Doug Burke: Florida Incident, A Lesson For All


***One of Canada’s top academies, ACE tennis, recently participated in a Florida tour for the Eddie Herr International Junior Championships. Thirteen players, two coaches and one parent made up the traveling team. An incident occurred which involved seven of the players. Although the incident, players breaking curfew and knocking on neighbours doors, may have initially seemed innocent enough to the players, we feel that it warrants being visited, not to punish or embarrass the persons involved, but to highlight the consequences of such irresponsible behaviour.

Two of ACE’s top coaches, Doug Burke, the former Jamaican national tennis director and ATP player, and Katy Shulaeva, the former WTA player, were in charge of the children from ACE tennis  in Bradenton. Doug has a 19 year old son who played the ITF tour and is now a sophomore at Brown University. Here are his thoughts.***


The players snuck out of the condos at 2am in the morning and were roaming in the complex where we were staying, knocking on the front doors of various houses and running away. The people in one particular house, where they knocked very loudly and damaged some Christmas decorations, called the police. I was awakened at 3 am by a policeman at our front door. The policeman had been led to our condo by one of our players, and he proceeded to inform me of the incident. Katy and I made sure that the players were safely back in the condos while the policemen went to check to see if the people wanted to press charges [fortunately, they did not].

Possible serious consequences could have occurred. First, there is the issue of running around in the middle of the night in conservative Florida. Instances of home owners using guns or weapons to deal with intruders are rampant in the US. The fact that some players were black certainly could have made the situation even more explosive.

The involved players could have had a criminal record if the house owners decided to press charges. The consequences of a criminal record can include restricting one’s ability to travel abroad. The United States and other countries could refuse your entry. This could mean the inability to get a scholarship to attend a US university or attend a US university at all. This could also mean the inability to travel to the United States for competition or pleasure.

Some serious consequences did occur. All the players involved were removed from the doubles competition by ACE staff. ACE coaches met and decided to suspend the players involved from tennis for a month. Punishment was done on an individual basis dependent on whether it was the first offense or players which received financial assistance from ACE tennis or the OTA.

Some players have been suspended from playing tournaments till the Provincial championships. This definitely could affect their ability to qualify for the nationals as they will not participate in the selection events.  ACE tennis has designed specific intensive fitness programs for these players which they must carry out for the next 3 weeks, in an effort to emphasize discipline. The suspended players are required to help with other Academy players and programs over the next few weeks as a way to “give back to the Academy”. As well the OTA will withhold any funding for these players in 2012. Of course personal punishment has been added by the parents.

I do not believe that any of the children involved are “bad” kids, or had any intentions of causing any undue harm or creating a major disturbance. In fact they are great kids that just wanted to have some ” fun”. But, they did break rules, rules of the Academy and rules of the OTA. They broke the law. They abused the trust of their parents and coaches.

However I think doing what they did demonstrates that children are immature and  very naive in many ways. It did not occur to them what the consequences of their actions could have been, not even the possible personal danger that they put themselves in.  We as coaches and guiding forces for these youngsters should be aware of this.

A lot of youngsters nowadays crave pleasure constantly. They are bombarded on an on going basis with temptation through the click of a mouse or the touch of a phone, they can communicate with each other, surf the web, play video games etc. The desire to have more “fun” than they were already having being in the sun in Florida, playing a major tennis event, being away from school and being with friends was not enough for them. They had to have more fun. This makes them often unable to differentiate between what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Therefore we, as coaches and leaders, need to draw clear lines for them regarding behaviour in their personal development.

I am very grateful that “worse” did not happen and that all the children were safe. I hope that the junior tennis players, coaches and parents that read about this experience, are able to gain some insight from it . As well we hope the players involved, all great kids, undergo some reflection and “get the message “. Time will tell.

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