Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Court Tantrums: What's Your Policy?

John McEnroe, the undisputed king of the on-court tantrum.
 Photo from
I am a closet softy when it comes to on-court tears. Tantrums, not so much. Absolutely Not Tolerated. I follow the tennis rules Point Penalty System structure: a verbal warning, then a penalty (usually a brief time out in a safe area nearby), followed by possibility of a default (meaning if behavior is going to be an ongoing problem, maybe it is time to take a break from tennis - or at least tennis with me).

A word about safety: safety comes first. Is the tantrum thrower also a racquet thrower? Any physical misbehavior toward equipment, court, or other players is Absolutely Not Tolerated. If a time out is needed, do you have a spot that is sheltered, where they will not be in the path of students or balls as the activity continues, but you can still keep a close eye on them during their 'break'? And also where they are plainly visible so that you don't forget about them? When I have a student taking a break, I am frequently calling out to them to see how they are doing and if they are ready to return to the group.

This may seem like a hard-nosed stance on tantrums, but it is often moderated by one of the following.
  • age - perhaps the biggest factor. My reaction to a 5-year-old tantrum is quite different from that to a 10-year-old. For the former, mercy is a possibility. For the latter, not so much. 
  • conditions - is it hot? is it chilly? Even windy conditions can cause frustration and discomfort for very young players. I make sure everyone is comfortable for conditions. In South Carolina, where I live, it is usually a heat situation so I make sure everyone is hydrated and we take a shade break if necessary.
  • duration - our clinics for under 8s are 45 minute sessions, and sometimes that is stretching things. If your classes are much longer, don't be surprised when kids get tired. If they get tired, they get cranky. And it can go downhill from there very quickly.
So when things occasionally take an unexpected turn during your lesson, just remember you are there to set an example as well as teach tennis. Keeping your cool can be a challenge, whether you live in South Carolina or South Dakota. Hang in there! I'm rooting for you!