Legalizing the Obvious


“I have never cheated. YOU owe ME an apology!”)

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) will be experimenting with the practice of permitting coaching from the stands.  This is something that takes place regularly (for both men and women); but, is that a good idea?

Serena Starts It

This change comes after Serena was penalized for receiving hand signals from her coach Patrick Mouratoglou (which she denied “ever receiving coaching”) in the US Open final against Naomi Osaka.  Her coach later confirmed that he was in fact signaling to her.

The trial begins at the Dubai Duty Free Championships and Hungarian Open in February and will continue at all WTA Premier and International events in 2020.

Darren Cahill, coach of Simona Halep, said the move was long overdue. “I’m for it,” he said. “I’m big on tradition. I’m old. So I love the whole tradition of tennis and the one-on-one and problem-solving and what you’re trying to do. But I think we’re evolving as a sport.”

Like Alcohol Prohibition

In my opinion, it is foolish to try to legislate against what the vast majority of the people will be doing anyway.  Most players spend hours with their “teams” working on skills and strategies to improve their performance.  Not allowing a coach to remind a player of what they should be doing seems foolish.

And really, what is the difference between on-court coaching (allowed) and from the stands (not allowed)?

If the women do it, can the men be far behind?

And how about friends giving US advice during a tournament or league play?

What do YOU think of the change?

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10 thoughts on “Legalizing the Obvious

  1. My main problem with coaching is another layer of disadvantage for the trying to make it on the tour players who have the potential but not the financial resources yet to employ top coaches. Another barrier for up and coming players is not helpful but you cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.
    To pile on George’s alcohol prohibition comparison, the current changes evolving in marijuana legislation reflect reality, not idealism. I have not even seen marijuana since the early 70’s, have no interest in it myself, but do not want to continue to funnel wealth into criminal ‘s pockets when behavior change is not happening. Rules must be realistic, ENFORCEABLE to be good rules.

    Winder, both are good points, which come down to “the real world.” thanks, george

  2. Totally against it for what Winder said above. Not fair to players who can’t afford high-powered coaches. I don’t know anything about race cars, but wouldn’t it be like letting an existing driver have a “better” car (whatever that is)? Keep it an even playing field and let players compete on their physical, mental and emotional abilities. If coaches cheat, make them leave the arena. “Everyone does it” was never a good excuse where I grew up.
    That being said, I do see a lot of players looking irritated at their coaches and it doesn’t seem like they are listening…..

    Mike, the question is … can you stop it from happening (legal or illegally)? thanks, george

  3. My question is: Are you okay with baseball hand signal cheating scheme giving an advantage to win a national championship?
    Should society give in to lying, cheating etc. because everybody is doing it?
    Like let call on ace in college tennis.
    Or should coaches and players get banned after x numbers of violations?
    Go further down the list “doping”, a lot of athletes are doing it.
    Is golf the only sport were they are trying to maintain sportsmanship and the honor system of calling errors on self?
    Evert

    Evert, you make good points on the “slippery slope” argument; but for example… i am NOT ok with sign stealing; but AM ok with a coach telling a batter, “when this pitcher gets behind in the count, odds are he is going to throw a fastball away.” Life is not black and white, it is full of gray areas. Thanks and see you next week at St. Pete. George

  4. I guess it is inevitable, but I agree with Winder and Mike, it gives an advantage to the players who can afford not just coaches but the data analytics experts who are becoming a bigger presence. It would be interesting to know, however, whether there is any evidence on the WTA tour of players turning their match around after a coaching visit.

    As for stopping it from happening while it is still against the ATP rules, isn’t this similar to sign stealing in baseball? Everybody tries to do it, but it’s still cheating. Some are just better at it than others.

    As for us getting advice during a tournament or league match, that would be some can of worms to open, wouldn’t it?

    Jim, would you outlaw the top players from hiring good coaches, trainers, analytics to make a more level playing field? thanks, george

  5. I am against coaching for the reasons stated so eloquently by Winder. I feel the beauty of our sport is how a player can problem solve. Your adage of “What are they doing that I don’t like and what can I do about it” rings so true. I also agree that it severely disadvantages players who can’t afford to have a coach travel with them (like the top players need more of an advantage!). That being said, I sadly feel that allowing coaching is inevitable. It’s going to happen if it is legal or not, so just let everyone do it. How long until it seeps down to junior tournaments and senior tournaments?

    Steve, and seep it will! thanks, george

  6. Around for years but may have “merit” with your coaching premise. A longer read but interesting:
    This has been around before but there are still too many people who need to see it as many times as it takes.
    “17 INCHES”
    Twenty years ago, in Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA’s convention.
    While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare.”Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter, I was just happy to be there.
    In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate. Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?
    After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage. Then, finally …
    “You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”
    Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?”, more of a question than an answer. “That’s right,” he said.
    “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?” Another long pause. “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach.
    “That’s right,” said Scolinos.
    “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”
    “Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.
    “You’re right!” Scolinos barked.
    “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
    “Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.
    “Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”………..
    “Seventeen inches!” they responded.
    “RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”
    “Seventeen inches!” came the reply.
    “SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello !” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”
    “Coaches… what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice? Or when our team rules forbid facial hair, and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate? ”
    The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows.
    “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way, we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We just widen the plate!”
    Then, to the point at the top of the house, he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast, and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate, and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”
    Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross. “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves! And we allow it.”
    “And the same is true with our government. Our so-called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate! We see our country falling into a dark abyss while we just watch.”
    I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.
    “If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools, & synagogues & churches & our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”
    With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside, “…We have dark days ahead!”

    Howie, yes, long, but entertaining. thanks, george

  7. I am all for it, for several reasons:

    1). It is happening anyway. Like legalization of marijuana, let’s stop bashing our heads against the wall and get realistic.

    2). It also already happens on a de facto basis in doubles, even when no “official” coach exists. The value of a good doubles partner is not only to hit good shots. It is to act as a “mini coach” to tell us what we are doing wrong and right, to set up plays, and generally to act like a coach standing next to us on the same court. Since it already happens, effectively, in every doubles match ever played, making it official only will extend the reality to singles as well. No big deal.

    3). Over time, it can only improve the quality of tennis overall, and add even more guile, cleverness, strategy, and interesting plays to the game…. A spectator’s and fan’s delight!

    4). Contrary to Winder’s point, it will not, over time, disadvantage lower ranked players, and only advantage higher ranked players (who can better afford having a coach). It doesn’t take a crystal ball to realize that, once open coaching is allowed, lower ranked players will wind up pooling their resources and hire coaches on a collective basis who will take on several players simultaneously — thus allowing a greater range of players to have access to any coaching, more than they have presently. This will be good for the players, because even having a shared coach is better than no coach. And it will be good for less celebrated coaches as well, because it will allow those who cannot command top dollar to nevertheless keep working with a staple of players instead of only one. In fact, the only time this could present a problem is when two players who already share the same coach will draw each other in a tournament round, but that will not happen often and, when it does, somebody else’s coach can be “lent” on a per diem basis to resolve the problem.

    5). As far as I am aware, tennis is the ONLY major sport of all that has an anti coaching rule. We have on court and “in real time” coaches (or their equivalents) in baseball, football, soccer, basketball, track, skiing, rugby, golf, auto racing, bowling, volleyball, cycling, cricket, boxing, and virtually everything else. What is it about tennis — beyond tradition — that makes it any different? I can’t think of anything.

    Marty, many good arguments! thanks, george

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