The best program that the U.S. Tennis Association runs may not necessary be the U.S. Open. In fact, some insiders believe that it is the USTA League Tennis program.
The USTA League Tennis National Championships began last weekend with many “average joe” tennis players having their chance to win a USTA National Championship.
Tony Serksnis of Northern California has about as much experience playing USTA League Tennis has any tennis player in the United States – competing for over 25 years with over 15 years as a team captain. Serksnis has pulled together as much knowledge as he could on the nuances of USTA League Tennis play and published it in a book A PLAYER’S GUIDE TO USTA LEAGUE TENNIS. The book, available here for $11.69 as a paperback and a $6.99 as a Kindle ebook here: http://www.amazon.com/Players-Guide-League-Tennis-ebook/dp/B005289PAQ/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1348860949&sr=8-1 discusses many facets of playing on a tennis team, not just specifically USTA League Tennis. In the chapter excerpted below, Serksnis discusses “Team Communication.”
Communication with and amongst the team can be broken down into the following
• Statement of “Team Philosophy” or “Team Charter”
• Statement on how teams (persons) will be chosen for the lineup – various ladder constructions
• Statement on how team members will let captain know their future match availability
• Confirming yourself into lineup
• Publishing of team member contact information This includes email and any phone number where contact can be made quickly
• Synopsis of USTA match results as they happen
• Proposals for lineups amongst captain, co-captain, and team “intelligencia”
• Various polls for: practices/game day-of-the-week preference
• Preference by team members including: singles and or doubles, deuce or ad side, playing partners
• Calls for challenge matches amongst team-members as season progresses
A Team Philosophy or Team Charter is essential. It lets all team members know exactly what kind of team they are joining and what the expectations are for winning. This charter sets the process for determining the lineups and hopefully defines the personality of the team.
Several choices for team philosophy are possible:
1. Win at all costs – this team is trying to make playoffs (and beyond),
2. This team is for fun – generally we will have equal play amongst players – we actually don’t care about winning more than we do about individual camaraderie
3. Something in-between (1) and (2) above. It’s entirely possible to start the season as a “win at all costs” model, but after sustaining two or three losses early, back off into more of a fun-seeking (yet competitive) team. Most teams start the season on an optimistic note, where winning seems very possible. However, in a typical league consisting of eight teams (playing each other twice), the final standings might look like this (with a four-team playoff)
First Four Teams: 12-2 9-5 9-5 8-6
Second Four Teams: 7-7 6-8 3-11 2-12
It may be hard to determine when the last place team determined that they were no longer in the playoff picture. It’s very possible that that team that ended up at 2-12, were 2-5 at the half-way point of the season. They might have thought that they still had a fair chance at making playoffs by winning the second half 6-1 (especially since they now are familiar with the other teams). Thus, it can be difficult to actually determine when your team is out of the playoffs (as long as there is a “fair share” of optimism).
Also, note in the above standings, that certainly two teams in the lower tier were quite in the running until perhaps the last one or two weeks of the season. A four-team playoff allows most teams to have league championship possibilities quite far into the season.
Indeed, once the playoffs start, and it’s down to the last four teams, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a fourth place team to somehow knock off the first-place team in round one of the playoffs, then complete the “miracle run” by beating the second-place team in the league championship.
Also, note in the final standings above that, although first place might have been well-determined, second thru fourth place were certainly up for grabs during the final weeks. Not only are the final three spots in contention among five teams, there is some contention to be a home team during playoffs (finishing first or second) which has some advantage.
Returning to the notion of creating a “Team Charter,” the following is an example of the types of points that must be determined by a team and how this particular team will address the particular points. Clearly, this is presented to the entire team at the very beginning of the season and as new team-members are added to the squad, they are given this so that these decisions are transparent to them. Also, it’s very possible that, as players read this charter, they comment back to make changes or clarifications.
TEAM PHILOSOPHY (an example)
This team, on a weekly basis, will field the best team. Determination of the best team is certainly not an exact science, but the captain will strive to make it as unbiased as possible.
As long as the team has a chance to make the playoffs, the best players will be in the lineup. Once out of playoff contention, other lineups that spread playing time around more fairly will be considered.
We can, against any particular opposing team, play with a “stacked” lineup. Please prepare mentally for this. We will need you to win at any position in the lineup. We’ll face “stacked” lineups, and/or we may stack. More on the ideology of “stacking” is explained in Chapter 5. The final lineup determination is the responsibility of the captain. The captain takes input for this determination from all members of the team and, in fact, will solicit advice from several members. If you are not in the lineup, and feel that another player was chosen over you for any other reason than skill level, please make that known to the captain.
Sometimes, lineups are announced for two matches (instead of one at a time). This could be due to the matches being just days apart where communication of lineup for second match is nearly impossible to coordinate. The strength of opponent, which is more determinable as the season goes on, can directly impact the lineup decision. If the team schedule looks like:
a. Week 6: Very strong opponent
b. Week 7: Very weak opponent
c. Week 8: Another strong opponent
…it would be very possible for the captain to choose
Week 7 as a time to play some players that haven’t been in the lineup as often as the strongest players. That is, on Week 7, it is not the team’s strongest lineup. However, care must be taken when this maneuver is attempted. If too weak a lineup is put out on Week 7, a loss can occur. This is a reality of the decision. However, it may be the only time (within four or five matches) to do a bit of experimentation with the lineup. The lineup for Week 7 may produce individuals that gain confidence, and become legitimate contenders for breaking into the Week 8 or Week 9 lineup.
For a variety of reasons (injury/vacation/work matter), the best player may not be available for a match. A “singles” player may be chosen to pair-up in doubles for a match lineup. The general point here is that the captain has to take a variety of factors under consideration for determining the overall lineup. It is up to all of the team to be ready to be penciled into the lineup, no matter where they are on the ladder.
Please report scores of matches between team members. Report (singles or doubles):
- Complete match scores (either best of 3 sets, or any tiebreakers)
- Partial scores of significance
Actually, the reporting of the scores from any match provides good information to the captain. For example, if a player or players have entered a NTRP tournament, and played some rounds there, that indicates a high level of current competitive level that can mean that these players are in very good shape to play. It seems to track that team members who play quite often during the week, are very well-prepared for match play.
• Besides the ladder itself, there can be other factors used for lineup determination. One is the general
amount of tennis you are playing (mentioned above), but another factor may be how well you are doing this
season in your USTA matches. Having a winning record in league matches indicates a certain “match-toughness”
that is important.
• The ladder order and scores should be published to everyone on the team. This helps keep a transparent look at who are the best singles and doubles players on the team.
DIFFICULTIES OF MAINTAINING A LADDER
Ladders are not very easily maintained. They usually fall apart due to a lack of data. If you have team members who are constantly challenging within the team, and doing that a couple of times a week, that can really help accuracy. However, this rarely happens due to some members of the team not being able to make a challenge match for a variety of reasons. Team members have both family and work obligations to maintain. Plus, some team members may be on multiple teams that further constrains their time availability.
There can be an issue of certain players “ducking” a ladder challenge match, and the captain must be proactive towards arranging matches between players or teams that the captain is considering for the lineup. It would be very common for a captain to demand that: Team C play Team D before Monday and the winner of that match play in the USTA match the following night.
Further complications exist for doubles. Doubles teams can be formed in a variety of ways. Sometimes doubles teams are established well before the season starts, others are formed mid-way into the season, while others sometimes don’t occur until the playoffs.
It would be common for team members to “gravitate” towards partners they seem to mesh with due to style, compatibility, or even, availability. A captain may force two people together as he sees that they are both good doubles players, and they might be compatible as a doubles team. In any event, the doubles ladder may be difficult to correctly position teams. For example: Player A, who usually plays with Player B, wins a strong match with a different partner (Player C). It becomes challenging to determine whether Team A-B is better than Team A-C.
Also, as the season wears on, matches played in the current week have much more relevancy than a match played before the season began. With all of the “frailties” of establishing a Team Ladder, it still has obvious value. All team members should understand that the ladder is just another data point for the final decision of making the lineup. That being said, here is an example of some Team Ladder Rules (Feb. 17th is an arbitrary date, four weeks before the season opener).
TEAM LADDER RULES (an example)
• All challenge matches are best two-of-three sets (regular scoring). Use tie-break if agreed to, but playing the third set is better for conditioning.
• Challenges can be made anywhere on the ladder.
• Until Feb. 17th, if challenger beats challengee, then challenger takes challengee’s position and everyone below moves down.
• After Feb. 17th, if challenger beats challengee,
a. A challenger win of three or less spots up on the ladder will result in challenger taking challengee’s position e.g. #7 beats #4 will result in #7 moving up to #4
b. A challenger win of four or more spots on the ladder will result in challenger moving up half way between them and challengee. Challengee’s position will not be affected.
e.g. #7 beats #1 will result in #7 moving up to #4
e.g. #7 beats #2 will result in #7 moving up to #5
e.g. #7 beats #3 will result in #7 moving up to #5
• Both persons (teams) should report all completed challenge matches, regardless of outcome. Preferably, report using email to the captain.
• A person is not obligated to accept more than one challenge per week.
• Ducking matches – this will be discussed as needed. We are here to have fun and play lots of tennis. I don’t believe this will be an issue.
• Often, a good singles player is also a part of a good doubles team. It will be up to the captain to determine the best overall lineup. For example, the second and third-best players could end-up playing the No. 1 singles and No. 2 singles positions for the team (if the best singles player is “drafted” to a doubles team).
• Have fun and challenge often!
Tools That Can Help Team Communication
Several automated tools are available that can help captains and players to share important information. They can be set up to allow a team member to log into a password-protected team site, and supply information that helps the team as it moves forward during a season. Many of these automated tools are available free of charge. Some examples of these tools are:
• Using Evite® to invite team members to a practice at a particular day and time. These can be set up to be recurring. As each team member logs into the Evite® invitation, they can state “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” to their name, and even add a comment (perhaps stating that they will be 30 minutes late to the practice). As the week advances, players can relogin and see exactly how many team members have “accepted” the invitation. Also, one can change one’s attendance choice as the week advances towards the practice time.
• A Yahoo® Group can be established for the team members. This allows members to log into their team home page, get contact information on team members, and allow “polls” to be set up for team practices or any number of questions that arise during a season.
• The USTA itself has “member login” to allow individual members to set their own player match availability for the entire season. The players can state their availability as – Yes / No / Maybe / Call Last – for each match of the season. A team “composite” of availability is also shown which totals the number of players available for any one particular match. Thus, a captain can see at-a-glance as to whom is available for the coming (and future) matches. It would be unusual to have all players available for every match, so a captain can start to deal with the “No” availability of a particular player at a particular match.
The USTA site also contains a very powerful “Search” feature that can search on players, tennis facilities, and other items. By searching on a player’s name, one can see that player’s records in league play and NTRP tournaments play over the last few years. You could also see the level of play for that player over the years. There is much more information on the local sectional USTA website, and I encourage players to browse the site to get familiar with what is available. As previously mentioned, the website for Northern California Section (Norcal) is: www.norcal.usta.com.
An organization called TennisOne® also provides a team with web-based information sharing. Once a captain has registered his team (they get an identification number), a Team Home Page is established, and both the team members and captain can input and access all sorts of information including:
a. Personal information such as phone contact numbers
b. Team member match availability
c. Aggregate team member match availability
d. Email address and ways to email the team from the website
e. Allows match confirmation replies from team members in the lineup
f. Sends automated reminders as to the place and time of the match as it nears
TennisOne® also provides tennis tips and a newsletter to teams free of charge. Please check out their website at www.tennisone.com
Any number of spreadsheets can be set up by a team to help organize the information for their team. It is the lucky captain indeed that has:
a. Someone with the Information Sharing (I.S.) background to create and maintain team databases,
b. Teammates who utilize these spreadsheets to communicate with their team members.