October 3, 2022

In a stunning move last week, the ATP Tour announced the trial of Off Court Coaching on the ATP Tour through the end of the 2022 season. The biggest impact of this rule will be at the US Open Championships. United later in August. Some of the rules laid out state that coaches must stay in their seats and that verbal coaching is allowed – when the player is on the same side of the pitch as his coach.

They further clarified specific details with these points

  • Coaches must sit in designated tournament coach seats
  • Coaching (verbal and non-verbal) is only allowed if it does not interrupt play or create discomfort for the opponent.
  • Verbal coaching is only allowed when the player is on the same side of the pitch
  • Non-verbal coaching (hand signals) is allowed at all times
  • Verbal coaching can consist of a few words and/or short sentences (no conversation is allowed)
  • Coaches cannot talk to their player when they leave the pitch for any reason
  • Penalties and fines will still apply for abuse or misuse of the above training condition.

Depending on where one stands with regard to the authorization of coaching, the points of view are very diverse.

Stefanos Tsitsipas hailed the move as he obviously got several code violations for receiving coaching from his father. Rafa welcomed the lawsuit, as did Serena’s former coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who is also Simona Halep’s full-time coach.

Mouratoglou had openly admitted to waving at Serena in her final against Osaka at the 2018 US Open where Serena was picked up a penalty point. Serena, however, didn’t notice his signals. Pam Shriver, former WTA player and ESPN commentator, said: “It’s time for this, seeing how hard they were having the no-coaching rule enforced, why not?” There are also many who are against this thought process like Jim Courier and maybe Federer to name a few.

In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons why allowing on-court coaching is not such a good idea. First of all, from the beginning, tennis has always been about individuality. A player’s brain and thought process as well as their physical and striking skills are brought out brilliantly as a male/female effort.

Breakdown is essential in this sport, especially when everyone is capable of hitting the same forehands, backhands and serves. I sometimes tell players that tennis is like a physical game of chess. You need to understand the opponent’s weaknesses as you face them and be able to troubleshoot.

As a professional gamer, you must possess this trait. In my opinion, this is what makes tennis so unique. Secondly, this coaching rule will give an unfair advantage to the higher ranked or best players since they are able to hire the top coaches.

In 1999, when the ATP experimented with on-court coaching, Brad Gilbert reportedly coached Agassi to win three consecutive titles. This was quickly dropped. Some of these lower ranked players travel alone and it becomes quite unfair for them. Lower ranked players will not only have to face a high level player, but they will also have to face their coaches.

The ATP says this new coaching trial could bring more interest and excitement to the sport. The WTA tour experimented with coaching in 2008-2009. It didn’t seem to have such a big impact at the time. Whether that will add excitement remains to be seen.

The USTA currently allows practice for its junior tournaments when players go their separate ways. I think it’s a good rule that coaches can help some juniors think and strategize. Although I am against coaching on the ATP Tour, I think coaching should be allowed for junior players.

Juniors are in the developmental stages where they have a lot to learn about strategies and troubleshooting. This will help develop juniors in a healthy way so that once they reach the levels of the ATP and WTA tours, they can be individualistic and independent thinkers.