Friday, January 27, 2023

US Junior Open Day Three: Cheating children and pushy parents spoil the day

Great athleticism, but gamesmanship and interfering parents overshadow US Junior Open
RICHARD MILLMAN reports from the Black Knight US Junior Open presented by Ashaway Strings

AS day three commenced and crunch time arrived a sudden onslaught of acting out, poor sportsmanship and out and out cheating infected some of the sport at the US Junior Open.

Children were seen breaking down, screaming at junior referees, and worst of all engaging in desperate fishing expeditions in hopes of gaining cheap unearned points.

This was mainly in the consolation draws where junior referees were on occasion pressurized by inappropriate parents and supporters.

However, there were also highly contentious games in the main draws at Yale as the over concentration on winning at all costs seems to have completely taken over in some competitors’ minds.

In conversations with Damon Leedale Brown and Peter Nicol (pictured right), the consensus of opinion was that all talking by players on the court should stop other than appeals.

There were many well contested close matches today where the skill was exhilarating and the sportsmanship good or even excellent. But there were enough rancorous incidents to leave a bad flavour.

The referee should simply make a decision when asked and, once that decision is made, play should immediately continue.These incessant questions and arguments with referees are simply making the flow of the game impossible and are affecting outcomes.

There were of course some beautiful games and clear indications that new talent is coming to the fore. I saw Thierry Lincou today, studying a young French player.

In the boys Under-17s, two familiar names went onto the score sheet as the match between Spahr and Doyle went ahead as scheduled – the sons of two great coaches Chris Spahr and Bill Doyle.

Elsewhere in the competition Timmy Brownell continued his progress against strong opposition. He is the son of Chris Brownell, whom I mentioned yesterday, the long-term coach of Dartmouth.

There were many well contested close matches today where the skill was exhilarating and the sportsmanship good or even excellent. But there were enough rancorous incidents to leave a bad flavour.

This is sport and should be sporting. Winning is a consequence of playing good sport, not the primary focus. The game plan must be the priority and a desire to improve. Meanwhile tomorrow is finals day and we hope to see brilliant Squash and fewer histrionics.

For today’s results, please click here.


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  1. I ran a junior bronze tournament once. I had no problems with the kids – I recall one racquet flinging incident but that was it … the parents were a nightmare.

    1) Parents who have their personal assistant call just before the tournament starts to demand that the draws have to be reworked because XYZ has a ballet recital Saturday late afternoon and family event on Sunday morning … I had several such ‘accomodation’ demands

    2) Parents who try to question the calls made by junior referees against their kids while the match is going on. It got so bad with one match – that I had to drop what I was doing and stand by the junior referee to make sure no further ‘interference’ happened

    3) No shows for consolation draws once players lost in the main draw. At least let the organizer know you are not planning on showing up rather than leave a kid hanging

    The funniest I’ve heard at a junior event was when a friend of mine applauded a shot made by a junior, the mother of the other player told him ‘Please don’t do that. It upsets my son’.

  2. Richard,
    I have witnessed innumerable similar incidents at many such elite events as both a parent and organizer. I no longer participate as an organizer and will no longer attend any elite junior events. Before throwing in the towel, I suggested to the SRA that I served on as a volunteer that the SRA should adopt a zero tolerance to juniors arguing with refs (similar to a rule in my local junior soccer leagues that has worked so beautifully). My suggestion was met with much resistance. I am so pleased to see your opinion and hope your voice and suggestion receive support as the behavior you cite is ruining the junior experience for many players, parents, coaches, spectators and organizers. The fix is so simple. All that is really needed is a desire to address the problem head on.

  3. “We mock the things we are to be”…my father always joked with me. However, let’s face it, this is becoming the state of our game.

    I wanted to thank you for your piece and for bringing to the forefront a serious issue in our game and one that threatens it at many levels. I had brought this up in a note that I wrote to Squash Magazine staff last spring as I was commenting on a variety of issues – thoughts stimulated from the recent WSJ article “How Squash got Serious” and several other experiences and observations.

    The sportsmanship and behavioral issue is something that needs to be addressed urgently and consistently. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to address when kids ref kids—and still difficult to address even when adults ref kids.

    I have been gratified to have been approached by other parents and coaches to my child’s on court demeanor. Even when he is disappointed and frustrated, he recognizes his opponents achievements and talents. He calls a clean game always…always calling his own shots down, the hard to see double bounces, the close ones out, to assist the referees. He is not a “let/stroke” fisherman. He never pounds his racquet or throws his equipment down in anger or frustration or leaves the court in tears – even at the emotional brink.

    We have had an understanding since he started to compete a few years ago that competing is a privilege and requires a level of maturity, grace, self-control and sportsmanship. I am always surprised by some of the atrocious behavior that I see, even in some of the youngest kids. Even at the club level, so many kids cheat the call — winning at all odds. We are not talking about a majority of players – but that minority is a vocal one that tarnishes the sport.

    At the US Jr championships last spring, one kid’s outbursts and on-court behavior on an adjacent court to where my child was playing was a serious distraction and disrespectful not only to his opponent, but also to both my child and his opponent, who could easily overhear the commotion. A 10 year old had to get 3 warnings! Why this was tolerated by refs, tournament officials and his parents is beyond me. This evolves on to bad older kid and adult behavior. At a local adult league championship match last spring, we had side bets going on numbers of combined curses and racquet abuse episodes by one particular player who is notorious for his poor on-court behavior, which has become a comical sidelight. Shabana’s incident last spring at the Kuwait Cup highlights how this behavior has become endemic and normative at even the highest levels. And how about the more recent reports of Alex Gough berating a referee (only a warning??

    There are so many things that keep this sport from the Olympics – but these behaviors need to be changed. There needs to be a ZERO tolerance policy – which includes also ANY parent interference. At the US Jr Open, an Egyptian coach was seen repeatedly sending signals and coaching through the glass to his U13 player in a close match!

    Unless WSA, PSA and all country affiliates take these things seriously and create serious repercussions, how will we affect change?

    Now-a-days, eruptions like this or tacit cheating would generate an immediate technical foul, disqualification, ejection, red card, fine/penalty, suspension in just about any other amateur or professional sport. Why is this not being addressed more at all levels of our game? While refereeing at a JCT event last year, I had to warn a very young boy on some terrible behavior. When I came off the court, his mother thanked me…although if I were her, I would have pulled my child from the event and made him take a little break from tournament squash until he was able to manage with the maturity and self-control that the game demands.

    This sport is developing a generation of McEnroe’s and Nastase’s. That was not a high point for the world of tennis. Perhaps this is a significant factor in our elusive bid for the Olympics. It is not just an issue with our children.

    Players, parents and coaches need to address this collectively. They need to act with a decorum and with a control that serves as an example to our children. And WSA, PSA, US Squash and all other country organizations need to commit itself more addressing it and demand a behavioral makeover at all levels of the game.

    Last year at the Harvard-Trinity match, Brandon McLaughlin overturned a let call to award a stroke to his opponent Juan Vargas), conceding the game 11-9 with his concession. I was glad that there were plenty of kids there to see that.

    That was one where we could clearly point to the example and “Mock the Things We Are to Be”.

  4. Interesting article and I enjoyed reading the comments.
    I have been an active junior coach for 25 years and in my experience many of the boys with potential started with too much fire in their bellies. However, by introducing strategies to deal with this, in a calm and collected way, we have always succeeded in controlling these issues.
    It can take time, years in some cases, and the investment of a lot of time and effort by parents, coaches and the kids themselves, but it’s worth it in the long run.

  5. Richard,

    Thank you for the article. Cheating needs to be addressed immediately with punishments that carry weight. I have seen US Squash officials watch the cheating behavior on many occasions and never say a word. US Squash is weak with the enforcement of the rules. Until that attitude changes with US Squash, we will continue down this path of poor behavior and cheating.

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