Q: How do we begin to educate our daughter about cheaters?
A: Communicating about possible/probable scenarios and pre-setting your child’s correct response (protocols) is a great start. Rehearse the solutions by setting up actual practice sets whereby the opponent is allowed to apply gamesmanship and your child has to rehearse their response sequence. Many parents and players are unaware that counter gamesmanship tactics are a learned behavior.
Q: My son wants harmony on the court, so he won’t do anything to stop a cheater. What can we do?
A: Explain to your son that harmony is seldom found in a competitive environment. Help your son to develop protocols- these are preset solutions to dealing with gamesmanship. Developing protocols to handle cheaters is similar to an actor memorizing a script. Remind him that when he is being bullied, manipulated or cheated out of a match that is rightfully his, there is no harmony. The best way for your child to make friends in the tennis world is by beating their brains out first. Then guess what?…They all want to be his friend.
Q: What should my daughter do if her opponent is hooking?
A:If the opponent brings unfair play into the match your child must deal with it swiftly and professionally. I recommend confronting every bad call. At the higher levels, cheaters hook in the first few games simply to see if your child is tough enough to confront them or not. If your child does nothing, they are guaranteeing that the opponent will hook later in the match at the most important times. Explain to your daughter that the hook in that second set tiebreaker could have been avoided had the protocols been followed earlier in the match. Remind her that by confronting the gamesmanship head on, she is essentially saying “No, not today, hooking will not be tolerated.”
Q: My son allows opponents to hook him time after time and then proceeds to get angry and play worse. How do we explain to him that his fear of confrontation is the reason he is getting so angry?
A:You are right, by allowing opponents to hook, your son is manifesting internal anger. This anger stops the positive and confident attitude essential to playing at the peak performance level. The brain cannot solve two complicated tasks simultaneously. This is called channel capacity. Not only is your son losing the points that are being stolen from him, he is donating additional points due to channel capacity- his negative self-condemnation overtakes his performance goals. Explain to him confronting gamesmanship is part of the competitive arena and that he must have pre-set protocols to deal with it. (Dealing with confrontation is a life issue- it is likely present in all areas of his life- not just tennis.)
Q: My child is scared to call an umpire onto the court. How can we help?
A: I know I sound like a broken record, but pre-setting match protocols is as important as developing motor programs for mechanical strokes. The solution to dealing with an on-court controversy (calling an umpire to the court) should already be pre-wired before the match begins. Be sure your child is clear about the actual rules and regulations of competitive play. This requires reading the rules and regulations of the game. Once your child is aware of the official protocol of calling an umpire to her court, she will be more confident in her proactive action. Remind her that she works too hard to allow cheaters to cheat. Calling an umpire onto the court is demanding fair play.
Q: When should we begin to develop counter-gamesmanship skills?
A: As early as possible. Pre-set protocols are like preventative medicine. Deciding when to set aside time for mental and emotional development depends on your child’s growth development schedule. Some children are mature enough to understand and implement counter-gamesmanship tactics at age 7, while others are still not mature enough at age 17. However, most players will lose many emotional matches to cheaters, before they are ready to learn counter-gamesmanship.
Q: What can we do if my son doesn’t call out balls out? He is essentially cheating himself out of matches.
A: Discuss the ramifications of the fear of confrontation. Why is avoiding confrontation such a problem at the competitive levels? Juniors who cheat themselves severely complicate games, sets, matches and of course tournaments. Explain to your son that elongating and complicating early round matches drains your son’s physical, mental and emotional batteries- leaving nothing left for the tougher, later rounds. It is in his best interest to learn to call out balls out, especially because, strong competitors will see your son as being inexperienced and weak- thus fueling their confidence. (Remind your son that by not calling out balls out, he is helps his opponent in two ways- giving them free points and building their confidence.)
True Story:My daughter, Sarah, was playing a phenom in a G14 designated tournament. She was beating the phenom 6-0, 2-0…Sarah began to feel sorry for opponent because she was crying hysterically… So Sarah decided to give her a few points and started to call out ball good … As soon as this phenom saw Sarah GIVING her points…she turned on her gamesmanship tactics -of which she was known for… She started stealing points from Sarah. What should have been a routine win, became dramatic 2nd set grudge match- the phenom began cheating like crazy(Score changing, line calls, intimation, the works…) Sarah learned her lesson and never felt sorry for an opponent again- out balls were out!
Q: My daughter is easily intimidated out of competing. Is this fair?
A: Yes, intimidation is fair. At the higher levels, tennis is a game of intimidation. Top opponents who recognize that stroke for stroke they haven’t got the game to beat your daughter will seek out any weakness in your daughter’s game- it is their job. If your daughter has terrific strokes but is an inexperienced emotional competitor, it is your responsibility to assist them in developing a “thick skin.”
Dealing with gamesmanship should be part of your child’s basic training. The first step in handling gamesmanship is devising customized solutions (protocols) for each form of gamesmanship. The second step is rehearsing those solutions on the practice court to gain confidence in applying pre-set counter gamesmanship solutions in a real match.
To progress into the higher levels of the game, mental and emotional skill set development is crucial.
Parents, if you’re not taking an active role in helping to develop these critical components in your child, please don’t blame your child when tournament after tournament they lose as a result of gamesmanship.
About the Author
Frank Giampaolo is a 30-year high performance tennis coach, sports education veteran, author, speaker and instructional writer for national and international publications. He is the bestselling author of “Championship Tennis” (Human Kinetics Publishing), “The Tennis Parent’s Bible” and “The Mental Emotional Workbook Series.” His book “Raising Athletic Royalty” has just been released January 2015. Visit MaximizingTennisPotential.com for more information.