Today I'm bringing you another interview podcast. And, if you're a serious recreational player, I know you're going to get a lot out of this one. It's longer than my usual podcasts. It's not the kind of thing that you're going to listen to right before you head out to your next match. But it raises so many good issues, things we all need to be aware of, that I know you're going to get a lot out of it. It's called “The Pros and Cons of Stacking the Lines in Tennis”, and it's something that happens quite a bit if you're playing in a league and yet you may not be aware of the fact that it's happening and you certainly may not be aware of all the issues that surround it. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in iTunes by clicking on this link: tennisfixation.com/itunes.
SHOW NOTES AND EDITED TRANSCRIPT:
Stacking the lines is a controversial topic, I know, players don't like this to happen to them and that's why I went to someone who I knew would have some really good insights to pass on, when I decided I wanted to talk about this. So I reached out to my very good friend, someone who has been one of my team captains. Her name is Mary Baird, and she gave me way more on this topic than I ever could have hoped for.
I think if you listen to what Mary has to say on this topic in particular, you'll learn so much about what a good team captain goes through to run a team well. Because I have been captained by Mary, I know she does a great job of keeping everyone happy and focused on what the goal of the team is, and usually she's able to achieve it because she does such a good job of keeping everyone on task and making sure that politics don't tear down the team.
Now, Mary’s a woman, I'm a woman, and a lot of what she has to say will probably sound like it specifically applies to women's teams. But, if you're a man and you've captained a team, or you are on a team, you’re man on a team, there's still a lot you can get out of this. I know this strategy of stacking lines is also applied and I know it can also be a really sore point among men, especially men who believe they're being sacrificed.
So, even men I think can get quite a bit out of Mary's advice, you may not apply it exactly in the same way that she advocates, but it still is a good thing to think about how you can do it with your own team to make it happen in such a way that the strategy not only works for you, but that your team doesn't fall apart by using it.
And what I really like about this episode is, it's mostly Mary talking. My participation is a lot of me saying “Yeah” and “Right” and “Well” and there is a point where my phone goes off, not Mary's. And so, I just can't even tell you how much I enjoyed talking to her.
So without any further introduction by me, here is my interview with Mary Baird talking about the pros and cons of stacking the lines in tennis.
Kim: So, I'm here with my very good friend, Mary Baird, who I've been playing tennis with for a couple of years now, and I wanted to talk to Mary today about a topic that I have dealt with and experienced personally, and also dealt with as a team captain in the past and I know, Mary, you also have.
Kim: So, welcome Mary.
Mary: Thank you.
Kim: And before we get going, I just want the listeners to know some of your tennis background, so they can understand why this is such a good topic for you to be discussing with me today. So how long have you been playing tennis?
Mary: I'm 55 now. I started playing when I was 40. So I didn't come to this sport until I was already a grown woman, started beginner and just kind of have little by little worked my way up as much as you can when you're already old. But along the way, I found that I really enjoy captaining teams, felt like I had the people skills and kind of the strategy to want to do that and, you know, the online stuff I enjoyed that. And then, as I got into the leagues a little bit more, I've sat on several of the boards, and currently I’m a league coordinator for one of our leagues at the A level, which just means you're, you know, I've got twelve or thirteen teams underneath me, and they come to me for scheduling and personnel and then any problems they have. So, I've been a player, I've been a captain, I’ve been a coordinator, so.
Kim: OK. Are you captaining anybody right now, or…
Mary: Right now I'm between captaining jobs. I have done it for so many years, and it was wonderful, but I think it's important for other people to get an opportunity to do that job.
What Does “Stacking the Lines” in Tennis Mean?
Kim: Well, I also have captained several teams in the past, but I would say for probably the past three or four years at least, I have not been captaining because I sort of reached a point where I also wanted to just be a player, just go along with whatever strategy, whatever the team captain thinks we should be doing, and not be the one responsible for figuring it all out and coordinating so many people's schedules.
So, the topic that I wanted to discuss today, and I think I told you Mary that, I want to talk to you about this because a number of my listeners, and a number of Tennis Fixation followers have brought this up with me. Well the topic is, what I call stacking the lines, where you have a team, you're playing in a league that each week fields four lines for example.
We also play on a — we've played on a team that had six lines every week, so doubles where each week the team has to come up with eight to twelve players and you have to make a certain number of points to stay at the level that you're playing, your team is at, since all of these leagues have different divisions with different levels. And often, if you are having trouble making those points, and are fearful that you're going to be dropped down a level, one thing a captain might start doing is stacking the lines, is what I commonly refer to it as, we — you also said…
Mary: Sacrificing the lines, flipping the lines, and then I'm in another league that calls it dropping a line, but basically it's putting — instead of playing people from the top to the bottom based on their skill level, which typically I call that straight up, playing a line straight up, you might sacrifice your line one and possibly drop everybody down a line and put the person that you usually play on line four, you put them up on one. And, can I talk about that for a minute?
What is the Goal of Stacking the Lines?
Kim: Well, yeah, and the obvious goal would be to make your points, to put your higher level more skilled players at lower lines thinking, well we’re willing to give up the points at line one and maybe even line two, but we’ll make it up because we'll win line three and four and over time, because often you have to follow this strategy over several matches, several weeks’ worth of matches, for it to really have an impact.
But over time, you know, we’ll make it up because we’ll win those lower lines and that will allow us to accumulate a number of points, that we aren't going to get moved down to a lower division.
Mary: And I see that from a captain's point of view, which I guess it’s how we started talking about it, it's a very good strategy either to keep your team at the level that it's at, or if you feel like you're about to move up, and you know how many points you need, you take your better players and, you know, to me a good strategy in any match it’s to put your strongest players against their weakest players. It’s the same way when you play in a match, you're taking your strongest shot against their weakest shot.
So, strategically, if you're just looking at everything on paper or a chess game, that's a good strategy. Another benefit to it is, if you know that other team possibly is doing the same thing, then you might be taking your weaker players and putting them on line one and they might be doing the same thing, in which case your weaker players might be, you know, you might be able to get it all and every once in a while works out like that.
Kim: And as a captain you — part of your job may be — and again, it may depend how competitive the league you’re in, but every week you may be looking not just at how your team fared, but how every team in your division fared to figure out: “OK, next week we’re, you know, our team’s in position eight and we're going to play against number seven, and there's a good possibility that number seven is also going to stack or flip their lines.
Mary: Nowadays, with everything being online, and every league I know is online now and they keep statistics, and I view being a captain now sort of being a team manager. It's like, you're not the coach of the team, but you definitely are the manager and you're the people, you put people where that benefits the team the most, is not an individual — tennis is not an individual sport. And so, you have the ability to look online, you can track other teams and how they're playing their lines. I can see teams that have a line one that it doesn't matter who I play on my team, I can put my best players against them and my best players are going to lose. So, instead of “wasting” my best players on that, I put my best players in a position that they can win because I figure, we’re going to lose that line one anyway.
And I can look, you know, not only at the first part of the season, but I can look at the past years and see that trend with that certain team. In fact, what I do when I begin to captain, I look at the past years and I see what is the weakest team in the league, weakest team, and I put my very best players against that team because we need points.
And it doesn't sound very sporting, it sounds — somebody said once: “Well, that's not very sportsmanlike, you know, you should always put your best against their best.” And if it weren't set up with points, I would definitely do that. I think all of us would play straight up every week. But they've put the requirement here with points and they've made it a competitive sport, so for me to be competitive I kind of need to pounce on the weak team and sort of roll over. When I see a team that we can't beat, I need to get as many points as we can. So, that's a strategy for it.
Kim: Right, and we’re definitely talking about, in this situation where you're captaining a team that is in the lower part of your division. In other words, if your team is number one, play it straight up.
Mary: Oh yeah, they always do. The strongest teams — in fact, that's really kind of usually what it is. If you've got the strength, and I've been in divisions where our team was in first place and then you always played it straight up. And it would be very poor sportsmanship for you not to. But I also have been — in fact lately more, and teams that are kind of struggling to get their points and they really need to know that they can, you know, maybe all up and down the line, if their line four is about win, their line three.
So, when you have to have those points, you kind of have to mix it up to get them. And from a captain’s standpoint, if they're pawns on a chessboard, it's very nice, there’s no emotions involved. Unfortunately, we're dealing with real people and real players, and it can get very tricky on the emotional level.
The Problems with Stacking the Lines
Kim: That's right. It can cause a lot of issues, a lot of hurt feelings, not just negative feelings, but people can be really hurt by playing in whatever position, if you're putting your strong players down the line four, they can be very upset, if you're putting your weak players up at line one, and clearly sacrificing them, they can be very upset. So, it's the kind of strategy that it may get you points, but it may be, if you're not careful, at the expense of your teammates.
Mary: Your teammates’ happiness. And actually, I've seen teams completely fall apart for that, so you've sacrificed your lines, you’ve mixed it all up in order to stay in the division. But, you’ve accomplished that and then your team folds and the offseason because people are not happy, and you're right across the board, whether they're on line four or line one.
And I think it comes down to people wanting to feel valued. They want to be valued as a player and I think on every team you get sort of a stereotype like, say you have a player on your team that lobes all the time and people think: “She's the worst player.” Well, that's not necessarily so, that's a great strategy and she might be the best at it, but she's already feeling a little self-conscious about that, and then you put her on line one and you kind of expect her, assume she's going to lose, and you know, tennis is, you know, it's a lot of emotion there and if you start feeling like you're going to lose and you start feeling like nobody believes in you, then not only do you feel worse as a player, but also as a friend and your game kind of follows that. If you think you're going to lose, sometimes you will lose because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Pros of Stacking the Lines
Kim: OK. So, just to summarize, I think what we're saying is, the pros of this stacking the lines, dropping the lines type of strategy for a team are, you get points. Hopefully, enough points to at least maintain your position.
Mary: That's the only pro.
Kim: There's also, I mean, maybe this is me being, you know, very Pollyanna, but I always try to look at it like if I knew I was being sacrificed like, well you know, I'm going to play a challenging match today. And so, this is my opportunity to see what these people at line one are capable of. And you know, I think we've talked about this before, sometimes you win that match. Either the other team, like, also flipped their lines and you played…
Mary: So, the pro is that it's an opportunity for some new challenging tennis.
The Cons of Stacking the Lines
Kim: Yeah, right. But the cons are, it can cause a lot of problems with the individual team members who are being sacrificed. It can cause a lot of disharmony just on the team as a whole, if you continue to do this, because it's not always successful when you this.
Mary: No, I was just going to say the con to it, strategically too is, sometimes you don't realize, your line, your normal line one people, you put them on line four and they might not be used to that pace, or that strategy, and there's a lot of pressure when you’re a line one person on line four, because you've got to win, everybody's looking at you like it's going to be an easy match, and it's not always that, because the matchup is not good.
So, sometimes you’ve flipped the lines and you get completely messed up by it, because it doesn't work the way you think it’s going to work. So, that’s a con too, you're putting all your chips in and you lose it all.
Kim: Right. And then those people are upset, the people who got sacrificed at line one are upset, and pretty soon the whole team is like: “What are we doing here? We've sort of lost it.”
Mary: It's mutiny.
How to Implement This Strategy with Your Tennis Team
Kim: So, there are some pros, there are some cons. It's a common strategy that a lot of teams use. How, Mary, do you — how do you think is the right way to implement it that hopefully works, that you hopefully do end up with some points and that keeps people on the team hopefully all happy, but at least makes them not upset.
Mary: Right right right. Well, I think there's a couple of ways you handle it. The first way is to make sure everybody understands it before it happens, not after you sent the lineup out. But at the beginning of the season, you either have a meeting or you send an email and you say, you know: “Everybody on the team is valued. Everybody plays a part, but it is a team sport and during the season I may ask you to play a different line, with a different person and you may think I've lost my mind, but it's going to happen and it's going to happen to everyone.”
And so they know up front and the fact that I say “it's going to happen to everyone” means I think you have to be careful when you're using this strategy that you're not using the same person over and over again to “sacrifice”. There's a lot more than one person that you can put in that.
The other thing is, the very first person that needs to do that is the captain. I always say, if I'm going to sacrifice, first I'm going to do it myself and then I'm never going to ask anybody on my team to do something that I'm not willing to do.
How to Handle Being Sacrificed in a Tennis Match
The other thing that I would stress in that first meeting and all is that, when I ask you to do that, play on line one, to look at it like you said, one of the pros was to look at it as an opportunity to test yourself. Look at it as an opportunity to play with complete freedom. No one's expecting you to win. Therefore, go for your shots, and I think sometimes people are extremely surprised at how well they play when there's no pressure. There's absolutely no pressure. Nobody expects me to win, so I'm just going to go for it and you find that you might play better. You still may not win, but maybe you've played a better match and for sure you've gotten a free tennis lesson.
And that's usually how I view it, as look, today I'm going to clinic and I don't have to pay anything. And I’ve surprised myself at how I’ve risen to the occasion. And like you said before, it's not always their line one that you see. So, you walk into it and that's — this is a philosophy I used, you never know what you're going to get on any given day. You might have the game of your life, they might have a bad day and you win and then you're the, you know, you’re the here. It’s sort of like, no guts no glory, you know?
If you put yourself out there and you win, it's an amazing thing. If you put yourself out there and you lose, you weren't supposed to win anyway. But I think it's all about educating your team so that they understand that, and making sure they feel valued, and making sure you do it before anyone else does, so that you're not going to ask them to do something you're not willing to do.
No matter what line you play, put yourself in that position, if you're the captain and you play line one most of the time, put yourself on four sometimes, so that you can show that you're just going to do this with everybody. And that's, that's what I would say.
Kim: Well right, and I think nobody joins a tennis team because they want to be sacrificed every week. So you do, you do you have to mix it up. You do you have to truly give everyone a chance to take one for the team.
Mary: Yes, and that's good strategy too with online stuff, because you don't want to be predictable in any lineup you do. You don't want the other team to notice one person: “Oh, that's the person they sacrificed. Look, they've done it three weeks in a row.” So, you know, it's even strategically better to use different people for that, because you don't want anyone to notice a pattern with you and try to, you know, use your strategy against you.
The Importance of Communicating with Your Team
Kim: So, communicate with your team that this is what we're doing, and I guess that communication, you know, you don't have to at the beginning of a season go: “OK team, here's my long range plan.” You could be like: “OK, this week this is what we need to do,” or even, I mean, seeking out a specific player and go: “Hey, this week I'm putting you up on line one just so you understand.”
Mary: I think that's a great idea, I think the way we all use electronics now we forget that sometimes if you open your email and you see a lineup and you’re on line one with somebody you’ve never played with against the number one team, and you have had no notice, that it bothers you more than a quick phone call by the captain saying: “Look, I’ve got this lineup, I don't know how you’re going to view it, but this is what's best for the team this week and I hope, you know, hope you'll be OK with it.”
I wouldn't necessarily ask them, but just talk to them before it comes out, so that it's not a shock and if they have an objection they can voice it and I think just follow that up with — throughout the season if you're making sure each player knows their value to the team.
Then when something like that happens, it's not such a damage to their self-esteem because you've made them know in other ways that they're valuable. And that means putting together a lineup most of the time where you want your players to be successful. Nobody plays tennis to want to be sacrificed every week. Nobody plays tennis to want to lose every week. And if your captain continually puts you in a position where you're either with somebody new every week, or a line that you're not equipped for and you never win, that can erode your self-confidence too.
So, if your captain has been managing the team well, you feel valued, you've got some wins in your pocket and then playing line one every once in a while, it's really not that big a deal. But I think it's a big part of the whole way you manage a team.
When Teams Fall Apart
Kim: Yeah. Because teams do fall apart over these very things.
Mary: Yes, it's probably the number one thing, because what it comes down to is, somebody not feeling a part of the team, somebody not feeling valued, people perceiving a huge skill gap in a team when probably there's not a very big skill gap, but I figure there's two kinds of players.
There's players that think they're better than they are, and there’s players that think they're not as good as they are. So, they're really probably about the same, but when you get on a team and a few of the girls think they're so great, and some of the girls are made to feel like they're so bad, and then you do the sacrificing thing, that team’s going to fall apart.
Kim: Yeah, well, and what I always think when a team does this, and I've been on teams that have done this, and it doesn't work, I always feel like if you get knocked down a division, maybe that's where you should be anyways, you know, that this is a, this is a strategy that can work, but it can't work over years. Or if you're trying to keep the team together, you can't keep this up.
Mary: No, it's not an every week thing. It's like, I guess it would be like dieting, you know, you do it when you need to. But that's not how you manage a team in general, it really should only be used maybe a couple times a season. If you're having to do it more than that, you're not in the right division.
Kim: Well right, yeah. That's, that's what it is. If this is like your — over the course of a season this is what you're doing every week, it's time to move down, and…
Mary: Because if you're in the right division, you should be able to play straight up and make your points, you know, you may not win but you wouldn't be last. You should, you know, 50%, everybody should be wining half the time. And if you're having to resort to tricks, then you're not in the – you’re in a too higher division.
And then, if you don't have to ever do it, you might wonder if you're into lower division, that you might need to put the pedal on and try to move up. Because if you're winning, you know, 80% of your matches, you're probably into a too low of a division. So that’s the kind of the balancing act.
Kim: So, well did you have any other tips on this, on how to make it work?
Mary: No, not really, I think the key to walk away with I think is, when you're managing and you're a captain, to treat the players like you would want to be treated because there really is nothing worse than being on a team with your friends because we're talking recreational tennis. So it's your social and it's your friends, and to not feel valued not only will it ruin your team, but I've seen it ruin friendships before, and that's when it really — it's a sad thing.
So make sure you're choosing a team where you're valued, and if you ever are in a position of leadership, remember I think that the most important thing with any issue you do with your team is, communication and respect. You know, communicate, let them know their expectations, your expectations of them, and then respect them as a person and a player. And I think if you really work on those two things, you can keep the team together for years and years.
Talking to Your Captain About Being Sacrificed
Kim: And one thing we talked about a little earlier, but we didn't talk about while we’re recording this is, if you're that player and you think this is happening, and the captain hasn't come to you, maybe don't just sit back. But maybe — and this may, you know, this may impact your relationship that you have with the captain and with the team, but I think a good captain, if you come to them and say: “Hey, I feel like I'm being sacrificed every weak. Is that what's happening?” or, you know, “I'm not happy about it.” Don't just sit back and build up your, you know, unhappiness.
Mary: Yeah, because you know, I think that's probably good in life and we were talking about how much healthier that is, and it takes some, you know, you've got to pull up your big girl panties and kind of say — because sometimes it's like embarrassing, you're like: “Oh my gosh, I think this is happening. I feel bad about it, I don't want to admit it because then it would be right”, but give her the courtesy of saying: “Is this the way you're going to be using me on the team now, because I’d really like to play other lines too. If you see my role in the team as just being a sacrificial person, then I may need to look for another team.”
And give that captain the opportunity to say, you know, what — because some captains are really, sometimes you’re doing it on purpose and they're kind of being ugly about it. But I know people too that are just — they're not mindful of it and they’re just, they just think: “Well, you know, she's the nice one, she's never going to say a word. She doesn’t care, she’s told me she'll play any line with any person, so obviously she doesn't care.”
Well, when somebody says that, they don't — they assume they're going to be treated well, you know, they don't assume they're going to be stepped on. So, maybe if you bring it to her attention, she'll change it. If she doesn’t, then you’re probably not in the right team anyway. And if she doesn't give you the respect you need as a friend, maybe that's not your best friend to choose either.
So, it's sort of, this is what I say about tennis, it's a wonderful sport, but it's also teaches you a lot about life and it gives you good practice on being assertive, and standing up for yourself, and choosing your relationships wisely, so it kind of goes back to that.
Kim: Yeah, you are right about that. Well, Mary, thank you for talking to me about this, this is really more than I have ever talked about this topic, but it's a good, it's a good thing to talk about, because I think I have not been as assertive in this situation at times as I could be, and I think a lot of players out there don't really realize, if they haven't captained a team, all of the thought that goes into doing this, and they need to be aware that and maybe pursue bringing it up with their captain, or figuring out what is going on with their team in their division that they're in that kind of thing. So, it's very interesting and insightful I think, and I think a lot of other players will think the same thing.
Mary: I hope so, I hope so. Well, it's been my pleasure, I’ll vlog, blog, webcast, podcast, fly cast any time.
End of Interview
Well, that's it for my interview with Mary. I thought that was such an insightful interview because she did a great job of talking about the pros and cons of stacking the lines. If it's a strategy you haven't been using on your team, you may want to give it a try after hearing all this, especially since now you know the dangers of not doing it properly.
Let me know in the comments to the show notes what you think about this. This I believe is the longest episode I've ever done. I thought it was worth it, but I'd love to hear what you think. You can leave me a comment in the show notes down at the bottom of this page.
And it's summer, and it’s hot, so if you've got any good tips for hot weather tennis, leave those in the comments also because I'd love to hear them.
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