I’ve been playing USTA League tennis for over 12 years now. I remember playing one of my first singles matches when I was 7 months pregnant with my son, who is now 12! I was led by some amazing captains and never really knew how hard it was to be a good captain.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I was asked to step up and take over as captain, and I could not have been happier! It took a couple of seasons, but after a few months, I realized what it took to build a successful winning team that would qualify to play in the post-season. Last summer was my first time taking a team, and I am taking two or possibly three teams to post-season districts this summer- fingers crossed!!
Here are the things I learned along the way:
- Be selective (yet not too selective your team is too small, you can’t field matches) when creating your team. Take your strongest players you are used to playing with often but try not to take players you or anyone else has never met before. Players need to be familiar and gel with each other.
- Communicate (often) through different channels. Create a private Facebook page for your team- posts tips, funny memes, and shout-outs daily. Tennis Point will become your best friend when asking for availability and sending out lineups- well worth the $16. A group chat is helpful for communicating last-minute requests and reminders. Finally, email your team after each match with the recap of scores and highlights.
- Set expectations at the beginning of the season. If your goal is to make it to post-season play, make sure you lay that out there. Everyone may not get equal match time.
- A team uniform is a must!! It really makes a statement when you play another team. In most recent years, we have had luck finding fun skirts on amazon that fit lots of different body types, don’t break the bank, and can be paired with a solid color top.
- Send out match lineups well in advance- 3 to 4 weeks and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Have your D1 play your D2 team, your D2 play your D3 team, and even your D1 play your D3 team. My partner and I always get a little too excited when we show up to a match, and our opponents are just meeting each other for the first time. Often, that’s a recipe for disaster. If certain players win together a lot, stick with it. There’s a reason it works.
- Host a pre, during, and post-season team building night. I like to host a simple gathering at my house before the season starts, so players that don’t know each other can. An icebreaker sounds cheesy, but trust me, everyone will love it in the end. I like to find a team-building exercise mid-season. We’ve done ax throwing, wine tasting, and bike riding. It’s a blast. Finally, always find a fun venue to celebrate your season after. And never skip celebrating the holidays with your team and doing a fun gift exchange. My saran wrap ball challenge is always a big hit!!!
- Once a year, grab your team and head to a tennis camp and/or a local tennis tournament. We are lucky to live equidistant to the U.S. Open and the Hall of Fame Open, so we love to make annual trips there. It’s always fun to see professionals double fault and dump a net shot into the net now and then.
- Finally, celebrate the losses. Even though you are trying to advance to the post-season tourney, there will be losses. Ask your players what they learned from the match, what they enjoyed, and what they did well.
Good luck, have fun and WIN!!