I would like to salute team captains of our league teams. From coast to coast, the largest demographic of passionate and competitive tennis players in the nation are the adult league players.
The unsung hero in a no-win situation is the team captain. Whenever I meet a team captain, I never fail to get a roll of the eyes when I ask them if they like to set the lineup. Being a captain and being a coach is very similar … taking many different personalities and capabilities and attempting to unite all of their strengths into one cohesive unit.
Now, notice I did not say the word “WIN!” If winning is the goal, then here is my story …
Entering my freshman year at the University of Southern California, I was this junior tennis player hot shot. I was the number one International Tennis Federation singles and doubles player on the planet coming out of high school. I was loaded with game and confidence. Entering my first team dual match for the USC Trojans, I was pretty set on playing number one in singles and doubles. In all my matchups with my fellow Trojans, I felt that I had earned the number one spot. I can still feel the cold steel of sitting in the bleachers as my team sat waiting for our College Hall of Fame Coach Dick Leach to run down the lineup assignments.
I was convinced that I was going to play number one, but I remember saying to myself that I could see him going with an upper classman instead so that I could get my feet wet in the dual match format. Rick Leach, who ended up winning multiple Grand Slams and U.S. Davis Cup ties before he retired, was given the top spot. Yes, Rick was Coach Leach's son, but Rick was more than worthy of being our top player, receiving All-American honors his previous two years in singles and doubles.
Now, number two was going to be my spot for sure … NOPE! Jorge Lozano, a senior and Davis Cup player from Mexico filled that spot. I was thinking “Come on already!” I am going to have a serious talk with Coach Leach about this crime of putting me at number three singles. So you can understand my surprise when Coach Leach named Senior Tim Pawsat at number three. Tim was an outstanding player at all levels and ended up reaching the top 10 in the ATP world doubles rankings, but I was so mad it did not matter at that point … I was ready to transfer schools! I have not hit one ball in a team dual situation in my life and I was set on leaving USC for another school as I took my gear to Court #4. My mind was not on any opponent or tactic … I was in BEAST MODE and I blew out the guppy on the other side at number four singles and number two doubles even though Jorge and I were the top doubles team in the college rankings at that point.
I was not a team player the next 24 hours, but more like a Tazmanian Devil spinning through trees out of control. After playing the same positions and winning the next day with a massive chip on my shoulder, I was able schedule a meeting with Coach Leach in his office. I had not spoken to anyone for 72 hours and was beyond upset with the situation. Before the door was even closed and I was able to sit in my chair across from Coach Leach (in his office that had more trophies and All Americans on the walls than most conferences have combined), Coach asked, "What's up?” like he had no idea why I was storming around with so much frustration. All I could get out was “Number four? Come on … number four?” It was not my best approach, but it was all I could get out at that point. Coach Leach leaned back and responded simply and calmly, " Did we win?" I replied, “Well, yeah but …” He continued to say that on the USC team, that the team winning was the most important thing. That my position was a privilege and numbers five and six, and the other players below me were not happy with their assignments either but USC won.
Coach Leach is a tremendous teacher, and for the next hour or so, he explained my role on the team as important, but no more or less important than every other player on the team. I walked out of that meeting with a new and fresh perspective that I still use today with my team at Syracuse University.
No matter what level or league, team competition is about the success of the team and how the parts of the team all contribute to the team’s win. The team captains put up with so much through the season and the lineup is a tough part of it. The best teams are the ones that take responsibility of their roles. From captain to player, the little details make a big difference. Everyone being on time, attending all the team practices and functions, are things that makes a team move towards their common goals. I have learned so much from my many team experiences on and off the court that made the game more fun through my years as a tennis player.
Enjoy your team and wherever you play on it. It my not be where you feel you should play, but the power of many is stronger than the power of one.
Crush the ball and poach more than you don't.