To coach or not to coach?

There’s been talk about the rule in the WTA Tour (Womens Pro Tennis Tour) that allows a player’s coach to be called on-court at a change of ends, at the time of an opponent’s medical time out or change of attire. This rule went through an experiential trial phase prior to being permanently implemented in 2009 for all WTA tournaments, interestingly, excluding Grand Slam Events. In contrast to the ATP Tour, a coach of a male tennis player is at no time allowed on court during matches.

This rule is found to be polarizing. The debate has largely been around the ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ aspect. The WTA Tour have however, included limits, one coaching request per set is allowed only at a change of ends or at a conclusion of a set. For me there’s a greater issue than this argument, I will be taking a look at this from an alternative viewpoint.

Let’s start by putting everything into perspective. If you take a look at other professional sports, coaches are on the sidelines, up in coaches boxes in the stands, continuously coaching their players, changing strategies and tactics to gain the upper hand and ultimately win the game.  In almost all cases, however, those are team sports. Tennis is different. It’s a unique sport, when it comes to singles it is the ultimate individual sport. During Davis Cup or Fed Cup where you represent your country as a team, coaching is allowed on-court. In line with all other sports, it makes sense to use a coach on-court in a team environment. Ok, let’s say this rule must exist in some fashion, why not only allow the option for on-court coaching in doubles (for BOTH men and women) and mixed doubles matches, if anything. Or better still, let’s just leave tennis as the unique sport that it is, leave the coaching all in the lead up to tournaments and not during matches themselves. Allow the players to have their opportunity to test themselves, push themselves and most importantly work it out for themselves.

Caroline Wozniacki gets some advice from her father & coach during a change of ends.

I’ve always believed that tennis is the most mentally challenging sport that exists. Sure physical strength, natural raw talent, conditioning, consistency and flair are all important components in tennis as with other sports. Nonetheless, many players have shown us time and time again that it takes so much more than this to beat your opponent in any given match and so much more to actually be successful and win Grand Slams – the ultimate in the sport.

How many times during a match have you thought or has a commentator stated that a particular point is a critical point or game to test the mental strength of a player? How many times have you loved watching the tennis as you can see each player’s mind at work? Neither player wanting their opponent to get on top mentally, because they know how quickly things can turn around if that does occur. For tennis lovers including myself, we love watching two players out there physically and mentally fighting it out in the ultimate battle. The swings in momentum, the composure, the emotion, the skill to be able to fight on, change their strategy and execute their skills successfully when they’re seemingly down and out. I believe the WTA Tour should allow the players to grow, learn and work out what it takes in terms of mental toughness to get through those tough points, the points they should have won, could have won and will win. Afterall, isn’t this what seperates the greatest from the greats?

For a moment I tried to see it from a different perspective. What about the players who typically play in the Challenger Tour who are only now entering more WTA matches, the younger inexperienced players playing more experienced counterparts, those who are struggling to break-even (travel costs etc V prize winnings) or make a living. Would this help them get another pay check under their belt? Improve their ranking? Maybe even help them break through? Sure, maybe. Then think about the players that don’t have a full time coach while travelling or can’t afford one but would like to use the on-court coach option? What happens to them? So, maybe not.

It’s been argued that the main motivation behind the rule is based around having the players show a commitment for innovation. Innovate to improve the sport, overcome any issues and look towards the future, but don’t tamper with the fundamentals of the sport of tennis.

Makes you wonder if the motivation for the rule change is geared towards aiding spectators at home on the couch. Bringing another element to the game in terms of ‘entertainment’ value. As the coaches are actually mic’ed up and as long as they’re speaking a language you understand the viewers at home gain some insight into the player/coach relationship to a certain extent. Or are we meant to believe it was really an effort to stop controversies of players coaches using hand signals to help players from the stands?

Again, it still does not explain why male players in the same position do not have that option. Female tennis players have long argued for equality. With prize money, they have been heard. Arguing that what they do is no less challenging then what the men do out there. Only limited and separated by their natural physicality, the difference in ability of strength based on their anatomy of being either male or female. But when it comes to mental strength, who is to say a female can’t be as mentally strong, or I dare say, stronger than a male? So why is this rule only allowed on the WTA Tour and not on the ATP Tour?

Think back to 2004 Wimbledon, when a young Russian, Sharapova came up against the number 1 seeded, defending champion, Serena Williams. Can’t say that I believe there were many who would have predicted the result that eventuated. The outcome was amazing and one that I will not quickly forget. In front of our eyes, this youngster showed us poise well beyond her years, silky skills, power, precision and more mental toughness then you could ever expect from someone of her age in her position. Had the coaches been on-court Sharapova would not have gone through the same level of mental challenges and dealt with them by herself and be better for it. Surely, this is detrimental to the game of tennis? Ohh that’s right, Wimbledon is a Grand Slam Event so the rule wouldn’t have applied anyway.

Refocus, clear direction – sometimes it’s all it takes. The ability to find a new direction and reform yourself is part of being a professional tennis player. Mentality is a huge thing on a tennis court. Creating alternative strategies and having the ability and presence of mind to change tactics if things aren’t turning out or if you’re having trouble executing your strategy successfully. Tennis is meant to be a different game in that you actually have to think for yourself out there. Not to mention keeping your emotions in check and your motivation, spirit and belief high.

I for one hope the players on the WTA Tour come together just as the men did all those years ago and vote for the rule to be euthanized. Let the players test their mental toughness and learn an important, critical component of the game.  I fear that the introduction of this rule will ruin one of tennis’ unique features. Such a large part of being a professional tennis player is to solve things for yourself and do this better than the person on the other side of the net which will lead you to earning those three deserving words, Game, Set, Match.




About Emily Medizaday

Hey, I'm better known as Em (or many other nicknames - a list that is too long to include here). I belong to the marketing/advertising industry and currently reside in my home city Melbourne. A proud Melbournian (who of course is a footy fan - Go Pies), sharing a love for sports of all kinds. After travelling across many timezones it's always great to come across something new, that's creative, artistic, well designed and inspiring in my own backyard. View all posts by Emily Medizaday

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