Throughout history there has been much ado about sending a woman out to do a man's job but in today's world that argument has pretty well gone by the wayside. In the tennis officiating world, there is a new issue that arises when we send novice officials out to do a job that would prove stressful for even an experienced official.
Everyone knows that we send the newer, more inexperienced officials out to do the ZAT and champs tournaments (at least in Texas that is so). Let's be honest--are we doing the right thing and are we being fair to a new and inexperienced official? I think not.
After working a super champ major zone tournament this year, I am more convinced than ever of some truths that seem self evident. They are:
* Dealing with some of the players, parents, and coaches at junior tournaments in Texas is something that is difficult for even seasoned and experienced officials. To say they are "out of control" would be an understatement. I have never seen such an air of entitlement and bad behavior by parents and players in tennis as we are seeing today.
* My new philosophy that I am developing is this: Don't do a tournament where the players have parents... That would go a long way towards stopping a lot of the problems we are seeing today! Of course its an impossibility but at least its a thought.
* If we are going to pitch a new official to the wolves at a site all by themselves then we need to be sure to prepare them for their upcoming doom. We can't teach in a school what they are going to experience with players, parents, and coaches at all levels of junior tennis so we need to find a way to help them in their transition time.
* Maybe we should pay the new officials more than anyone else because of what they are forced to endure on a regular basis. Noone should be asked to be ridiculed, abused, and maligned by any other human being and that happens on an all too regular basis.
* Its time we quit asking new officials (or any official for that matter) to work a 12-14 hour shift in stifling heat, with at least 12 courts to oversee alone, and then have a referee expecting them to "man up" and do a good job. Most referees would never do what they ask of their umpires.
* Why are some of these junior players still playing tournaments when they are supposed to be suspended when they accumulate enough points? Noone can convince me that as bad as some of these juniors are, that they haven't accumulated enough suspension points in a month to be suspended for a long, long time. Either they aren't being coded by officials who are ignoring their bad behavior, or they aren't being suspended for the codes they accumulate. Its time for those in leadership to "take the bull by the horns" and do something about this out of control behavior.
* Since the average official per court ratio in Texas is one official per 11 courts its no wonder that new officials feel frustrated. A seasoned official knows how to watch more than one court at a time but its high time to change that ratio and especially for the newer officials.
* One good step in the right direction is that a junior player will soon be receiving two suspension points (instead of one) for a code violation. If this is going to work then they need to be sure that they are immediately suspended when they reach their quota for suspension.
* We send novice officials (either in age or experience) out to a site all alone to deal with parents who seem to have a doctor's degree in coaching their offspring or manipulating and abusing the rules of tennis. Its not a fair fight from the getgo so we need to keep that in mind when making assignments. Left to their own resources, a novice official will usually do whatever it takes to maintain order at a site--and sometimes those resources prove disastrous.
* The experienced officials need to be more sensitive to the newer officials and work diligently to help them through their early days of officiating. All too often we meet new officials who are overzealous and overly officious in their attitudes and job performances because they don't know what to do and just launch out with whatever personal skills they can muster on their own.
* Novice officials need to learn to listen to what they are taught and to watch an experienced official at work. Far too many new officials will say "I know" whenever they are taught anything. If that is so, then why aren't they doing it? Learn to keep your mouth shut, eyes open, and learn before you think you are an expert on officiating.
* In the ITA world, we never send a new official out all alone. We spend hours and hours working with them and then when we do put them in a chair, we stay close by to see that they live through their new experience. It may not be a perfect system but at least it helps--now maybe we ought to expand it into the USTA junior world.
These are just a few thoughts about what we are doing in our officiating world. Years ago I went coon hunting with an old hunter down in south Texas and he taught me a wonderful truth: he always made the young pups go hunting with Ol' Blue so they could learn how it was done before he pitched them out on their own.
Maybe we should do that with some of our young novices before we pitch them out on their own... And by the way, two hours of shadowing isn't what I'm talking about...