Giving On-Court Advice?

“I think we should…”

There are some doubles partners (me) who like to suggest things to do on the court DURING THE MATCH.  Is this an OK, and legal, thing to do or not?

Strategy vs. Strokes

I am all in favor of doubles partners talking about “what’s happening on the court?” and what they can/should do to change a losing game.  It all goes back to my favorite Hank Irvine-ism: when faced with a losing effort, he says, ask “And, what did you do about it?”

  • If the opponent is killing you on hard cross court service returns, play Australian.
  • If the opponent has a huge serve, stand way back; or even play two back on their first serve.
  • If they are lobbing frequently and successfully, the net man should start a few steps back.
  • Etc.

On-Court Lessons

But in a different vein, there are some players who insist on giving their partners on-court lessons on “how to hit the ball.”  And they take the time during play to “educate” their partner on how to volley better, hit overheads better, etc.

Is this OK?  According to one tournament player friend of mine, he says: Not only is it disruptive to the play of the match that it is actually against the rules!

I asked two different tournament umpires; and they say it is not a problem or violation (they did not discuss the “delay of game” aspect). In my opinion, it is better to save the stroke instruction for off the court and after the match.

What do YOU think?

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7 thoughts on “Giving On-Court Advice?

  1. Giving one’s own partner a tennis stroke lesson during a tennis match may or may not be against the rules, depending on exactly how and when the “lesson” occurs. In the middle of a point, definitely a no-no; it would probably be called a hindrance. In between points, probably ok from a rules compliance perspective.

    BUT, the real issue here is ego, friendship, and partner relations. Say you have a stinky backhand volley. Well, the chances are that you already KNOW you have a stinky backhand volley because you have lived with it your entire tennis life. The one thing you do NOT need in that situation is a supercilious partner who (a) believes that HIS backhand volley is SOMEHOW better than yours and (b) undertakes, on his own volition, to tell you what makes your backhand volley so stinky and how you can fix a lifetime of backhand volley misery by a simple on the court lesson delivered in less than 30 seconds.

    Sorry but, no, it just ain’t gonna happen.

    Sure there will be some partners with stinky backhand volleys who are at least gracious and may say something like this: “Than you for pointing out what I have been doing wrong in my backhand volley for the last 59 years that I have been playing tennis, oh great Obi Wan tennis guru, sir. I am eternally in your debt for noticing something about my problematic volley that nobody has EVER pointed out to me before. You sure are a wonderful friend for helping me out with this after all of these years.”

    On the other hand, I am willing to bet that most players are really going to be thinking something like this: “Who does he think he is, and what gives him the right to suggest that my backhand volley is not already of Federer’s caliber. Just look at his serve. He keeps losing all of his service games,* while I keep winning mine. If he says one more thing about my backhand volley in this match I am going to dump my Gatorade on his head at the next changeover.”

    * Often a sign that the non-serving partner really DOES have a crappy volley.

    But Marty, how do you really feel?! thanks, george

  2. It is insulting and a delay tactic. Certainly not between points while the opponent is serving. Playing to the pace of the server comes into play as well. Tactics quickly said ok but please not a grip lesson.

    Bill, i am with you on this aspect … if i am serving, i do not want the opponents to be “chatting” while i am trying to stay on my own pace. thanks, george

  3. How well do you know your partner is the question. At the more advanced levels, the difference between winning and losing a match often comes down to knowing and being able to execute the appropriate strategic adjustment and making the adjustment early enough in the match if you start falling behind. I always ask my partner, who I’ve played with for a few years now, to make changes in strategy, and welcome advice from her, as well. Technique is NOT worth adressing in a match and not the appropriate time to do so, unless you are playing with one of your students and know that they are capable of performing the change quickly because I have worked with them and know what their “cues” or “trigger words” are. As a teaching pro, I have to know what my role is on the court, and if I am there to give a lesson, or just be there as someone’s doubles partner so they can get some exercise. Often times when I play with recreational players at the club, I have to restrain myself from giving an unwanted lesson (which might help us win) when I know my advice may not be welcome. I can write an entire article on this scenario….and maybe I will 🙂 Thanks for posting such thought provoking question. It helps me to become a better player and teaching professional by getting me to re-evaluate my current roles and philosophies.

    Lynn, glad to have “provoked” you! thanks, george

  4. Giving advice to partners during matches – Unless my partner specifically asks for advice on what he might change, I leave my communication to telling him ahead of time what I plan, where I intend to serve, return, hit to backhands, will lob in the middle because both backhands there (if a lefty in ad court) etc. Letting my partner know my strategy allows him to better position himself and be ready for the likely response from the opponents. It is ineffective at best to try and teach technique, skills during a match even if the player is receptive. Of course some partners are so experienced that a heads up on my next point tactic is more than sufficient. I played at a recent inter sectional competition at the USTA center in Lake Nona with Dave Wendt, our first match together. He responded to being left alone by hitting 14 winners versus 1 unforced error in a pro set. Why would I give him any advice? BTW, using the on court camera system there allows you to record a video of your match using your smartphone. Really fun to watch yourself play and see what you actually do versus what you think you are doing. Warning – no one else in the world cares or wants to see it!

    Winder, i saw some video of my play and even I don’t want to see it any more! thanks, george

  5. Ready to join Marty in dumping Gatorade on any of my partners who tell me how to hit a better forehand or backhand DURING a match!!…..discussing strategy, and changing strategy….that’s just fine….and to be encouraged. Scoot

    Scoot, if someone raises Gatorade, let’s both run for cover! thanks, george

  6. Very interesting topic George! Giving your partner technique and stroke production advice during a match is just wrong. Like Marty says, you’re not going to change your partners nasty backhand volley in 30 seconds. His muscle memory has had 40 years to ingrain that nasty backhand volley! I think giving advice around tactics, strategy, and covering the real estate on the court can be productive if delivered with a positive “let’s kick their asses” mind-set!

  7. George, In doubles I like to communicate with my partner and like them to communicate with me as well. I call yours/mine, if a lob is over my partners head, and I feel that I have a better chance to return, I may call mine/switch. If I am playing with my regular partner, we both communicate a lot. In one of the round robin groups that I play in, one of the players does not like me talking at all, and has told me so. That is ok, if I know it makes him not want to have me as a partner, I stay silent. Since I know that I stay back/not come in as much as I should, I don’t mind my partner reminding me. I also have no problem if an opponent calls a hindrance. It rarely happens, but if it does, I am ready to give them the point, but I play best when my partner and I both communicate, not provide lessons to each other.

    Dave, i am the same as you; but do have a problem shutting up upon partner’s request! thanks, george

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