January 9, 2011

Criticisms of Current Rules: Part I: The Injury Timeout

This is a three-part essay regarding disagreements that I have with ITF tournament rules.

In 2010, I attended 19 ITF events, during which I witnessed several matches won by abusing the rules with well timed injury or bathroom timeout. Also, I have concluded that the No-Ad and Super-Tie Break systems create topsy-turvy results. Upon questioning multiple of fellow coaches and players, I have heard many similar sentiments.

The issue that may be of most immediate concern is the abuse of
the rule for
Injury Timeout. The existing rule for on-court injuries may be of good intent, but it has been grossly abused by multiple players on the ITF Junior Circuit.

Faking injuries is now a very common method to change to momentum of matches. Its abuse is noticeable to all coaches and players and many spectators.

Momentum is the most powerful force in sports, and it is very hard to earn, fairly, through good tennis tactics and skilled play. During a tournament, there are some occasions where there may be a legitimate injury – a player has been hurt enough to stop play. However, even when a legitimate injury does happen, it should not be weighted so heavily as to cause an unfair disadvantage to the healthy opponent.

In no other sport are athletes penalized by their opponent’s injury or lack of conditioning. In a tennis match, a player’s health is rarely in peril.

Here are a few recommendations to remedy this issue:

A. A distinction made between an acute and chronic injury.
Chronic injuries and pre-existing injuries should never be treated on the court. Acute injuries are different, but there should still be some consideration for the concerns of the healthy player and the preservation of the momentum that he or she has earned.

B. A one-game penalty for a player that calls for a trainer.
This would eliminate bogus injuries, but still be a fair trade-off if for the player who is seriously injured.

C. A trainer can only be used during the normal change of sides.
If a trainer is needed, the normal 3 minutes for treatment would be fair under these circumstances. If the trainer is called for during a change of sides break, then the athlete should have to wait to be treated during the next change of sides break. This would not disturb the momentum of the match.

D. Cramping should not be considered an injury.
It is, rather, a symptom of poor conditioning.

The decision making burden, concerning what is and what is not an injury, should not be put on the referees or the trainer at the site. This leads to an inconsistency of assessments. Officials and trainers will usually conservatively error on the side of the injured as they fear making a mistake. Therefore, a consistently enforced rule should be in place to take subjectivity out of the situation.

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