Let's get it straight
By Jeff Brack

July 2007

USTA Officials are your friends. They are not there to upset you. They are not there to distract you. They are not there to change the course of your match. They ARE there to ensure that the competition is fair and the sportsmanship is respectable.

Don't believe me? USTA Officials and Referees are the unsung heroes of competitive tennis. You've heard all of the complaints - "That official's blind" or "He singled me out" or "She wasn't even paying attention." But, how many times have you heard someone say, "Boy, I'm glad that official was there. We really couldn't decide what the score was." Occasionally, I have seen a player or parent shake an official's hand and say, "Thank you for taking the time to be here." And, they certainly deserve more of that.

USTA Official, Dan Annese, oversees a junior match

USTA Official, Dan Annese, oversees a junior match

Many of us do not take the time to consider the official's point of view. Regardless of what you might think, these people are not forced to be present at a tournament. If they didn?t want to be there, they wouldn?t be. USTA Officials, in many cases, are retired adults that love the game of tennis so much, that they want to be involved in any way they can. They find great satisfaction in being able to contribute to an event, being a valuable member of the tournament staff and watching others compete. It certainly is not for the money. When all is said and done, they don't make much more than gas money. Tennis officiating is basically a volunteer duty. So, if they are there, it is because they want to help.

To the parents of junior players: I know sometimes it may seem like an official has it in for your kid. Anytime a call goes against your player, it's going to feel like that. I know many officials and have repeatedly gone through the certification classes myself. The USTA is very specific about being over-officious? they prohibit it. These people do not desire to hand out any more penalties than are absolutely necessary. They want you to have fun in a fair and decent match. But the rules are the rules. If you get called on a foot fault, trust me, it was. "Roving" officials do not have the time nor the inclination to camp out at one court. There are exceptions, of course. At times, some of us may require a little more "attention" than others. But on the whole, these "keepers of the peace" are tasked with overseeing multiple courts at a time - a big job for anyone.

Really, I think what needs to be considered is that tournament officials are not the "Rule Nazis" that post-match discussions often make them out to be. Remember, most are frequent players themselves and know what it's like to be in YOUR position. They are trying to be as objective as possible, so try to consider what it's like to be in THEIR position. The efforts of these volunteers keep the rules straight and our events respectable. Their mere presence holds everyone?s behavior to a higher standard.

Imagine an event without them? Now imagine the next time you finish a match, making the effort to shake an official?s hand and thank them. It'll demonstrate character and even better, you'll make their day.

"Friend at Court" is the title of the United States Tennis Association's published rules of tennis. The title refers not only to the book itself, but the individual that volunteers the time to be a resource of that information when we need it most. Friend at Court indeed.