Cheating (And The Cheating Cheaters Who Cheat Us)

Posted on April 14th, 2016 by

It’s tax time!!!receipts

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.

blogpost1They 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.blogpost2

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?

How Can I Contribute?



  1. Kathy Alex says:

    Super good article Neal. I have coached my players to never question opponents calls. I have never seen a player change their call when questioned “Are you sure?” to an opponent’s line calls. Just last week in practice I had one of my players play the role of “cheater” unbeknown to the other player. I wanted to see how he handled it and use it as a teaching moment. He didn’t question any of the calls and didn’t show any emotion nor frustration. Afterwards, I questioned him and he just said he was following my instructions that he should never question his opponent’s line calls although he knew the other guy was cheating. What a very obedient kid!! On the one hand I believe in coaching players to not question line calls and especially not to get revenge which is super prevalent in junior tennis now. If a player calls a ball out that the opponent believes is in, the other player will call a ball out the very next point that was 3 feet in, just to get revenge. On the other hand we are responsible for holding one another accountable. How else are we to grow? There’s a verse in the Bible which states “Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another”. Instead of saying “Are you sure?”, I coach my players to say ” I think that was in,” using a respectful tone of voice. It states their opinion of the call as opposed to accusing and holds them accountable in a respectful way. If their opponent disagrees, then I coach them to simply walk away and move on to the next point. I coach my players that every time they go on the court that they have to have a mindset to expect line calls that you do not agree with. Every match you will not agree with every call. I also show them that they actually cheat themselves more than their opponent does. I place balls on the court near the lines and ask them if they think the ball is in or out when they are standing at different viewing angles on the court. Most of the time they are calling balls in when they are actually out. This really helps them realize that they just can not see if the ball is in or not from the other side of the court. It is a very difficult issue. The important thing to remember is if you’re the better player you will win regardless of a few bad line calls. And, long term you are the “winner” in life because no one really gets away with anything especially cheating!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Hi Kathy, I love how engaged you are with your kids in the trenches, even setting up experiments and debriefing afterwards. That’s brilliant. To also be able to show them that they will not agree with every call and to move on is huge for their mental training. Showing them the balls they think are in but are out also teaches that, for the most part, their opponents are trying their best, too. We encourage campers not to call a ball out unless they are 100% sure the ball is out. 99% means we are still cheating our opponent 1% of the time, and cheating is cheating. The other place where I would love to talk more is instead of saying, “Are you sure?” saying “I think that ball was in.” The good part of that is your teaching the kids to be respectful when saying that. But why we teach our campers to simply walk away is that no matter what you say, you are calling your opponent a cheater when you make the statement. You would not say anything otherwise, because the opponent has the responsibility to make the call, not us. Any questioning of the call is saying “I know you are cheating me.” Even if that is not the intent, that is what the opponent hears. And that will ramp up the distrust the rest of the match. One of the best ways to break down the wall of distrust, however, is to call balls out on ourselves that our opponent doesn’t see and calls good. It establishes a pro-active way of saying, “I won’t take a point from you that is rightfully yours, even if you were conceding it to me.” THAT makes an impression. I would love to hear more experiments you do with your kids. Your engagement is fabulous and you’re making them think of someone other than themselves. Thanks!

  2. Dave Rod says:

    I’ve told my kids over and over that the only thing you have in your life that cannot be taken away is your integrity. That must be intentionally given up. Never give up. See you in June.

    Thanks Neal

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      So true, Dave. And Griffin is a shining example of a person whose integrity shines in all his actions.

  3. Marianne Seidenstricker says:

    Have you ever played with someone who was convinced YOU were cheating?? I had an opponent once who got very upset at a couple of my calls during singles play because her sight angle was different than mine (and she was way further away!). She was losing badly, I certainly didn’t need to cheat to win, yet she was certain of it and was very angry and blaming. I felt badly, but can only call the way I see it. The match was not pleasant for either of us. If you ever find yourself turning into the accuser, realize that at some point you just have to give the benefit of doubt to your opponent even if you question their eyesight and/or morals. Your emotional state will affect how you play and totally ruin your attitude IF YOU LET IT!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      So true, Marianne! That’s one reason why we say never question an opponent’s line calls, because we all know what it feels like to have ours questioned, and it is not a good feeling. We also say that when you are 100% sure of your own call, you don’t change it just because your opponent questions it. Tennis is such a good game for facing moral dilemmas…

  4. Elly Black says:

    Hi Neal,

    Really enjoyed your blog! Years ago when I was young and foolish and living with five older brothers, this type of cheating behaviour would make me nuts. I have learned (sometimes dragged) during my lifetime that I need only concern myself with my own behaviour. As long as I am happy with myself by practicing honesty, integrity and authenticity as best I can, my life remains much more peaceful. In order to do this I have had to walk away from unhealthy relationships or at least protect myself as much as possible. Now, at the tender age of 53, when I am in the presence of poor sportsmanship I am so grateful that I am able to recognize the shortcoming, practice discernment as to an action plan, and nine times out of ten I am able to move past it. People who cheat just haven’t had the chance to learn the lesson. Perhaps they will…. perhaps they won’t. As for me I have surrounded myself with people who have. How LUCKY am I!!

    The crazy Canadians (Cathy, Leah and Carol) are coming your way in June!! So looking forward to coming back!

    Best, Elly

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Hi Elly, First of all, Canadians just “get” this stuff. Will you make me an honorary Canuck? 🙂 The point you bring up is huge, I think, of walking away from unhealthy relationships (on and off the court) whenever possible and if there is no change in behavior. Sometimes it’s someone else who will hopefully reap the benefits of our attempts to establish a more just atmosphere where all “play fair”. I think your comment about people who cheat just haven’t had the chance to learn the lesson yet is full of insight and compassion, both of which are needed in spades if people are going to be given the freedom to change. Shaming as a tool of change rarely works, in my experience. This is all great fodder for future dialogue. Thanks, and say hi to the other crazy Canadians!

  5. Anna Yarbrough says:

    Thank You for this one today. As I said before and will say it again TLC has changed my life forever. I still , now 26 practice the three crowns . I use it in my dsily living , and remember to only focus on what I can control, and can’t control what others say or do. It’s helped my tennis game , helped my life . We will always deal with cheaters if you will on and off the court and it’s all about how you deal with it . So, keep changing lives as you did me. Even right now I’m needing to use it.

    Anna Yarbrough

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Anna. And when you get to be my age (pushing 57), if you learn at my pace, you will still be needing to use it! 🙂

  6. Mark Rekow says:

    Great story Neal! I’m forever pulled back to my own humanity just like the coach. Following the 3 crowns is not easy, especially at times when others may not be playing fair or we are struggling to perform as we would like, but they offer a constant guide.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I’m with you. Hence the smack them upside the head desire. The nice thing about them is they offer a simple guide for my simple mind. I can get my mind around three things and Serenity. That was the brilliance of Steve, to continually hammer home something we can all remember.

  7. Karen Mann says:

    Perfect! Was talking with a tennis friend, whose daughter is an elite high school player. Mom was upset because in a recent match her daughter was playing a friend and the friend was cheating…blatantly bad line calls. So in retaliation, her daughter made some obviously bad calls. This is a star singles champion! I was shocked by Mom’s approval. I shared TLC’s 3 crowns philosophy. Mom couldn’t understand how this is a good thing. Control the things one can! Thanks for your story.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      And thank you for talking with the mom, Karen. We can only share the message, not control the outcome. (But then did you smack her up the side of the head? ;)). Very brave of you to stick your neck out like that. And the only way it will change is if we have those conversations (NOT smacking people up the side of the head, so disregard my first question :)).

  8. Connie Kabrud says:

    Neal, your reply to this coach echoed (much more eloquently) the thoughts I was having as I read his letter to you. In my head, I’m like “NO! Don’t give up on coaching! Without coaches like you, there is no other model for these kids to follow other than what we parents attempt to promote and really – kids don’t always think we’re that smart about these things and sometimes lessons are received much better coming from a coach, life lessons included.” It is very frustrating to witness a kid giving in to the temptation to cheat and highly aggravating/discouraging to watch a coach condone and even encourage these behaviors. I agree…I want to smack somebody. However much we want to stomp over and take care of business – you are right…we cannot change things for them. We can only show them a different path and maybe, just maybe – that kid won’t feel so great about his win when he knows he/she cheated. Maybe not this match, maybe not the next one…but maybe someday. Thanks again to TLC for being a program/experience that is so positive and meaningful. Thanks to you, Neal for your efforts and introspection on these blogs. We LOVE them at our house…

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Connie. I like how you say maybe not this match, maybe not the next one, but someday… We had a family camp dad/coach who resisted this philosophy for 4 or 5 years and insisted you had to cheat back to “teach them a lesson.” For some reason, he decided to try the Three crowns and found out his relationship with his own kids and his players improved dramatically, other teams in the conference caught on to the sportsmanship and began practicing it, and his teams’ win-loss records stayed the same. While keeping their integrity. What a concept…