Jul 14 2013

How To Be a USTA Team Captain

League Tennis | Rules | Team Captain | USTA       Clif Render      

If you're reading this then the chances are you are about to join the ranks of USTA Team Captains Nationwide. Congratulations! As a USTA Team Captain, you have just become an Ambassador for the sport of Tennis. Along with this unofficial ambassadorship comes no money, no business card, no fame, and no fortune. What does come with the job, though, is respect, trust, appreciation, and a personalized "Thank You" video recorded just for you by Billie Jean King. And while all of these are excellent things (even the video - thanks BJK!), you need to be prepared for the fact that it will be a lot of work. As long as you know what to expect, though, your life as a USTA Team Captain can be an extremely rewarding experience. Go in with the wrong expectations, though, and you'll come away swearing to never do it again.

So, to save you from the consequences, let's cover the basic responsibilities of a Team Captain now so you know what you're in for. They are:

Recruitment. Plan to do some recruiting. Even if you're captaining a pre-existing team as a favor to some buddies of yours, the League Director, or the local pro, do yourself a favor and keep on the lookout for new players. Speaking as someone who has had to suffer through the painful experience of defaulting away matches because someone backed out at the last minute or forgot to tell you that their summer vacation plans changed and they won't be actually able to make it to that match you scheduled them for after all, believe me when I say the more player options you have, the better. I have yet to have the problem of having too many players on a team. That being said, there are some players that are so truly dedicated that they plan their whole lives around their tennis schedule and desperately want to play in every game. If you've got anyone on your team like that, it helps to find out who they are ahead of time. You may even have a whole team of those people. I've never seen a team like this but I'm sure they do exist somewhere. Regardless of which type of team you have, make sure to set expectations early. If your players insist on keeping a small roster to maximize their playing opportunities, put the burden of finding a last minute replacement on them. If they're going to be out for an unforeseen reason then they have to find their own replacement. Last minute cancellations are just a fact of life for the USTA Captain - anything you can do to make dealing with these types of situations easier, do it. You'll thank yourself later!

Communication. This is the single most time consuming part of the job. It includes communicating with your team about the schedule, the lineup, practices, match results, rain-outs, and re-schedulings. It also involves communicating with the opposing team captain, your league coordinator, and your home facility. Communication is essential and is not something that you can overlook. The week before a match you must make sure that your lineup is set, your players have confirmed, the opposing captain will have a full roster, and your home facility has your courts reserved. If any of these things are not in order then additional communication will need to be done in order to work them out.

Organization. Scheduling, planning and setting the lineup are the main responsibilities here. Match scheduling can be done completely up front (if your players provide all their availability up front - mine never do) or on a week by week basis. Keep in mind that your team members are paying for opportunities to play so you do want to make sure that everyone who makes themselves available to play gets to play. Also, if there's a chance that your team could place near the top in it's league and have a chance to advance to the City, Sectional or State level Championships then there is probably a minimum number of games that each participating player must have played in - usually 2. You should double check your league rules about this ahead of time just to be certain.

Another thing to organize is team practices. Team practices are very important especially early on in the season. A team practice can include drills, match play or teaching by a local pro. Find out what your players want and are willing to pay for. Most pros are willing to do teaching clinics for teams and the rates can be quite reasonable if you have enough interested players. Practices not only help to improve the overall quality of play but they also help build a sense of comaraderie, excitement, and fun.

Socialization. This is a hard one. Not everyone is good at this aspect of captaining. This is the part where you build relationships: Relationships between yourself and your players, between your players and each other, between your players and their opponents, and between yourself and the other captain. There is something special about the idea of community. God designed us as social creatures and this idea of socialization is something that should not be overlooked - even by us intraverts!

Education. You've got to know the rules. Well, you don't actually have to know the rules but you do, at least, need to know where to find the rules. After all, the whole knowledge of the internet is available to us with just the push of a button. There are three main resources that you need to be aware of. The first two can be found on the USTA's website. First you have the official rule book: the ITF's Rules of Tennis. These are all of the detailed rules, the basics of how to play the game, equipment specifications, how to score, etc... It's definitely good to read through these at least once. I can almost guarantee that you will probably read at least one thing in there that you didn't know. The next resource that you should have available is called "The Code" or "Friend At Court". "The Code" is the USTA's written un-written rulebook - a suppliment to the ITF Rulebook that lays out all of the previously unspoken rules of play such as who can make which calls and in which situations. The main point of this document is just to put down in written form all of the things that make up common courtesy and sportsmanship. It's a bit of a shame that we have to have a whole document dedicated to this but, believe me, you'll be glad we do. I don't need it that often but when I do, it really is a life saver! The third resource is one that I can't link to because it's different for every league. It's your particular League Rule Book. It lays out all of the details about your league: How many courts are played at each match, what scoring system is used, what type of tiebreaks are used, etc... 

These are the biggies - the things you most need to be prepared for. If you can handle these 5 things then you've got 90% of the job done and things will go much more smoothly. Who knows? You might even be able to enjoy your coaching experience! I certainly do - at least most of the time. It can be stressful, too, but it's worth it - for you, your community, your team, and the sport itself. Heck, if you don't believe me then ask Billie Jean - or just wait until she sends you the email.

This article is primarily geared toward USTA Adult League Captains. While the role of a Team Captain for USTA Junior Team Tennis is similar, there are a number of differences primarily as it relates to Background Checks, required training, and responsibilities. Much of this information will apply to Junior Team Captains but not all. If you have questions about the differences, please let me know.


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