Working with the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, FL has been a great education for me. Not until you spend time court-side during a Junior level tennis match can you come to appreciate the true test of integrity. Why? Because in Junior tennis each competitor is responsible for calling their opponent's shots "in" or "out"! This protocol is not only used in practice, but also in tournaments. I can't think of another youth sport where a competitor puts the fate of his point scoring in the hands and eyes, (and conscience!) of his opponent. Talk about forced trust! Each competitor is required to rely upon the integrity of his or her opponent for calling those really close calls where inches matter. No debate is allowed.
Can you imagine the average Little League pitcher allowing the batter to call balls and strikes? Yet I can't help think that this procedure helps young tennis players develop the discipline of fairness and character. In the heat of battle, a hungry-for-victory player must have the courage to call an on-the-line shot "fair" when it could mean losing the match. That's a character building moment.....or maybe a character weakness moment. Yes, I'm told there are young tennis players who gain a reputation for calling the close ones in their own favor... and word gets around fast who they are.
Thirteen-year-old Robbie says it this way. "You can tell a lot about a person after playing just one tennis match against them. How hard they try, how often they give up, how much they cheat, how much respect they show you, and how much respect they show themselves -- it all gets revealed in the course of a match." His mother adds, "Interestingly, we parents reveal the same amount of information about our character in the same time frame from the stands."
Ultimately, isn't that the truth about sports.... all sports? Young athletes reveal themselves, not just their skills, and parents reveal their character, not just their allegiance to a team or player. It takes as much courage and self-discipline in the bleachers to set the example for what should happen on the court or field. As parents, perhaps we should all grab a tennis racket and play a match against other parents to gain a new perspective on integrity.