Why I Hate WTA On-Court Coaching: Lauren Davis Edition

So, it’s no secret that I hate on-court coaching. I could probably write about 5,000 words about how demeaning, inconsequential, and patronizing it is, but I’ll spare you.

Instead, I’m just going to start a series where I post videos of coaching time-outs that, in my opinion, directly contradict the “Strong is Beautiful” motto that the WTA claims to have. (I have issues with that motto too, but there will be time for that later.)

This week’s example is courtesy of Lauren Davis and her coach, who I believe is Carlos Zapata, Program Director for the Evert Academy where Lauren trains.

The 19-year-old called down Zapata when she was leading Li Na 6-4, 1-4 at the Western & Southern Open.

Here’s what happened:

(Thanks to @rabbitsblinkity for the video.)

The “highlights”?

“Stop that whining, because you’re not a little girl.”
“Stop making those faces.”

That is just not a good look for anyone.

Lindsay is an author, a filmmaker, a long-winded blogger, and a huge tennis fan.

8 Responses

  1. Jeppe
    Jeppe August 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm |

    Didn’t know the point of sport was looking good?

    The WTA on-court coaching sessions give viewers an insight into the players’ state of mind, the game tactics and player-coach relationships, which all add to the viewing experience and understanding of what’s going on in the match.

    I agree it isn’t always pretty and often is the source of some second-hand embarrasment, but I’ll take that.

  2. tennis watcher
    tennis watcher August 17, 2013 at 6:02 pm |

    Great post Lindsey. I totally agree with you! Can you imagine Carlos Zapata talking to a 19 ATP player this way?

    I don’t like on-court coaching for either sex, at least in its current form. With so many inequalities between the WTA and ATP I can’t understand why no one wants to tackle this. Maybe if the top ten WTA players banned together and released a statement and pledge we would see some change… I find this far more bothersome than the squells of Sharapova and Azarenka. If there was a uniform and professional use of on-court coaching then I could see some value for the viewer and the player. But as you have noted, the players often do worse after the coaching. Are the WTA players really strong and beautiful if they can’t or won’t take control of their games? I wonder how much a change to this paternalistic ritual would put coaches on their toes?

    By the way are Serena and A. Radwanska the only top ten who don’t use on-court coaching?

  3. Max
    Max August 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm |

    On-court coaching is a fail especially when no one is talking in English as 95% of the worldwide audience won’t understand a thing.

    The ATP are coached from the stands, the WTA should be the same way.

  4. Stella
    Stella August 17, 2013 at 9:04 pm |

    I agree with you, it makes the wta players look like children who need their hands held through matches. Massive error from the wta to allow this nonsense.

    1. anora
      anora August 17, 2013 at 11:22 pm |

      Sorry, but many of the WTA players ARE children who need their hands held. Apparently, Lauren Davis is one of them. Davis requested her coach to come on court and speak with her several times during the match. No one is forced to accept on-court coaching – this is her choice.

      However, the real problem with on-court coaching is why it exists in the first place. As Jeppe alluded, on-court coaching is allowed for entertainment purposes. In other words, the powers-that-be have so little faith in women’s tennis as a real sport that they believe that the only way it will sell is if it’s marketed as side-show entertainment.

      That’s why the WTA has an All-Access hour and the ATP doesn’t – so we can see how personable the women are – the men don’t have to be nice, they just need to play well. It’s the reason Sharapova et. al. have been allowed to scream their way through matches instead of being told to shut up; controversy gets a lot of media coverage. It’s why the WTA website looks like it was created by a sorority while the ATP site is actually useful for getting match and player data. Nobody is supposed to take women’s matches seriously; they are supposed to be interested in make-up tips. It’s also the reason why the women have been encouraged to participate in a marketing campaign which involves kitting them out in what look like cocktail dresses and photographing them while someone points a fan up their skirt and throws glitter in their face. The ATP photos I’ve seen show the men in their standard kit; they don’t need to be pretty to be marketable.

      Undoubtedly, these marketing ploys have gotten the players some attention over the years, but but they have been degraded in the process. Sadly, the players willingly allow themselves to be treated this way and until they stand up for themselves this will go on.

      Ultimately, I blame this mess on the WTA administration because they are responsible for the way the players get marketed in the first place. The WTA is sorely lacking in responsible leadership that respects the players as professional athletes and markets them accordingly.

      Apologies for the super-long post, but I had to vent.

      1. Jewell
        Jewell August 18, 2013 at 2:39 am |

        I agree with so much of this post and especially the criticism of the WTA. The entire “Strong is beautiful” campaign betrays the WTA’s lack of confidence in its own product to my eyes. Project that, and that’s what people will think of the WTA. It sucks.

        Re the players, I imagine the photogenic and talented ones are groomed from a pretty early age into this “marketable” shape. Probably not that easy for them to kick over the traces.

  5. Joshua
    Joshua August 19, 2013 at 3:49 am |

    I don’t like on-court coaching. But I don’t think the specific things Zapata says here are especially degrading. I don’t know a coach in any sport who wouldn’t tell a player who was crying to stop whining and grow up. I also don’t know that on-court coaching makes women look somehow especially weak or needy — is it really that much worse than just watching them cry during changeovers, which we see all the time?

    1. tennis watcher
      tennis watcher August 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm |

      Joshua you posed a really interesting question. I hope my response provides you with some thoughts for consideration.

      Like most things it is all about the context! If I drive my car at 20 MPH, would you say I am driving fast or slow? Well if I am driving in blinding rain on difficult terrain during a blizzard yes, but on a highway on a sunny day no.

      Does the coaching in question align to the sport’s culture and is it appropriate? The culture of team sports like soccer, football and basketball accept and indeed promote a more aggressive and loud coaching, with few exceptions think Phil Jackson… But this sport is steeped in sportsmanship and respect. Nothing about this on-court coaching session could be used for marketing tennis culture.

      Why don’t the ATP have on-court coaching? Would it make them look weak or needy or unable to think/strategize? By the way, there is nothing wrong with crying during changeovers. It is no different than smashing a racket for which you can be penalized. It I had to choose an emotion to vent my frustration during a match I would have no problem with crying. Why do you have such a problem with it but not the violence of smashing rackets or throwing tantrums?

      Given the many issues plaguing tennis,(notably performance improvement drugs, gambling/fixing matches,violence and fuzzy business relationships among players, commentators, media, tournaments and sponsors)on-court coaching can be easily addressed, but won’t be because of the accepted sexism and undervaluation of women’s tennis. Instead of addressing this, red herrings like time violation, sneaker colors and grunting/yelping will be fixated upon by tennis lovers like you who refuse to look at the true issues.

      Beyond the human issue of civility, respect and appropriateness, do we see men being spoken to in this way in this sport on tv? Joshua should perception be any less important to a woman than a man? For men, ‘being seen and portrayed as a man is important’. This is also true of women. Strength, independence and respect are not and should not be gender specific.

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