Friday, May 8, 2009

Some thoughts about on-court coaching

Apparently, Tom Tebbutt is under the impression that non-English-speaking people do not own televisions. In his Globe and Mail editorial about on-court coaching, he says that "...WTA Tour officials have bowed to pressure from television to allow it, despite the fact that most of the conversations these days take place in Russian, Spanish or some other language that the majority of television viewers don't comprehend."

Well, Brits are generally as insular as Americans. After that remark, I had to force myself to read the rest of the editorial, and I'm glad I did. Tebbutt is especially disturbed by the sight of middle-aged men--often fathers--coming onto the court and telling young women and girls what to do (I think he has the wrong impression about Wozniacki's father, however; he is very expressive, but I don't think he "yammers"). I couldn't agree more. The on-court coaching scenario is almost always a microcosm of the real world, in which females, especially younger ones, readily submit to male authorities."

So, in order to provide some balance, where are the women coaches? We don't see too many of them, and there are various theories about why they are scarce. One of the most popular ones is that women do not want to travel because they have children, which leads us to the inevitable conclusion that men do not mind leaving their children behind. I'm not saying I agree with this theory--just that it isn't a pretty one.

It is also possible that most of the players, born during the so-called "post-feminist" (which is to say non-feminist) period, believe that men, not women, should be authority figures. There is no doubt that ATP players believe that; I have never heard of a female ATP coach. If there were one, believe me, there would be hundreds of inane and patronizing articles written about her. In the meantime, members of the sports press don't even ask why women don't have female coaches, much less why men don't.

It could be both of those reasons or there may be other reasons. At any rate, the lack of female coaches is troublesome. And I share Tebbutt's discomfort about the image portrayed by the current on-court coaching scenarios.

Gender issues aside, many people are uncomfortable with on-court coaching because they believe that tennis players are supposed to figure things out by themselves. I used to feel very strongly that way, but I have softened somewhat on that issue. What bothers me more is the attachment of the microphone to the coach so that the television viewers can hear what is being said, and the commentators can make truly ridiculous remarks about it, telling us how "interesting" or "insightful" it is that a coach says something anyone with half a brain has already observed.

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