Monday, January 24, 2011

Being a tennis team captain – part I

Being captain of an ALTA team is a thankless job, which means that it's hard to find anyone that wants to do it.  While I've met some that relish the responsibility, most people avoid it like the plague.  The 'job' involves dealing with personalities and preferences, but also peculiarities and eccentricities, whether these are traits of one's own teammates or opposing captains and their teams.

Having captained more than twenty ALTA teams, men’s and mixed doubles, I have learned that dealing with one’s own team is the biggest challenge.  First and foremost, one has to compile a team.  In the simplest case, one lives in a neighborhood chalk full of enough tennis playing residents of similar abilities to form a team.  In my experience, there are no simple cases.  For good or bad, I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where there is a core of 8-10 above average (mid-B level or higher) players – those that play tennis regularly and are on more than one team – and several other seasonal players, who pick up a racquet only during the season and rarely make it to practices.  Invariably, the core players aren’t available every week, so the primarily challenge is fielding a lineup that is competitive enough to win at least 3 (out of 5) lines every week.  Yes, it’s not just about winning and, especially during mixed doubles seasons, the social aspect/outlet can be invaluable.  But let’s be honest, it’s more fun to win and no one wants to get double bageled because of a mismatch.

Of course, a captain also has to factor “playing time” into the equation:  everyone has to play at least 2 times to be eligible for the playoffs, and most want to play more than twice.  The core tennis players want to play every week that they’re available, even if their availability is spotty.  It’s always been my dream to be able to find pairings that play well together and have them available to play on the same weeks throughout the season.  Unfortunately in practice this has turned out to be a pipe dream.  It’s frustrating to put together a stellar team only to have it fall apart due to players’ week-to-week availability.  It seems my best pairings are rarely available on the weekends that we’re scheduled to play the top teams in our division.  Hence, everyone has to “play up” (i.e. at a line higher than their ability) and our team is no longer competitive … another “bag tag” opportunity squandered.  Also frustrating are those non-core players that are only available 2-3 weekends out of the season:  they expect to play on those rare occasions even at the expense of the other non-core players that come to practice every week or if we’re playing against one of the best teams in our division.

Bottom line – as a tennis captain, you can’t please all the people all the time, nor some of the people any of the time.  Like I said at the beginning, it’s a thankless job (but someone’s got to do it).  In my next installment I’ll discuss more of the unique challenges of being an ALTA tennis captain.

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