Thursday, February 3, 2011

Being a tennis team captain – part III

I was going to name this final installment “Games People Play” because it deals with the gamesmanship that one can experience from another ALTA captain.  Not every tennis captain engages in it, especially if their team is not in contention and I’ve found that mixed doubles captains do less of it, but it definitely exists and it’s hard not to experience it at least once (and, more often, many times) during a season.

In USTA, teams are comprised of players at more or less the same level of ability.  While there are sandbaggers – players who compete at levels other than they should because their rating doesn’t accurately reflect their abilities – these are temporary; the league usually catches up after a season or two and bumps them to (e.g.) a higher level.  In ALTA, however, players are rated the same as the team on which they play.  All too frequently one finds players with A-level abilities on C-level teams; plus, in mixed doubles, the situation can be exacerbated when A-level men, who can affectively take over their side of the court by playing ‘singles’, are paired with C-level women ‘partners’ to make a mid-B level team making mismatches commonplace.  While it’s easy to blame the ALTA captain for these disparities, in smaller neighborhoods where there are barely enough tennis players to form a team and everyone wants to play together (or differing ability spouses, with one another), it’s unavoidable.

On a men’s USTA 3.5 team, one assumes that every doubles line is comprised of two 3.5-rated players (though occasionally there are 3.0 players on the roster as well).  Therefore, there usually isn’t much difference between the line 1 pairing and the line 3 pairing in terms of tennis playing ability; competitive matches result and each team generally has a chance to win every line.  However, on an ALTA B-level team, the higher line (e.g. 1 & 2) players can be significantly better than the lower line (4 & 5) players, in my experience.  But here’s where the gamesmanship comes in:  some captains intentionally ‘sacrifice’ one of the higher lines, putting a non-competitive pairing at line 1 or 2, in order to be more competitive at the lower lines.  Some might call this a good strategy, but it’s obviously frustrating for the players involved.  No one wants to win or lose two bagel sets.  If captains respected their own players, and their opponents (players and captains), mismatches would be minimized; more competitive matches would be the result.

The ALTA organization’s mission is to establish and the maintain rules for its tennis league.  Yes, they also publish a magazine, hold various tournaments and give small prizes to the champions, but their primary purpose is to ensure that its comprehensive rules are fair and followed by the membership.  Unfortunately there are captains who, sometimes out of ignorance, regard the rules as mere guidelines.  For better or worse, I’m a rules-oriented kind of guy.  Every game or activity has rules, and ALTA didn’t spend decades developing and refining theirs in order that they might be disregarded, intentionally or otherwise.  So I can get upset when a captain isn’t there at the beginning of a match to exchange filled-out lineup cards, especially if I’m scheduled to play on one of the first lines.  But what’s even more frustrating is the lack of attention to start times.  Matches are supposed to start at designated times.  Now, no one wants to suggest taking a line as a forfeit because the other team isn’t there (or ready) to play, but not being on-time shows a lack of respect for your opponent.  Plus, some captains mistakenly believe that later lines start 20 minutes after earlier lines finish, but later lines must be ready no later than 20 minutes after ALTA’s established start times, read the rules.  I’m the last person that wants to take a line by default, so don’t try to tell me that I’m the bad guy because I believe in following rules.

I hope that this series hasn’t discouraged you from wanting to be a tennis captain, quite the contrary.  I hope instead that it has adequately conveyed the inherent challenges and prepared you for the responsibility if you choose to assume the role.  Good luck and see you on the courts!

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