Being a tennis team captain is a difficult job even when everything is working well and your team members are happy and you're winning. It is still hard to be a captain even then just because of all of the administrative details that are involved. But today what we're talking about is what you can actually do as a team captain to take your team through a season and hopefully come out the other end of that season feeling like you've won.
Right now, I'm on two tennis teams and both of those tennis teams are moving up a level coming into this spring season that we're about to start on. One of my teams is moving up because we won our division and that's one of the ways a team can move up a level – by being the winners of your division. Sometimes you can move up because you make a certain number of points. And sometimes you move up because the league just moves you up, because they're trying to equalize the number of teams in various divisions. So they may move teams around. And that's what happened with my other team – we're moving up a level just because the league moved us.
This means, for both of my teams, we're moving to a much more competitive level and we're going to have to work hard to continue our winning experience.
Can You Captain Your Team to Winning?
So let's talk about how you do that. How do you move your team in the direction of winning? Maybe you have a team that's doing well and you want to make that last little push to the top. Or maybe you have a team that hasn't been doing so well and you're trying to turn the situation around. Or maybe you are new to captaining your tennis team and you're looking to do the best job you can right off the bat and you're wondering how to captain your team into winning.
Regarding this issue, I recently got a question from two Tennis Fixation followers about taking on their new team captaining duties. Here's their question:
My partner and I just became co-captains of our women's night time league. We would like to survey our team to find out what they would like to do to improve their games before our spring season begins. Do you have any suggestions or questions we should be asking? I have read your How to be a Great Tennis Team Captain and enjoyed your website.
Thank You to All of You Team Captains
First, I'd like to say to Suzanne and Deb, thanks for submitting your question and congratulations on taking over as team captains. As someone who has been on numerous tennis teams and captained a few of them, I know that your new job can potentially be a hard one. You're moving a group of people – people who may or may not be friends, people who may or may not even know each other all that well – towards a common goal. That is a difficult task even when everything works out and goes your way. So I applaud you for taking on this job and just know – if you feel like it’s a lot of work to be a tennis team captain at times, well, it is.
Having said that, I think there are a few things you can do to help captain your team to a winning season. Many of those things are outlined in the Tennis Quick Tips episode that you mentioned – How to be a Great Tennis Team Captain. If you are new to captaining or have been at it for a while, I highly recommend you listen to that episode for some very basic tips on what you should be doing to ensure your success as a team captain.
But now let's talk about what you can do outside of those somewhat administrative duties and how you can captain your way to a winning season. Here are my three tips for you.
1. Decide on a Team Goal and Communicate It to Your Team
You need to have a goal for your team. You need to decide what is your goal for the season. And goals can be different for different teams.
So your goal might be to win your division or to move up because you attain the right number of points. That is an obvious goal. That was the goal for both of my teams. Another goal might be just to remain in your division or to not move down. A lot of leagues will move you down to a lower division if you don't attain a minimum number of points or if you come in last in your division. Your goal might be for your team to just have fun, no matter what happens with the points. You are out there for socializing and playing with your friends and you want to all get along no matter what happens with the points.
As you can see, each of these goals is very different – moving up vs. not moving down vs. just having a good time – those are very different goals and you're going to captain your team in a very different way depending on which of those goals you've adopted.
That's why it's important to have a goal. Because winning for your team may not mean winning matches. It may mean winning in the sense of we all had fun and we all got along and enjoyed ourselves and we're just happy to be playing tennis. So having a team goal can really determine how you're going to go about winning the season.
And it's important to come up with that goal and then communicate it with your team. Now, it may be that you, as captains, are deciding that goal all by yourself. Or you may need to survey your team and ask them – what do you want to achieve this season? You can email your team and ask them that exact question and see what the responses are that you get.
As I said, both of my teams moved up this season. And it turns out that both of my teams are from the same club and there is significant overlap in the rosters of these two teams. While we have different captains, the two teams work together and the captains work together in running the teams. So for each of these teams, we have a common goal and that is to hopefully win our division. Or to do as well point-wise as we possibly can. Our captains have therefore emailed all team members and made this clear to us. While the email was very nice, it made clear that we need to be available to play at least 70% of the time even though we might not play that often. And that partnerships and playing assignments would be made with this goal of winning in mind. Clearly, the message was, this is how we're going to captain and if that doesn't sound good to you, this may not be the team for you.
Thus, my tip is, if you just want to have fun and the team is laid back and relaxed, let everyone know. But if you’re hoping to win your division, move up in the rankings, or desperately need to make points just to stay where you are, tell your team members. It not only helps explain what your strategy is, it also lets people know whether or not this is the right team for them. When team members don’t understand why they’re being put in a particular spot in the line-up or why the lines are being played the way you’re playing them, it can cause misunderstandings, hurt feelings, or a lot worse.
2. Decide How Partnering Will Be Handled
Next, you need to come up with your plan for handling partnering for your team. There are a number of ways to do this. One way to handle it is that the captains will decide who partners with who with the goal to win. That means everyone will not necessarily play the same number of matches. And that means that everyone may not necessarily play with who they want to play with. And everyone may not play at the line that they think they should play at. The captains decide all of this with the team goal in mind.
Another way to handle partnering is that the captains decide how partnering will go with the goal of everyone playing an equal number of matches. If you goal is for your team to have fun then the captains may want to give everyone the same opportunity to play. And there is nothing wrong with handling partnering like this. You can “win” with this type of goal because everyone on the team is treated equally.
Another way you can handle partnering is that the captains know that most players have regular partners who they consistently play with. I have been on a team where this is how the league was run – you had a permanent partner and line and could only switch partners or move lines every four weeks or so. This was great for developing a good relationship with your partner and keep teams from sandbagging or stacking the lines.
You can communicate how you're going to handle partners to your team or you can ask them questions – who do you like to play with? Who do you not like to play with? What lines do you want to play on? Players can tell you this and I recommend you keep the responses somewhat in confidence. It often happens that everyone wants to play with the same one or two people and everyone DOESN'T want to play with the same one or two people. So I think it's best if you keep this kind of information between the captains to avoid hurt feelings and other problems.
3. Practice as a Team
Finally, my third tip for captaining your team to a winning season is to practice as a team. The one thing I can tell you about both of my teams that have moved up is that we have team practice on Tuesdays and that has had a huge impact on our success. We do team drills with two pros from our club and that's great. The pros don't captain our teams. They do give some very limited advice on how they think the team should be run as far as partnering but not much. A lot of pros don't want to get involved in the politics of that and I don't blame them. And our pros really do not.
But the great thing about team practice, whether you work with pros or not, practicing as a team is an excellent way as a captain to see just what you're working with. To see who gets along. Who works well together. Who doesn't. To see the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. And it gives you a chance to try some things out. You can put some people together during your practice session that you might not think would work out well and see how that goes. You can put people together who will be playing that week and let them practice together. Practicing as a team is critical, in my opinion, if your goal is to win your division or make points to move up.
Not only is it important for developing tennis skills as a team, it is also a great opportunity to get in some practice for each of your team members. The fact is a lot of people don't do any tennis practice at all. They just show up to play their matches each week and that's it.
And you can conduct team practices even if you don't have a pro to work with. You can try out different drills as a team. Certainly The Tennis Drills Book that I've previously recommended would be a great resource for team drills. But you don't even have to do that. You can just play our practice points and sets. That's a great way to practice too. You don't have to have a pro or coach leading you. You can just get out there and practice as a team. It does a lot to help each individual team members improve and it builds camaraderie and cohesiveness as a team.
Those are my best tips for captaining your tennis team to a winning season. Let me know what you think by leaving your comment in the comment box below.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE
For more information on the resources mentioned here, check out these episodes of Tennis Quick Tips:
- How to Be a Great Tennis Team Captain – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast Episode 68
- The Tennis Drill Book Book Review – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast Episode 155
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