It was a hot afternoon in July, the climax of the 2015 USTA Spring/Summer League. Our team had done well in the regular season to qualify for the Qualifying Tournament(QT) for the City Championship. With the conclusion of the games today, all 3 teams in our round robin group had won 1 game respectively and all were 3-2 wins!! The numbers had spoken… as we had gotten edged out of the championship round due to the stat for ‘# of sets won’.
To celebrate the successful season and douse the tinge of disappointment at the loss, we headed out to drench ourselves at the bar at Fox and Hound. As the afternoon waned, thoughts and talk meandered into the next season (Fall 2015). Our captain expressed the intent to hand over the reigns to me for the Fall 2015 season, due to a busy work schedule in the Fall. As all the eyes turned to me….the ‘yes sure’ that came out, seemed to me to be laced with self doubt and shaky from the weight of the responsibility. The guys were encouraging and expressed support, which was comforting and I left the pub that day, with a score of thoughts racing in my mind like, “how will I …
- live up to the confidence placed in me,
- make the off-season productive and bring about changes to take us to the next level,
- not screw up the lineups during the season”
and many such more …
To break the short lived suspense, we did end up with a successful 2015 Fall season where we again made the playoffs, but couldn’t make the City Championship Finals (for different reasons this time, those learnings for a different time!). During the season, there were many learnings along the way and I hope My Top 10 List may help you, if you are an aspiring USTA league captain or a leader of any team in general.
#10. Avoid having Co-Captains if you can: I initially toyed with the idea of co-captaincy for the season, but decided against it, due to my belief that difference of opinions, methods and vision can lead to confusion within the team. As the time tested military model has shown, the chain of command must be clear and well defined. The other aspect which influenced my decision was to know for myself, how I will handle this responsibility.
There may be teams where there is an excellent chemistry between the co-captains and there are very well defined roles and responsibilities that are adhered to. If you can make this work, then more power to you !!
#9. Organize drills tailored to the team’s specific needs for tactics, as well as personalized coaching sessions with a smaller and focused group for “Quick Wins” on technique: Work with 1 or at the max 2 coaches and stick with them. From my experience, working with more coaches is good to get perspectives but too many cooks can spoil the broth too. So find good coaches and stick with them.
Use the off season to focus on major changes to technique and only aim for “Quick Wins” during the season itself. During the off season and into the season, thanks to the doubles drills, our team did a great job to transition from a team comprising primarily of singles players to a team who can bank on the doubles lines as well.
#8. Be a facilitator, stay in the shadows: The goal I set for myself was to do everything in my ability to facilitate the team to focus entirely on tennis and not be dragged down by the drudgery of organization and co-ordination. I used the messaging app called whatsapp to coordinate practice and send updates to team, had setup a ‘group’ for the team in same. We also had a google group for email communication and used it for sharing match lineup and match results (though the whatsapp group was used interchangeably sometimes). Also used Google drive to share videos or any documents. Used a excel spreadsheet on Google drive to keep track of team member availability that everyone could update and I referred every week to call the lines.
Give importance to being dependable, punctual, involved and a keen observer in practice and during competition.
The season affirmed a notion that a non-playing captain may be better than a playing captain for 2 key reasons,
- it gives you an opportunity to observe all the 5 lines in competition and get to know what is working and what is not
- remain dispassionate and carry on with business since losses when playing can cloud emotions and judgement sometimes (losses are always personal and take time to get over !!)
#7. Know your Opponents: Before every game, size up your opponent by,
- going through their current and past seasons and seeing how they have played the lines specifically in the first game, against teams similar to yours in strength and the lineups tried in the last 2 to 3 games.
- as you see this, make note of any specific strategies used (order of strength vs. stacked), which lines are typically strong, which players have good records etc..
- reach out to your teammates to know if they have played any of the opponent’s strong players
- scout players if opportunity presents on game day when they practice or at tournaments, other league matches etc. (‘Information is Power’)
I usually print out multiple match sheets and have my lineup alternatives ready on game day. I make the final call on game day, before heading out to the match site but keep it flexible for any last minute changes before exchanging the match sheet with the opponent’s captain.
#6. Make practice fun: One of my teammates said that the sign of a good captain is by the number of people who turn up for practice regularly. Building “team chemistry” is key to making this happen. (for more on what”chemistry” is about, read my previous post).
Build traditions – we have a tradition in our team to cap off the practice sessions by hanging out at ‘Twin Peaks’ pub where we analyze the practice session, strategize for the upcoming weekend game, celebrate ‘fake’ B’days:-) and of course down a few rounds of drinks and appetizers 🙂
#5. Plan your roster well: I went with a team size of 14 but ended up lacking depth in the playoffs, had 3-4 team members down with injury for good part of the season. But still believe a core group of 10 and a total of 14 is a good team size to have.
For realizing championship dreams, it is important to have,
- sufficient depth with players who are strong in singles and doubles
- lines who will be dependable to deliver against the best at your level since you are bound to err when stacking (90 % luck and 10% analysis), unless you are Professor Charles Xavier of the X-men !
- consistent singles players
- consistent doubles lines with good chemistry (with each player having a primary and secondary partner)
#4. Create a culture around learning and not winning: It is important for the captain to nurture a culture where each team member can give their best without worrying and being pressurized about letting down the team. The approach to competitive play should be “No sorries, no apologies, do what you got to do with what you have while enjoying the process”. When in the face of a tough loss, share positive , encouraging, yet honest feedback for improvement.
#3. Get to know your team-mates on the court and off the court: Turn up for as many practices, scrimmages and season games as you can. Have a genuine interest in your team-mates’ game and their development as players.
#2. Be a Leader: In my opinion, leading by example is the best form of leadership.It is key to,
- create an environment of mutual trust and respect, where there is no penalty for mistakes
- challenge each person to get to their next level
- make sure the goals of each team member for playing team tennis is met
- drum roll……which leads to my #1 point
#1. Exude Warmth and Competence: Your team is bound to have diverse team members of varying age, culture, experience level etc. But irrespective of these differences among people, everyone forms their impression of the captain (or for that matter any person) through 2 key questions – Can I trust this person ? Can I respect this person ? A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong (as a player and leader) is the best recipe for a captain.
“Strong legs, Steady hands, Relaxed mind, can’t Lose !”
My inspiration to write this blog post is thanks to PJ at http://www.roadto45tennis.com