Junior Tennis News
The Official Tennis Newswire

Is Cheating a Problem?
By Paul Holbach

Editor’s note: In the summer of 2007, Paul “Hobie” Holbach was named the head coach of the women's tennis program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Holbach was a star player for Gustavus Adolphus College and a two-time Division III All-American and Academic All-American. He was the 1980 Division III Doubles Champion and a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. Holbach helped lead the UCLA women’s team to the NCAA semifinals and later worked with players such as Lindsay Davenport, Kimberly Po and Debbie Graham. In addition to coaching 13 Division I All-Americans, he also coached at Grand Slam events throughout the world, the NCAA Division I Championships and several top National Junior Championships.

In my 29 years of coaching tennis--from the top junior events to the professional level and from the most “pressure” conditions to country club fun events--I can honestly say that cheating has rarely been an issue in any matches I have seen or been involved with. I find it sad when I hear players or parents or coaches say “I lost because they cheated me out of it.” I think that when that comment is made its nothing more than an excuse, nothing more than a way out.

Throughout my years of coaching I never allow a player to have an excuse, even when the excuse is legitimate. For example, if my player breaks strings in all their rackets and has to use someone else’s. Surely that is a legit excuse but it is what it is. I never want to allow my player to have a way out. I truly think it can empower my player if they can deal with some problems and overcome them. Overcoming bad line calls is empowering. It makes me cringe when I see a player get a linesperson at a junior event on the first questionable call of the match. Heck, you just got started. I rarely allow my players to get lines people. I want them to deal with it themselves. I want them to overcome those problems.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear. There is a big difference between a bad line call and cheating. Everyone who has ever played tennis has made a bad line call. Even at the professional levels the lines people make mistakes and are over-ruled. Does that mean they are cheating? Cheating is intentional; a bad line call is a mistake. I always want my players to give the opponent the benefit of the doubt. Players do make bad line calls but rarely do I find them to do it intentionally.

Also, I find it annoying when I hear parents, friends or even coaches comment from the sidelines when they see a ball called out that they think was in. It’s so much easier for someone sitting on the sidelines to see a ball as opposed to someone who is running for the ball and moving. Does that mean they are cheating if they call it out when you sitting perfectly still, right on the line and having a perfect view?

Of course, I always hear, “Well, they just make the bad call on big points.” That is one of my favorites. I always tell my players, “Well, what about the easy overhead you missed the point before or the unforced error you made two points before.” In other words, do not let it get to that situation. There should be no excuses.

Once you allow cheating to be in your mind then every time there is a close call you are going to think the ball was in. I have seen this a great deal in tournaments when players talk to one another. If Jane tells Susie, “Oh, Ann cheats all the time,” then when Susie plays Ann she is going to think all close balls are being called out and Ann is cheating her. Just because of what Jane said. On the contrary, if Jane tells Susie, “Oh, Ann always calls them fairly.” Then when Susie plays Ann she is going to think all close balls are being called fairly. In other words, gossip plays a big part.

Finally, I definitely hate when coaches or parents encourage their players that if they do not like a call, just do a retaliatory call against the player. This truly is bad sportsmanship and I will not accept it. I have literally stopped coaching players for doing this.

At Bowdoin College, cheating never was an issue, as it rarely was during my previous 28 years of coaching. Occasionally, yes, but rarely. I want my players to be empowered to handle any situation and deal with it. Overcome the problems they encounter. Feel strong and feel like they have great integrity. No excuses.