Junior competitive sports, such as basketball, soccer, baseball, football, fencing, volleyball, judo, karate, wrestling, etc., have referees or umpires. From the pee wee baseball field to the professional field of Yankee Stadium, there are rules, guidelines and yes, “Big Brother” watching to ensure that the rules are not compromised. High-level competition demands an unbiased referee or umpire to make difficult calls and maintain the spirit of the game. However, for the future Roger Federers and Serena Williams of the world, playing high-level junior tennis tournaments … you’re on your own.
High-level tournament players enter the 36-foot by 78-foot battleground beholden to the opponent’s sportsmanship to make fair and honest calls. Winning, approval from your peers, coaches and parents are additional pressures that players experience. It’s only natural when “grinding it out” on the baseline for a player to see all their balls in and opponents to call those same balls out. Winning, performance and competition are all factors that can “trick” the mind into seeing something that’s not real. Take it a step further and put additional pressure by trusting a couple of teenagers to make appropriate judgment calls when a ball is in question—it’s not fair, nor prudent, as these teenagers lack the maturity and experience and are not developed to manage these types of situations.
Apart from golf, which is slow and visible to the human eye, most sports have referees and organized supervision for each game. Third-party, unbiased officials can facilitate a game and make sure the game operates at the best pace and in the best spirit of fairness.
To that end, there are simple solutions that may be implemented by the USTA and facilities to address the void needed at junior tennis competitions:
►Increase tournament “enrollment fees” by $15 per player. This additional fee can cover two referees per day until the semifinal rounds.
►After the semifinal rounds only, one referee is required, and the facility is responsible for the expense of that official.
►If the tournament has less than 12 players, the facility is responsible to cover the expense of two “walking referees.” After the semifinal rounds, only one referee is required and the facility is responsible for the cost.
The ultimate goal of supervised tennis matches—players focus on playing and competing and NOT playing both roles of the competitor and the referee. It’s difficult to make a call accurately when playing competitively at a high level. Making these minor adjustments to tournament fees and offering referees to facilitate matches could change the whole experience for a junior tennis player.