Tennis Industry magazine


Your Serve: Pros and Coaches as Role Models

A sports consultant says tennis teachers and coaches need to do more to develop sportsmanship and good behavior in their young charges.

By Bruce Knittle

Are tennis pros, coaches and administrators doing enough as role models for the tennis public? Are they positively influencing juniors regarding sportsmanship, and how to act on and off the court?

Concerning sportsmanship, in recent years many governing organizations in tennis have imposed stricter guidelines and sanctions. Junior associations, school conferences, professional federations, and others have all imposed their own standards. With this being the case, why does it seem as if these guidelines have not had the desired effect?

Last year, while attending the US Open, I was having a conversation about sportsmanship with a former college teammate of mine. He has daughters who play competitively, and I asked him if things have improved with this issue over the years. He said it has been quite the opposite, with blatant cheating by players — and their coaches looking the other way.

This took me by surprise, but increasingly I keep hearing of similar incidents, from all levels of the tennis world. With social media such as Twitter and YouTube, these occurrences are frequently difficult to keep private.

Tennis instructors and coaches, assisted by parents, have a responsibility to inform their younger students how they should behave. When behavior goes awry, juniors have to realize this cannot be tolerated. While working to develop the individual’s tennis game is their prime responsibility, helping him or her to behave with class and dignity should be equally significant.

One of the first steps a tennis pro can take to show his pupils how to comport themselves is to remind them of how players they admire behave, especially when facing adversity. What better examples to use than Roger Federer on the men’s side, and the recently retired Kim Clijsters from the women’s tour?

As great a champion as Federer is, his true character reveals itself when he loses. There is almost always praise for his opponent, and rarely any excuses. It is easy to exhibit class when you win, but one’s integrity is displayed when defeated.

In 2010, Federer was named the top male sports role model in a survey by the Barclays company. His fine reputation extends throughout the sports world.

Regarding Clijsters, through her many injuries, she never complained or employed them as excuses, but instead they served as motivational fuel. This was a prime reason that during her comeback attempts, she was cheered by fans and players alike.

If tennis pros and coaches are to preach about representing oneself on the tennis court, these same individuals need to make sure they are living up to this ideal themselves.

They cannot be discussing sportsmanship, and then berating officials and not respecting opponents. The bar is set high for coaches, and they need to be accountable for their own behavior. Modeling sound ethics is always the right path for any tennis coach.

Perhaps as significant, there needs to be sufficient educational tools available for pros and coaches. The information that exists today is more concentrated on strokes and drills. There is not enough out there, however, that pinpoints how specific communication methods affect tennis students. Even when this data is available, not enough emphasis is focused here.

I would even suggest a more standardized approach for how tennis coaches gain rapport with players. Though each individual is different, the coach should know what works best for a particular player. Notably, too many of these coaches come from other sports, where the communication skills required are quite different from tennis.

I have frequently seen coaches well versed in one particular sport, but without the prerequisite knowledge of working with tennis players. Supplied with more standardized educational tools addressing tennis issues, coaches would be more aware of the subtle differences in communicating with tennis players, rather than football or soccer participants.

Overall, while tennis administrators have taken measures to restore sportsmanship and decorum to appropriate levels, our teaching pros and coaches still must take on more responsibility for their role in this process. Once they realize it is not just winning that counts, but how the game is played, improvements will follow.

Bruce Knittle is the president of consulting firm Knittle Sports Solutions Inc. (, which offers advisory services to tennis and sports organizations. A former highly ranked player and captain of the Florida State University tennis team, he was a successful tennis camp owner, college tennis coach/pro, and director of sports programs.

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About the Author

Bruce Knittle is president of the sports consulting firm Knittle Sports Solutions. A former sports camp owner, he also was a college head coach and directed sports programs for many years. He can be reached at



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