One of the reasons why tennis is one of the most difficult and most respected sports in the world is that players are all by themselves. In sports like football, soccer, basketball, and baseball, if a player is having a bad day or gets injured, the coach can substitute him or her. In tennis, if you’re having a bad day, you have to deal with it. If you get injured, you have to deal with it. If your strategy is not working, you have to deal with it. And trust me when I say this, it can be extremely difficult to do that sometimes.
If you’re not extremely familiar with the sport, you may be unsure about how coaching works in tennis. When you’re watching tennis on tv, they keep showing the coaches every time a point is over. And still, you never see them on the court. Or do you? The rules of coaching in tennis can be quite confusing for fans, but here I’ll try my best to simplify them for you.
So after all, are tennis players allowed to talk to their coaches during a match? Different tournaments have different rules, but generally, male players cannot talk to their coaches in any circumstances. Female players are allowed to have one on-court coaching session per set in non-Grand Slam tournaments. In Grand-Slams, players cannot talk to their coaches at all. During college tennis events, Davis Cup, and Fed Cup matches, players can talk to coaches at all times.
While the summary above gives you a brief understanding of on-court coaching rules, sometimes the rules are not that straight-forward. Every now and then, you’ll hear about a player going crazy over a coaching violation (like Serena in the video below), but it’s hard to understand why. We’ll get a little more in-depth below and answer all your questions, and by the end, you’ll understand why Serena is indeed wrong in the video.
Rules About Coaching During A Match
Since the rules for male, female, junior, and college tennis players are written and enforced by different organizations, there are some differences when it comes to coaching rules. Below, we will cover how each institution views on-court coaching.
ATP On-Court Coaching Rules
The ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) is the organization responsible for all of the major men’s tennis tournaments except the Grand Slams. The ATP has its own set of rules, which differ from the WTA, ITF, and college tournaments, and every ATP tournament should abide by such rules.
In any ATP tennis tournament, male tennis players are not allowed to receive any sort of instruction from a coach – whether the coach is inside or outside the court. The ATP Rulebook states that “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.” What that means is that coaches can neither come to the court nor give instructions from the stands.
So technically it doesn’t matter if you’re Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, or just an average Joe – you will always have to play a professional tennis match by yourself. In reality, coaches break these rules frequently and try to find ways to communicate with their players without the umpire noticing it. If an umpire does catch a coach giving instructions to a player during a match, that will lead to a coaching violation (see below) and can lead to fines up to $5,000.
WTA On-Court Coaching Rules
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is the equivalent of the ATP but for female players. It organizes every major tournament besides Grand Slams, and it also has its own set of rules.
When it comes to coaching rules, the WTA shares a few of the same rules with the ATP, like forbidding audible or visual communication throughout the match and fining players up to $5,000. However, the WTA rules differ in one major aspect from the ATP. The WTA allows players to request on-court coaching once per set. So if a player decides that she needs a change of strategy and wants to talk to her coach, she can let the umpire know and the coach will be able to join her the next time there is a change of sides.
On-court coaching happens quickly (60 to 90 seconds), and the coach needs to leave the court immediately after. During doubles matches, each player can request their own coach one time per set, but both coaches cannot be on the court at the same time. Every time a coach walks into the court for coaching, he or she will be equipped with a microphone, and you can usually hear what they said on TV.
The video below shows one of my good friends, Tom Hill, during a changeover with his player Maria Sakkari. You can see how even a 60 to 90-second interval with your coach can change the course of the match.
Grand Slams On-Court Coaching Rules
The Grand Slams (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open) are the four greatest tennis tournaments in the world and are organized by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). The ITF has its own set of rules when it comes to on-court coaching, so players in Grand Slams need to abide by them. In both singles and doubles Grand Slam matches, on-court coaching is not allowed.
College On-Court Coaching Rules
Collegiate tennis matches follow the rules of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). One of the coolest things about college tennis is that coaches can be on the court – at all times. Coaches can communicate with players either visually or audibly, and there are no restrictions on how much time the coach can spend with the player. Coaches can actually talk to players in between points!
Since multiple matches happen at the same time in college, coaches can also change courts whenever they want and can coach multiple players at the same time.
Below you can see a photo of my coach and me during a match in college. A lot of times it’s great to have some advice and encouragement when matches get tough.
Junior On-Court Coaching Rules
All international junior tennis tournaments, including Grand Slams, follow ITF rules. Because of that, on-court coaching is not allowed for either male or female players. However, since there are no chair umpires nor television streaming in many of the junior tournaments, it is much more difficult to enforce such rules.
Davis Cup & Fed Cup On-Court Coaching Rules
The Davis Cup and the Fed Cup are team events organized by the ITF, where players have a chance to represent their countries. What is really cool about them is that coaches are allowed to be on court at all times, creating a fun and engaging atmosphere.
What Is A Coaching Violation In Tennis?
If a coach attempts to communicate with a player (whether visually or audibly) when he or she is not allowed, he is considered to have committed a coaching violation. If an umpire notices that a coaching violation has happened, he will first give the player a Warning. If that happens a second time, the player will be given a Point Penalty, which means he will lose a point. If it happens a third time, a Game Penalty will happen (losing a whole game). If continues to happen after that, the umpire may ask the coach to be removed from the stands.
Can Players Talk To Coaches During Bathroom Breaks or Rain Delays?
Since players are able to leave the court during matches for bathroom breaks, you may think that they are able to speak to their coaches during that break. However, that is not allowed by any means, and, in order to avoid that, a tournament official always follows the players into the bathroom. During WTA events where on-court coaching is allowed, if a player chooses to take a bathroom break, that means that she is giving up on her on-court coaching opportunity during that set.
The one exception to the on-court coaching rule is when a rain delay happens. If there is substantial rain and a match gets suspended, – that means both players leave the court – then players are able to speak to their coaches until the match restarts.