Thursday, April 14, 2011

Off-season roster changes

“To add or not to add, that is the question”.  One of the responsibilities of being a captain is maintaining the roster, deciding whether to keep your team as it is or adding new players to (or deleting existing players from) your roster during the off-season.  These decisions should not be taken lightly.

In my three part “being a tennis team captain” series, I wrote about many of the issues associated with the thankless ‘job’ and its responsibilities.  One aspect that needs further exploration is the concept of team chemistry.  I briefly touched on a key component of this issue in part II:  “the captain needs to be clear about his intentions as he’s putting together the team and reinforce them in his messages – ‘let’s have fun’ vs. ‘let’s take 5!’ – throughout the season”; off-season roster changes can alter the message.

Between seasons, the captain has a choice – should ‘he’ try to improve his team’s competitiveness by adding new ‘higher-level’ players or not?  If the answer is yes, he should be aware and prepared for the possible consequences.  Adding just one new player means that he’ll have to alter at least one pairing, which may ripple through other pairings as well, whereas adding a pair –e.g. a mixed double ‘couple’ – may just affect the existing pairings’ playing time.  Either of these changes can be received negatively by the existing team members.

A team's chemistry can be an important element in its success, especially if (e.g.) one has a socially compatible mixed doubles team.  The captain has to consider how well any new additions will “fit in” to the existing team.  If the captain has cultivated a culture in which the shared attitude is very competitive, and the additional players enhance the team’s ability to win a bag tag, there will likely be less push back from the existing players than if the team culture is a social one – “have fun, do the best you can, it doesn’t matter if we win or lose, it’s the friendships that matter” – and the new additions are incompatible.

In my case, I wanted to strike a balance between the two.  We’re a very sociable, friendly team that also would like to win, if possible.  My approach during this off-season was to try to find players to add that were similar in makeup – age and socioeconomic backgrounds (e.g. neighbors) – that could improve our chances of winning more points.  One couple I added will likely force our team to play one ALTA level higher than we've been playing, which may cause us some difficulty if they aren’t able to help us win several lines during the summer, but I was concerned that we didn’t have enough players to help us win at our existing level anyway, especially given vacations, which is a challenge particularly unique to the summer season.  If we don’t do well, we should be in better shape going forward, and my belief is that I’d rather have a team that’s improving rather than stagnating or, worse, declining.

Wish us luck!

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