Is Coaching Allowed In Tennis? (All Rules Fully Explained)

Is Coaching Allowed In Tennis? (All Rules Fully Explained)

Published: December 2, 2021

In professional sports, coaching is often seen as an essential component. In some sports, coaches are almost more important than the players themselves. But is coaching allowed in tennis? Let’s find out in this article!

Coaching in tennis is not allowed during Grand Slams or ATP tournaments. During WTA tournaments, on-court coaching is allowed once per set for 90 seconds. In tennis, any form of communication between coach and player is considered coaching.

There is so much more to say about coaching in tennis. What exactly are the rules, in which tournaments is it allowed and when not, what is actually considered coaching. You can read all about it in this article.

Why is Coaching Not Allowed in Tennis?

Tennis is a very traditional sport in which little has changed. Traditionally, coaching has not been allowed in tennis. Moreover, not every player can afford a coach; therefore, it would be unfair to allow coaching.

Unlike many other sports where innovations are regularly applied, tennis is a sport where this rarely, if ever, happens.

An excellent example of this is the fact that women play three sets and men play five sets in some cases.

Traditionally, coaching has not been allowed in tennis. It was seen as a sport of one against one, and these two individuals had to fight the battle themselves without any help from a coach.

There is also the fact that coaching can make tennis unfair in some cases. However, this needs some explanation.

Unlike every other sport that plays within the same country or national league, the tennis season is structured into a series of tournaments across six continents.

Both the male and female players play on a tour; for the men, it’s the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). For the women, it’s the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

The tennis season lasts almost a full year, from January to November.

During this season, hundreds of other tournaments are played in addition to the four grand slams.

Tennis players can’t just decide which tournament to play and where. There are requirements on what types of tournaments players play and how many.

Therefore, you can imagine that a tennis season is costly for a tennis player.

In 2013, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) reported that players only break even financially once they reach a ranking of #336 for the men and #253 for the females.

Players below those rankings typically do not earn anything for playing tennis. Because of that, they may not have the means to employ a coach.

We often see teams follow the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams around the world for forty weeks of the year, and that seems like the norm.

While it might be the dream, it is not the norm.

A high-ranking player with a team has to pay their salaries, travel, hotels, and whatever else is included in their contracts.

At the bare minimum, a player who doesn’t break even may have a coach but can’t afford to bring them to every tournament.

That is why coaching is not allowed in tennis tournaments. It boils down to fairness and creating an equal playing field for all.

What is Considered Coaching in Tennis?

The short answer:

In tennis, any form of communication between coach and player is considered coaching. Communication of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach is not permitted and will be penalized.

The extended answer:

Tennis is considered one of the loneliest sports to play. The player is the only one on the court with their thoughts and their opponent staring them down across the net.

Athletes work alongside their coach on a daily basis. But during tournaments – especially Grand Slams – they are not allowed to receive any coaching during warm-ups and throughout the entirety of a match.

The Grand Slam Rulebook says:

“Players shall not receive coaching during a match (including the warm-up). Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching.”

It is up to the chair umpire’s discretion on what qualifies as coaching. It could be anything from secret hand gestures and body movements or explicit instructions.

So, what is a coaching violation in tennis?

It is against the rules for a coach to communicate with their player – either verbally or visually – during a match. If caught by the chair umpire, the player is issued a coaching violation, a warning.

If it happens again, the player is issued a point penalty and loses a point. If it happens a third time, the player is issued a game penalty and loses a whole game.

If it continues, the player may be defaulted and forced from the match.

Can tennis players talk to their coaches during a match?

Tennis players cannot talk to their coaches, and coaches cannot talk to their players during matches.

A great example of this is the 2018 U.S. Open Final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Serena was given three violations during the match and fined $17,000. The first violation was for receiving coaching via hand signals. The second one was for smashing a racket. And the third violation came in the form of a game penalty after she called the chair umpire a thief.

Is Coaching Allowed at Grand Slams?

The Grand Slams are governed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which has its own set of rules for on-court coaching. In both singles and doubles matches, zero coaching is allowed.

The men’s governing body, the ATP, has its own set of rules – and they differ from the WTA and the ITF. So, players that play in ATP sanctioned events must follow ATP rules.

The ATP Rulebook states:

“Players shall not receive coaching during a tournament match. Communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching.”

Is Coaching Allowed in Women’s Tennis and the WTA?

The WTA is the governing body behind the women’s tour, and it also has its own set of rules. On-court coaching rules are like that of the ATP – there is no audible or visual communication permitted.

However, the WTA does allow players to request on-court coaching once per set in non-Grand Slam events.

All the player has to do is let the umpire know that she wants to talk with her coach, and the coach will be able to join her at the following change of ends.

The coach is only allowed on court for a maximum of ninety seconds and then leaves once they and their player are finished.

The fascinating part of on-court coaching, as a coach myself, is that coaches must be equipped with a microphone so we can hear the exchange on live TV.

Will There be More On-Court Coaching in The Future?

The short answer:

It isn't easy to estimate whether more coaching will be allowed in tennis in the future. Tennis is a traditional sport where people like to stick to old principles. Therefore, it is very unlikely that coaching will be allowed at Grand Slams in the future.

The extended answer:

After the 2018 U.S. Open Final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou admitted to the media that he was coaching.

He said that many players get coached throughout the course of a match.

While on-court coaching is against the tennis rules, it is against a coach’s nature to not coach or, at the very least, refrain from reacting.

Patrick Mouratoglou doubled down after he admitted to coaching and stated that tennis needed to change.

“I have never understood why tennis is just about the only sport in which coaching during matches is not allowed. Coaching is a vital component of any sporting performance. Yet banning it almost makes it look as if it has to be hidden as if it was shameful.

Authorizing coaching in competition and actually staging it so that the viewers can enjoy it as a show would ensure that it remains pivotal in the sport.”

This topic of on-court coaching has been a debate for the last decade, if not more. And like every debate, there are two sides: the traditionalists and the progressives.

The traditionalists want it to stay a one versus one sport where the athletes must solve their own problems once they get on the court.

The traditionalists say that it makes the players look weak – but that goes against the logic of other sports where players frequently interact with their coaches.

Their other argument goes to whether it is fair to players who can’t afford to hire a coach or fly their coach to every tournament.

But that isn’t the best argument since inequality is built into professional tennis.

But, in 2008, the WTA allowed on-court coaching during their events. It was labeled an experiment and was designed with television in mind by allowing the viewers to hear what the coach and player are discussing.

This rule change was greeted with much derision, as the change of tradition is always met with similar feelings in tennis.

It’s been over ten years since the rule change, and many players and coaches still express reservations about it.

However, on-court coaching has added a new flavor to tennis.

The on-court coaching moments create discussion; they are widely shared on social media, from soul-searching moments to shockingly testy moments between coach and player.

So, will we see coaching in Grand Slams? – I can say confidently that this will never happen. As mentioned previously, tennis is full of traditions that many find difficult to break from.

Is Coaching Allowed in High School Tennis?

The short answer:

Coaching is allowed in high school tennis. A lot of the coaching happens at practices or training because coaches are only allowed certain moments with their athletes.

The extended answer:

Coaching is allowed in high school tennis. A lot of the coaching happens at practices or training because coaches are only allowed certain moments with their athletes.

High school coaches are typically only allowed to coach during a match during changeovers and at the end of the first set. Otherwise, you can’t communicate with your players.

However, I’ve seen many – myself included – use hand signals and even carefully coded single word cheers to get the job done when it isn’t a changeover.

The only ones allowed to coach are the head coach and the assistant coach.

A high school coach has to keep their eyes on five to six courts at a time, so it is crucial to scan each player and tell them something positive and constructive at the changeover or between sets.

High school matches are usually played without a line judge, so it is up to the coaches to keep an eye out for any overstepping of rules and boundaries by players, coaches, and especially parents.

Conclusion

On-court coaching is a heavily debated topic, and I genuinely see it being a high point of contention in the next decade or so.

It is believed that tennis players should go on court alone and battle with their physicality, mentality, and skills with no outside help against their opponent.

On-court coaching happens, whether it’s allowed or not, so we will just have to keep watching to see what the future holds for the sport of tennis.

Brian Henderson

I am what you might call a true tennis fanatic. When I am not on the tennis court teaching or playing myself, I am probably writing an informative article about tennis. My goal is to get as many people as possible excited and informed about tennis.

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Published: December 2, 2021