Q. "I am 11, and I'm a ZAT [beginning] player in Texas. How do I handle a player who constantly questions your shot, calls her own shots out and won't stop taunting?"
From Elysse, Ocean Ridge, FL:
Oh boy, do I ever have this problem all the time here with the Florida players, and I am 11 years old, too. I know now that the players are trying to mess up my game and get me off focus. I have a rule book in my tennis bag with this marked, so I know I am right. I just tell the player, "My side, my call. The ball was out." If I am on clay, I circle it and walk back to the baseline.
If they want to get a referee they can, but I do not wait around and argue. I am there to focus and play. I tell the other player, if they continue to stand and question me, to get a referee. If they go and get one, when the referee comes, I let them know that this player is constantly questioning my calls and stopping play. Most of the time the player gets in trouble and will stop doing it.
There are some that are really bad, and those are the ones you really have be strong to. I tell these girls, "The ball was out, and you need to respect my call," and I do this with a really strong and loud voice so they get my message loud and clear. If more players do this, I think we can fix this problem just a little and do what we are there to do. They need to know they are on a TENNIS COURT to play, not in a COURT ROOM, where they argue.
From Eric R., Santa Rosa, CA:
Ask your coach for a copy of the rule book section that pertains to line calls and verbal interference during play. This beginning player obviously must not know the rules of conduct on court. Every tennis player has to learn these rules sooner, rather than later. Your opponent, once you show them the rules, now must be held accountable. If the actions continue, announce a code warning and then point penalty, game penalty, default.
If they are verbally abusive, a third-party authority should be summoned to oversee your match. Don't let this turkey rule your roost. Every time you allow it to continue, it just strengthens their habit of abuse.
From Texas Official:
Ariana, leave the court and request an official. Each site at a ZAT should have at least one USTA official on site. You are allowed to leave the court to get an official. Once the official is called, they will come to the court and watch play for awhile. An official will also help all beginning players to understand the rules. Afterwards, being aware of the situation, they would rove by your match, periodically keeping an eye out, to ensure that play is fair. If for some reason your site does not have an official present who can observe play, you can contact either the site directory or the tournament director at the main site and complete an official complaint form on the player's behavior. The Texas Section keeps track of code violations and player complaints.
From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, to some the tongue can cut deeper than the sword. Here’s the thing... you as a player must take control of whatever is in your control.
As a ZAT player, you may not have the greatest ball control YET, but you do have control of your serve, along with all your strokes to some degree. You have control over your mind, too. The trick is not to engage with your opponent. Make your calls as you see them and discussions, when necessary, take place at the net quietly. It doesn’t matter what your opponent thinks; it is what you see happen on your side of the net that counts. You call your side of the net; she calls hers.
Out balls she rejects, you simply call it and move to serve or receive. The most upsetting thing to players of this nature is you playing your game by the rules. Maintain your dignity, walk with your head high and shoulders back, and never run to pick up a ball. Be cool. Think of her as a poorly built ball machine that squeaks.
Between points, do what the pros do... get ready for the next point, eyes on your strings, and breathe. When the taunts and poor behavior try to get a toehold in your mind, say, “ONLY THE BALL,” until it is time to play the next point. This fights off the demands of the point.
During the point, focus on the ball with bounce – hits. You actually say quietly "hit" when the ball is hit and when the ball bounces. Your brain won’t be able to do anything else to hurt you when it is occupied with "Only the ball and bounce - hit."
Here is an old saying from an old coach. “The empty pot makes the most noise.” Let the noise rumble in your opponent's head. She will be too busy with that than to play well. Playing against bullies and spoiled kids is part of junior tennis. How you deal with them on the court is how you will deal with them off the court now and as an adult.
The last thing is you are only out there for a short time; your game and most of all your net worth is not dependent on what anyone thinks about you, says about you or your game when you are in control of YOU.
Hope this helps. Only the Ball- Only the Ball- Only the Ball- Only the Ball- Only the Ball- Only the Ball- Only the Ball- Only the Ball- Only the Ball.
From Pam, Ohio:
Where are the other player’s parents? I would not tolerate that behavior from my child.
Anyway, this might be a good opportunity to learn how to tune out distraction. If you can learn to ignore this player, I would think you would be able to ignore everything else that comes your way. If this player won’t stop, just look at it as an opportunity she is giving you.
From John, Tenerife, Spain:
If this person is someone who you play with in your club just for practice, then get rid of her. You don't need this type of person to play with in your early years. If it’s a tournament player, then don't forget you have the right to call an umpire.
It’s so difficult at your age to face this problem, but it's all part of your learning, I hate to say.
From Kenny S., Woodland Hills, CA:
Good sportsmanship in this tough sport of tennis is a must. Get a line judge from the tournament director; they should be able to provide that. Play your game, stay focused, put up your out call signal and call it. Ignore the other player, call out the score, call fair, don't let people get in your head, but you must let them act like a fool. Good luck and have fun. Oh, and make sure your technique is right!
From Lynn F., Kingwood, TX:
My 12-year-old daughter had similar experiences and learned the important lesson that mental toughness is just as important as court skills. When you make a call, make it with authority, and do not argue with your opponent. When they say, "Are you sure that was out?" in an effort to make you insecure about your calls, respond with an emphatic, "Yes, I am sure," and resume play without further discussion.
If an opponent continually makes bad calls, ask a court official to come to your court to watch play. Play in as many tournaments, both open and ZAT, as you can, and you will gain confidence and learn to ignore distractions. And your skills will get better with every one!
Good luck and have fun!