed to be competing in.

    • We agree, Brian. The SCTA and the USTA are working on that capability for the tournament software.

    • Brian,
      You make some great points! I see this as a two part problem. First, the tournament registration system used via Tennislink should be able to do more sifting and sorting of applicants as you suggest. Just as the system can prevent a 12 year old from playing in the boys 10 division, macros could potentially be programmed to “do the monitoring” of entries at point of registration. If not eligible based upon past success, entry would not be accepted. Of course this would take time and money and not sure who exactly owns Tennislink and has programming authority over the system’s capabilities. Second, and in my opinion even more important, is the structure of eligibility for players of different ages and abilities in different level tournaments. The SCTA took the step just this year (2016) in age divisions 12-18 of prohibiting players in the top 50 to play in Level 5 tournaments in their respective age division. Thus a player in the top 50 of the boys 12 division would have to play a Level 4 event (or higher) or play in a Level 5 in an older age division. This is a good first step but it left out the 10’s division which has a lot of what you describe “pound on less experienced players to boost their own morale and to earn easier ranking points”. I echo your concerns about how discouraging this is to young players and parents. Frankly, a lot of this has to do with “points” which are the keys to other competitive USTA events and USTA training opportunities and without the points, no chance. Bruce Hunt and his team at the SCTA office are addressing a lot of things and feedback like yours is extremely helpful in their quest to improve things for all involved. Personally, I would be interested to know what age division your child is participating in to add perspective to your concerns. The more feedback and more dialogue from parents like you will only help shed more light on what concerns are really out there.

  3. As a certified official I appreciate the efforts you are making to improve good sportsmanship on the courts. We do try to educate parents and explain that their behavior hurts their child. I think it is good that SCTA is actively working to improve on court behavior by both the players and parents. It will make my job much easier.

  4. Hello Bruce,

    When I mention MODERN FOREHAND TECHNIQUE to any coach around.. Its like I’m asking about advanced algebra..can’t find ONE coach with the cajones to even TALK about it, much less to teach it to the 10/u kids.
    Please..been looking for 3 years !
    Please tell me ONE tennis coach in the OC who teaches it to the kids.
    YouTube – Rick Macci is perfect example of teaching it to kids.
    Unit turn – NO Arm Swing back.

  5. Hi Bruce,
    I’m a new roving umpire in the SC area and was just starting to work in 2015 and I have just a few observations based on my past experience:
    – Most troublesome areas during the tournaments are:
    – Lack of understanding of the rules of the players
    – Lack of understanding of acceptable behavior of the spectators.
    For example, players are not aware of the suspension system in which a player can receive code violation after the match is over. The suspension system doesn’t seem to gain the needed awareness from the players.

    Also, parents were found to talk to their player and even the opposing player during the match. Player still looks to their parents during a scoring disputes or perceivably incorrect line call.

    Program such that town hall for players and parent will be a great help in educating all those who participate in these Jr tournament as players or supporters. One thing I noticed was the poster for spectators’ behavior are not pre-eminently displayed in a location where it can’t be missed in some of the tournaments I worked in. That may help us in controlling spectators’ behavior during the matches.

    Last thing I have is we have mentioned very little about gamesmanship and I think that deserves more attention since that type of behavior is not good for the game and the competitiveness spirit we’re encouraging.

    Looking forward to future improvements in the Jr tournament program

    Hugh

  6. Hugh,
    With the help of the Officials, the SCTA’s Junior Department is working to inform the players and the parents about the proper behaviors and the consequences of behaving unappropriatley. It’s a team effort.
    Thanks for your service to tennis.

  7. Mr. Hunt,
    I do really appreciate all your efforts to optimize the conditions and events organized for our kids.
    I also agree many issues arise from certain parents or players who forget that ours kids are kids first and play or should play for fun first. I also think this number of parents is really limited and better, happier conditions should be favored by the different staff and officials.
    I think one aspect is also missing from your analysis. The quality of the officials is sometimes not up to the level, particularly when our kids look up to these adults as models and reference. I happened to witness several times officials making mistakes in the applications of the rules. I really think a better support and training should be offered to these officials, who have such a hard job to do.
    Finally, I would be very pleased to discuss one situation this weekend where I witnessed flagrant conflict of interest between the Director of a tournament, the designated Referee and the one player involved.
    Thank you.
    Best,
    Stephane

    • Stephanie,
      We are in agreement about support and training for officials is necessary to optimize the tournament experience. Please email me at bhunt@scta.usta.com or call me at 310.208.3339 regarding the instance you witnessed. Thanks.

  8. Regarding the rules, how are the younger children taught USTA, ITF and the CODE? Is anyone accountable for providing this information to children who play tournaments (official, tournament director, tournament desk, parent)? Can children be informed of particular rules before play?

    At junior tournaments that I’ve seen, there was very little conversation between the player, tournament desk, official and parent(s) before or after the match. Most seemed to be strangers before the event started and strangers when they parted. I’d say that this environment is tailor-made for conflict, much like road rage.

    • Carl,
      Those are great questions and that information and education should be happening at the tournaments and at other meetings with players and parents during the year.

  9. Bruce,
    Its nice to read about your efforts to promote sportsmanship in tennis. Some of the suggestions can be effective if administer in a common sense way. I would agree that awareness can make a difference but I think it will be more effective to make it a part of the umpire/official routine at coin toss to not only inform the players but also inform the parents/supporters. The umpire can simply ask the players if parents/supporters are present and then inform them of the rules and possible consequences.
    One approach that you may consider is keeping score cards on kids who prompt a call for an umpire. It is my observation that kids are generally fair minded. So, when a parent that I don’t know tells me the kid my child is playing against is a cheater, it says to me that that player may deserve closer monitoring.

  10. Erik,
    Thanks for your suggestions. We have begun to be more active regarding sportsmanship on several fronts.

  11. I have been traveling to Jr. Tourneys with players for the last 30 years.There needs to be a consistent enforcement of the rules. Very inconsistent out there at tournaments and events. Something that is being ignored is 3 out of 4 kids are quitting sports before they are 13 years old. I can’t tell you how many parents and coaches are shocked to hear this. It is like they have never heard it before. One of the reasons kids are quitting is because of the behavior by coaches, parents and kids at tournaments and other sporting events. I just recently had a girl quit our USTA Jr Team because of an opponent’s parent. Opposing coach did nothing so I had no choice but to speak to the parent. To bad there can’t be a designated viewing area for the parents so that the kids can play without any interference.

  12. Barry,
    Thanks for your comments. I agree that rules and consequences need to be applied and enforced consistently. The SCTA is sending that message to officials, tournament directors, players and parents. What’s the source for the stat about kids droppping sports before 13? I’ve heard a number but 3 out of 4 sounds too high. I appreciate your saying something to the parent who was out of line. The opposing coach should have stepped up, too.

  13. I have had my daughter in over ten tournaments in past two years and have yet to experience any parent or player behavior which was out of line. If anything people are so polite and quiet during a tournament that it seems to dampen the spirit of athletic celebration. As others have noted, the problem of the occasional player who clearly belongs in a higher level tournament while whapping on novices and intermediates needs to be addressed. Consistent online postings of all tournament results would help for data collection on tournament competitors prior to placing their names in the draws for upcoming tournaments. Thanks to the USTA Juniors organization for all their efforts to provide quality experiences.

    Felipe Hernandez

  14. Bruce
    I will keep my comments short and sweet!
    I think you are doing a great job, you have my support.
    It is a pleasure working with SCTA and NJTL here in
    San Diego. We will make it happen. Thank you for all you do!

  15. Sportsmanship is learned. Jr players take their cues from what they see pros do, what their coaches say and the behavior of their parents. When my nephew was about 5 he threw his racquet. My sister told him that was unacceptable. He responded “Well McEnroe does”. I am happy that officials on the pro circuit are inforcing and code violating unsportsmanlike behavior.s

    As for officiating, yes, we occasionally make an error. We certainly try our best to know all the rules. The Officiating department is doing a new pilot program. In addition to the certification process and shadowing an official, new all day seminars are being offered to make us better at our jobs.

  16. A big thank you to SCTA for trying to keep the environment on the court positive.
    I have seen parents sit close to the fence and then whisper when the kid comes to pick up the towel …It is ugly sometimes –
    My kid can’t see this happening – he has other things to worry about – as a parent, it is tough to see this happen and keep quiet. May I suggest that you enforce parents sit on their chair at-least 1 meter aware from the fence?
    Another Moonshot idea – every parent reads the Friends of Court and takes an online quiz – depending upon the points scored by the parent – their ward gets “free good citizen” points.

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