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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Cheating (And The Cheating Cheaters Who Cheat Us)

It’s tax time!!!


What better time to talk about cheating!?

(No one calls it cheating on taxes, though, right?  Unless it’s someone else.  No, we call it “fudging”.  Sounds tastier than “cheating”).

A tennis pro and coach I admire wrote me last fall, and this is what he said:

This summer while coaching at JTT sectionals I was getting very frustrated about attitudes I saw in some kids and many coaches. It really made me question whether I wanted to continue doing this as a career. We lost a team match because of a kid on the other team cheating and his coach was continuously supporting the cheating. It made me think that I could never amount to an elite coach because I could not do whatever it takes to win (cheat to win). I thought, what’s the point of doing this if I am going to lose to kids and coaches who cheat and I don’t have the guts to do it back?

I shook both players’ hands, told the coach, “Good match” (it took a lot of patience not to freak out at him) and went for a walk around the facility. I felt so bad for my players. When I came back fifteen or so minutes later I expected to find my kids hanging their heads…but they were not.

They were playing some weird game they made up and laughing. I approached the kid who lost (he knew the other kid cheated to win the match) and asked how he was doing. His response was, “Great, we made up this sweet game!” I asked if he was mad at his opponent and the cheating. He said, “Who cares, it was still fun, and I get to go to TLC today!”

It brought everything back into perspective. It was a reminder that coaching tennis goes far beyond a score, beyond winning. It reminded me how blessed I am to be able to mentor kids. It reminded me that I will gladly take last place (and we did) every single time we step out on the court if we leave the court with pride, dignity, and integrity. It reminded me that coaching tennis is not about me or my accomplishments. It reminded me that so much can be learned from losing. It reminded me that there are so many great tennis kids and coaches out there like your staff at TLC.

I replied:

You are an elite coach in ways those coaches who cheat and teach their kids to cheat will never touch until they examine their lives and motives.  The fact that your kids were playing a goofy game after a hard loss due to things outside their control (cheating) is remarkable.  And it is a testament to what you have brought to their lives.

The fact that it bothers you when others cheat is human.  Sometimes I want to just go up to cheating coaches and, I don’t know, SMACK them up the side of the head, for what they are doing to kids’ lives – and their own lives.

Sometimes I get discouraged thinking we are swimming against the tide on this.

Then I hear what you are doing in the trenches and I pick myself up and say, “If you can keep doing this, so can I.”  It is a mission.  You have struck me, each time I’ve met you, as a coach I would want my child to play for.


You help guide players toward choices that will serve both their lives and tennis games and the lives of others. It breaks my heart to see so many coaches doing otherwise.  But that is why you are needed more than ever.  I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine about the TLC Three Crowns we teach: attitude, effort and sportsmanship and the other cornerstone of accepting the things we cannot change (other people and their behaviors) and changing the things we can (ourselves) and it struck me again how counter-cultural it is.  How radical.  And how brave, when someone like you decides to stick with it.  It is the harder choice, not the easier choice.

But it is not laying down and dying, it is actively resisting the culture of “win at all costs” by modeling a better way.  It comes with a cost (as you experienced with the JTT loss).  But the true victory won that day was the ability your kids had to let go of what they couldn’t control (their opponents’ cheating).  By playing that game afterwards, they were not saying, “It’s okay to cheat”, they were saying, “Your cheating cannot control my actions.”  So many of us (myself included) may have held onto the unfairness of it, and become bitter at times.  And that is letting the cheaters win twice.

Your kids were saying “You cannot take away my spirit, and you can never damage my integrity, only I can do that to myself.” The result is that some people will notice and change their behaviors towards good sportsmanship.  But if I’m honest, some people will never change in our lifetime, and they will continue to cheat and teach others to do so.  However, we are setting the foundation for something beyond our life span.  If we can take the long view we can patiently continue to work towards the change we want to see in others by changing ourselves.

But I STILL want to smack those blatant cheaters sometimes :)).  Ah, if only I could be perfect…

So, there you have it, Tennis & Life friends.  We can be like this coach.  And, we can be like his players who say, “Yeah, I know he/she cheated, but look at this sweet game we made up!”  We get to choose our response, and in that, we will always be free.  I intend to keep at it.  How about you?


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