Getting to know Stephen Sombrotto, Adam Moramarco and Jim Dileo
  | By Miguel Cervantes III

Recently, Miguel Cervantes sat down with some of the area's Super Captains to pick their brain and get inside of exactly what it takes to be a leader. Here is a closer look at what Stephen Sombrotto, Adam Moramarco and Jim Dileo had to say in their individual interviews and exactly what traits are required to be a good leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 



Stephen Sombrotto

►When did you start playing tennis? I had been a professional lacrosse player for 13 years from 1992-2004, in summer of 2005 I met my wife to be Misty and she had been playing tennis in USTA leagues. Needless to say she embarrassed me on the court and it really lit a fire in me to try to get better as i fell in love with the game. I emailed the USTA through Kathy Miller and she set me up with a 3.0 team in Rockville. That team ended up going to the Nationals in Tuscon, Ariz.

When did you start captaining USTA teams and what motivated you to do it the first time? After that first year, I had decided that i was going to captain a 3.5 with some of the players that were bumped up from the 3.0 team. We did pick up a few players from within the group, where guys in our core brought friends down to play in our weekly game. That team also went on to the Nationals in Las Vegas.

How would you describe your captaining style? I would say that I try to balance the fun of just playing the game with the competitive nature of the league. I try to create an atmosphere that is fun, but at the same time has each player on the team striving to be better then the next.

Over the last several years you've consistently put out a USTA team. What motivates you to do it every year? I am passionate about the game of tennis. I enjoy the friendships that our built in playing and talking with all the players of our group. It is not much different from when I was playing lacrosse, which I was also very passionate about.

Running a team can be a lot of work with all the logistics. How do you handle the work load (correspondence, e-mails, spreadsheets, co-captains)? The Internet and smart phones have made it relatively easy to communicate with people, but probably most important is to build the group around players and people that are also passionate about the game, ones that you dont have to chase down. That is probably most important.

Do you feel that practice is important to a team's sucess? How do you run your practices to get the most benefit (ex: frequency of practices, how do you pair people up)? We run a game down in Long Beach called "The Tennis Engine," many of my USTA players are involved in that Saturday game. It constantly mixes up players and records scores and results and keeps a rating level similar to the USTA in the standings. We always say The Tennis Engine never lies. The competitive nature of those Saturday games is very similar to that of what a player will see in a USTA match, so I really think it gets players prepared to play. It also lets players on our own team really compete against each other and everyone's level rises together.

Lineups are constantly a subject of debate. Everyone has a different idea of how far in advance you confirm your players to play in a match. How far in advance do you like to make your lineups? Do you ever change a lineup the day before a match to try to gain a strategic advantage? I generally work off a spread sheet where I estimate how many matches each player will play and draw a general outline for each match prior to the whole season, needless to say that constantly changes based on availability, injury, etc., but it gives me a guideline to work from. Usually, I try to be set at least three days in advance of a match.

►Are there ever moments when you think that captaining was a mistake because of the work, stress and responsibility that goes with it? Sure, there are many times that it is a burden, when you are having trouble getting responses from players, or if your team is stuggling and you cant get guys to commit to matches. In five years of captaining teams, I have only forfeited one court where I could not get players to play. That I feel is a pretty good accomplishment.

►Several Long Island tennis players feel that the ratings system is not adequate for competitive play and several players get by being underrated. What are your feelings on the subject of underrating players so a team can perform better? How do you deal with moments where you suspect that a team your are playing has a player or two that might be considered an underrate? I think, overall, the USTA has done a pretty good job with the rating situation, in fact the major adjustments from last year I think were very good as well. That being said, I think they still could implement some better rules on self-rated players that would make the leagues even better. In the end, if you feel a team has some players that might not be at level, it is always a good expierience to play players that are stronger then yourself. The truth is myself personally I have had more gratification in matches that I have lost to players that I have felt were much better then I, but I competed well, then matches where I won against weaker players.

►Several captains/teams think it is important to scout and/or get information about other teams. Is this important to you? What role does it play in the success of a team? I think if you are passionate about anything and into it, it is fine to go and watch matches if you have the time. I think it could certainly be helpful to see players in advance of playing them for sure. It also builds a comaraderie amongst the teams that I think makes the league even more fun. Plus, who doesnt like to play in front of a crowd?

Credit: Polka Dot Images►Some feel it's necessary to keep the same group of guys together year after year, while others think it's important to consistently get new blood to refresh a team. Do you think it's more important to keep a core group together or to recruit new players every year? Do you ever go out of your way to recruit guys for your team to increase your team's chance for success? I think you always have to go out and add people to the group, because many times guys fall off, so you always need to continue to bring new players in. I always take care of the core as well, as they are really what makes the group, and that is why my particular group is ever expanding. Our Saturday morning game has gone from one court in 2008 to three courts in 2010 with over 25 players.

►Different teams and captains have different goals for their teams. Do you set goals for your team every season, or is the goal always the same for your team? I think you can make a general expectation of your team when you see all the others as well. Some teams I have higher expectations then other, but in any case, the highest goal I am looking to achieve is to win the league, I think it should never be a goal of teams to "go to Nationals", the main goal should be to have fun, be competitive and if you can win the league that is the prize, anything after that is the icing on the cake.

►Some players and captains feel that if they don't reach sectionals then the season was unsuccessful. How important is it to be in contention for a sectional spot for you and your team? I think we always try to be as successful as we can and if we feel our team is good enough that means winning the league, my 4.0 guys have fallen short of that goal the last three years losing twice in the finals and once in the semifinals, but all of those years had great levels of success, so while slightly disappointed at the time, we can always have a few beers at our year end party and really enjoy the success we had.

►In USTA, we frequently find ourselves playing the same people year after year. Is there a club or team you like playing against every year? Do you consider them your rivals or just a team that's a pleasure to play? I think I get my greatest pleasure playing the Carefree guys. although we havent had much success against them, they are great guys and great tennis players, and i think playing the strongest teams is what it is about.

►Any thoughts on the 10 point tie-break? I think it is a necessity. although in a perfect world, we would all want to play out a third set, the two-hour limit would lead to more matches not having a finished conclusion. I think a third set No-Ad might work as well, maybe a rule like if there is more then 30 min. left in a timed match you play a third set no-ad, to see who wins the match, less then that a 10-pointer.

►Looking back on all your experiences as a captain, what was your highest moment? My highest moment was last season playing our matches out of Eisenhower Park outside. They were the first Long Island USTA matches played in a park setting and we really had a fantastic time hosting them and having barbacues after the matches.

What do you think could be done to better the experience of captaining a team? What do you think could be done to better the experience of playing USTA? I think a captain can shape his own expierience. I have done things the way that I have wanted and more often then not have been pleased with everything. The USTA has done a great job with the leagues, but I do think they could get more input from captains on future changes.

►What advice would you give a first time USTA captain? Try to surround yourself with reliable people, delegate some of the duties to other members of the team. And most of all have fun.

►Is there anything else you'd like to say or add? As my our group has expanded we have formed "Maverick Tennis," a community of our players which really is open to any tennis players, USTA member or not. At our Web site at www.mavericktennis.net, people can form a profile or connect using their Facebook profile and there is information there are Maverick Leagues, tournaments and other events. It is our hope that the forum section becomes the number one place for players to communicate about matches and league information. Check it out get a profile and get connected.



Adam Moramarco

►When did you start playing tennis? When I was 16-years-old.

When did you start captaining USTA teams and what motivated you to do it the first time? I started captaining USTA teams in 2007, I started playing USTA in 2005. What motivated me was some of my customers asked me "Why don't you captain a team? We will play for you." So that is how it all started.

►How would you describe your captaining style? In the beginning, my captaining style was more laid back, never really holding a practice, just having faith in my players and trying to listen to what they would suggest. We started winning and it was a lot of fun. Then last year, I started recruiting and holding practices and never thought that there would be this many people interested.

►Over the last several years, you've consistently put out a USTA team. What motivates you to do it every year? I started with one team, now I will be captaining  six teams. I am very lucky and fortunate to have this many people support me and enjoying playing. We don't only all play together, but we also get together off the court for dinners. It's like a big family ... this is what keeps me going.

►Running a team can be a lot of work with all of the logistics. How do you handle the work load (ex: correspondence, e-mails, spreadsheets, co-captains)? I have alot of help with the team I will get the schedule and give it to the team. I also appoint a co-captain. At each practice, I will remind the team about the upcoming match and see who is available and I do a lot of texting.

►Do you feel that practice is important to a team's success?  How do you run your practices to get the most benefit? Practice is very important especially for doubles.  I try to get everybody playing with each other. Practices are two hours long, so i try to get in three sets and I am constantly walking around and watching.

►Line-ups are constantly a subject of debate.  Everyone has a different idea of how far in advance you confirm your players to play in a match. How far in advance do you like to make your lineups?  Do you ever change a lineup the day before a match to try to gain a strategic advantage? I try to have my lineup a week in advance ... it is inevitable that something will happen especially on game day, so I will always have at least one to two people on standy as backups. I learned from my mistake, as there was one season where I forfeited almost one court every time.

►Are there ever moments when you think that captaining was a mistake because of the work, stress and responsibility that goes along with it? There are always stressful times, but when you surround yourself with a nice group of people it makes it easier.

►Several Long Island tennis players feel that the ratings system is not adequate for competitive play and several players get by being underrated.  What are your feelings on the subject of underrating players so a team can perform better?  How do you deal with moments where you suspect that a team your are playing has a player or two that might be considered an underrated player? I agree that this system has flaws, and in order to be very competitive, players will always be underrated. It is very ammusing that even last year when for the first time I did not have one player on my mixed 7.0 team self-rated ... all were computer rated ... I was getting complained about. Even funnier, we lost upstate, came in second to a team with a few self-rated players. There should be a rule where only computer-rated players are allowed to play mixed.

►Several captains/teams think it is important to scout and/or get information about other teams.  Is this important to you? What role does it play in the success of a team? Honestly,  scouting is important .. but when you are in the league for a few years, you tend to know all of the players and how they play. For me, I just have faith that my team will be the better team at the end of the match.

►Some feel it's necessary to keep the same group of guys together year after year, while others think it's important to consistently get new blood to refresh a team.  Do you think it's more important to keep a core group together or to recruit new players every year?  Do you ever go out of your way to recruit guys for your team to increase your team's chance for success? It is always good to do both. Just like in professional sports, you have veterans and rookies you need a combination of both to be successful.

►Different teams and captains have different goals for their teams.  Do you set goals for your team every season, or is the goal always the same for your team? The goal is always the same ... we set out to win, but it has to be fair and honest on the court. There have been too many times where there are bad line calls. I am fortunate that my players have never been accused of that .. also, they have to change the rule of foot faults there are too many people taking advantage of the no-call foot fault. Only a USTA official can call it.

►Some players and captains feel that if they don't reach Sectionals, then the season was unsuccessful. How important is it to be in contention for a Sectional spot for you and your team? Reacing Sectionals is a big success, but you should earn it not back in. Two years ago, my Men's 4.0 team got screwed out of playoff contention because of a technicality of one team not making up one court. We were the only team to beat the national champs. We finished 12-2 and tied for second place and wound up in sixth because points were deducted for one team forfeiting to another.

►In USTA, we frequently find ourselves playing the same people year after year.  Is there a club or team you like playing against every year? Do you consider them your rivals or just a team that's a pleasure to play? It is always a pleasure playing against Jerry Grossman. He has a great group of guys who are very classy. The greatest competition out there is Adam Kolenberg and Steve Sombrotto ... they really know how to form a team with high skill and how can you not mention Jim Delio in this answer ... probably the biggest name to me since I've been playing with a great group of players. There are are a lot of upcoming captains who have put together formidable opponents and we have had great matches against them ... Wayne Freeman, Ian Shapiro and Roe Kafka just to name a few.

►Any thoughts on the 10-point tie-break? It is stupid and should be changed. Play out another set and no time limit.

►Looking back on all your experiences as a captain, what was your highest moment? Making Sectionals and being the only team to beat the 4.0 national champs.

►What do you think could be done to better the experience of captaining a team? What do you think could be done to better the experience of playing USTA?

►What advice would you give a first-time USTA captain? Don't get discouraged if you lose ... if you are surrounded by good people, you will enjoy it.



Jim Dileo

When did you start playing tennis? In 2000, after my wife’s USTA team went to the Nationals in 1999. I saw the fun that team had and decided to take up the sport.

►When did you start captaining USTA teams and what motivated you to do it the first time? In 2001 with a team whose core group of players had “carried our wives’ bags” to the Sectionals and Nationals in 1999. We had a 3.0 team that went to the sectionals in our first year and missed going to the nationals by two courts.

How would you describe your captaining style? Easy-going, non-pressuring recognizing that we are too old for scholarships and contracts so if we are not doing this for exercise, camaraderie, and fun, there is no reason to do it.

 

►Over the last several years you've consistently put out a USTA team. What motivates you to do it every year? I have a great group of people, both men and women, who really enjoy playing the game. They appreciate most aspects of USTA league play and my doing this insures that they all have the opportunity to play.

► Running a team can be a lot of work with all the logistics. How do you handle the work load?  All correspondence with my players is via e-mail and everyone needs to be committed to checking e-mail at least once per day during the season. I manage my rosters, match schedules, player availabilities and related items using two key spreadsheets. But all of that is secondary to a great group of “acting captains” who help me during the season at matches. They represent me and their team, and handle all of the logistics the day of the match, whether home or away, including score sheets, rules clarification, etc.

►Do you feel that practice is important to a team's sucess? How do you run your practices to get the most benefit?  I run “practices” all-year round through seasonal courts, pickup games, crunches (with Walter Staritsky of Carefree) and scheduled practice sessions taking advantage of discounted court time that our home club (Carefree) offers to teams that play there. The practices are not mandatory as I recognize and respect that people have responsibilities outside of tennis, but they are helpful in assessing player skill levels, preferences and potential pairings. A number of players have “found” their playing partners over the years and they play together in leagues. Players that join for the first time will tend to start off playing together and then get to meet other within the group the longer they are with the team. At the beginning of each men’s season, I ask the players if there are any people that they would like to play with that season as well as any players that they do not want to play with that season. I am the only one who sees these preferences and when I get people cross referencing each other in terms of wanting to play together, I have the pairing options that I can use during the season.

►Lineups are constantly a subject of debate. Everyone has a different idea of how far in advance you confirm your players to play in a match. How far in advance do you like to make your lineups? Do you ever change a lineup the day before a match to try to gain a strategic advantage? My goal, reached 99 percent of the time is to get the lineup out to the team at least one week in advance of the match. Everyone on the roster is listed in one of three categories in the line-up e-mail: OUT (as they told me they were not available for this match), IN (they are scheduled to play), On Standby (they are not scheduled to play, but are available in case someone IN is not able to play). Everyone is given 24-36 hours to respond to confirm their status, which I then acknowledge back. Someone not responding is then moved to the OUT category. When needed I go to the confirmed Standby list to get replacements for players IN who cannot play. This can happen right up until the day of the match. About three to four days before the match, I send the “acting captain” the suggested match line-up and ask them for feedback. Once it is all set, the acting captain sends out match reminders to the IN and Standby players two days before the match. The “acting captain” is then in control of the line-up at that point should any changes be needed.

►Are there ever moments when you think that captaining was a mistake because of the work, stress, and responsibility that goes with it? Not in a macro sense. There are situations where an individual’s lack of responsiveness during the season is frustrating, but since I move players to the OUT status when they have not responded in time, that helps keep thing moving. So the frustration is more about someone losing an opportunity to play; albeit due to their own lack of responsiveness. Since 95 percent of the players take their responsibilities very seriously, it makes my job much more manageable.

Several Long Island tennis players feel that the ratings system is not adequate for competitive play and several players get by being underrated. What are your feelings on the subject of underrating players so a team can perform better? How do you deal with moments where you suspect that a team your are playing has a player or two that might be considered an underrate? I have been quite vocal about the under rating issue as the self-rating system increases the opportunities for this to happen. The USTA took a huge step at the end of 2009 with the major bump up and they should look to do this at least every two years, if not every year. Under rating is extremely frustrating to deal with and there are really no options for honest teams/captains to address this when they play the dishonest teams/captains. Fortunately, 75-80 percent of the captains/teams play it legit and that helps, but if there are two or three teams out of 10 in a division that play games with the ratings, then the playoff participants will most likely come from those two or three teams and it greatly reduces the chances for the honest teams/captains to participate in playoffs. But the major bump up at the end of 2009 really helped level the playing field. Using a personal example, and I do play it legit with ratings. From 2001 to 2003, (when we had visual ratings) I had teams up at the Sectionals each year. Then in 2004, when self rating started, through 2009, I had no teams up at Sectionals. In 2010, after the major 2009 year end bump up, I had two teams in the playoffs, one make it to the Sectionals and three others just miss the local playoffs. It was the first time since 2003 that I felt my teams were facing mostly legit teams/players.

►Several captains/teams think it is important to scout and/or get information about other teams. Is this important to you? What role does it play in the success of a team? It is not something I do. I look at team results in tennislink and over the years, one gets to recognize people’s names, but to actually go to another team’s match to “scout” is not something I have the time or interest to do. I know a couple of captains who do this and many are the same ones who play games with under rating players, so it fits their objective to win at all costs. So, when they win, is it because of their “scouting,” or because they have underrated players? Who really cares? Most of the captains do this for their players to have some fun, get some exercise and to do so in a competitive environment. The majority of captains recognize that we are too old for scholarships and contracts so if we are not having fun, what is the point of doing this? The minority view it differently and, if that works for them and their players, fine.

►Some feel it's necessary to keep the same group of guys together year after year, while others think it's important to consistently get new blood to refresh a team. Do you think it's more important to keep a core group together or to recruit new players every year? Do you ever go out of your way to recruit guys for your team to increase your team's chance for success? I always offer spots on my teams to returning players first. With players getting bumped up, some deciding not to play USTA, etc. there are openings each year across my teams. While I do not actively recruit, I get a lot of referrals from existing players who have friends that are looking to play. I also meet potential new players during the year at drills, seasonal court games, tennis parties, etc. I always tell them the returning players get first priority, but that as spots open, I can get them on a team. I usually work the potential new players into some games to assess their level of play as many have not played USTA before and will need to self rate when they join a team. Given that I respect the other honest captains too much to under rate a new player, this helps insure that the potential new player is properly rated.

►Different teams and captains have different goals for their teams. Do you set goals for your team every season, or is the goal always the same for your team? The only goal I set is for the players to have fun, to fairly share playing time, and to try to be competitive, as a team, in each match. I do not put pressure on players to win a specific court or match. I tell all the players that whatever “pressure’ they put on themselves to be successful is good enough for me. I have heard stories of captains who will bench a player after a couple of loses. Similarly, those same captains probably stress the importance of a specific court or match to their players. Again, if that works for them, fine, but those are things I would never consider doing.

► Some players and captains feel that if they don't reach sectionals then the season was unsuccessful. How important is it to be in contention for a sectional spot for you and your team? Not important at all. Playoffs and subsequent post-season opportunities are great. They add something extra to what was hopefully a positive regular season experience for the players. In 2010, after the 2009 major bump up by the USTA, I had a number of teams in contention for playoff spots during the course of the season and that was fun as it added an extra dimension to the season. Most of the longer term players, since it had been years since they were in that position, really had a blast with it. For a lot of the newer players, it was not even something they focused on, so I did nothing to try to make it any more important than what an individual player perceived. One team (3.5 seniors) actually made it to the Sectionals and came in 2nd by a couple of courts; just missing out on a opportunity to go to the Nationals. Very telling is that 14 of 16 guys (one player was injured - another out of the country) on the roster made it up to the Sectionals and everyone got to play a minimum of 2 matches. I had a number of players comment that it was great that everyone got to play 2 matches and my response was – “if we fairly share playing time during the season, why change now?”

►In USTA, we frequently find ourselves playing the same people year after year. Is there a club or team you like playing against every year? Do you consider them your rivals or just a team that's a pleasure to play? I don’t look at it as rivalries, but there are teams/captains that I really enjoy playing against. They appreciate the leagues for what they are, look to have fun and yet enjoy the competitive environment. 75-80 percent of the teams/captains are in this category and it is another reason why I do this. It is great, after a match, win or lose, to “go upstairs” kick back with something to eat or drink and have the guys just BS’ing with each other about the match, other matches, whatever. I will admit that when one of my teams wins a match against a team/captain that has other motives for doing this, that I get an extra kick out of that.

►Any thoughts on the 10-point tie-break? I personally think it is unfair to the game and communicated that. You work very hard in a match to split sets and then the 10-point S-T/B becomes the determinant of who wins the match. A let cord for/against either team in a 10-point S-T/B is huge and to have it take precedence over the prior two full sets played is ridiculous. I would rather see a no ad third set as we did when I first started playing USTA and then just count games if the match is not completed. To have an entire match come down to a possible freak single point is not fair to anyone.

►Looking back on all your experiences as a captain, what was your highest moment? Probably getting to the Sectionals the first time in 2001 and coming in second. It was the first year I captained a team and like me, many of the players had experienced this vicariously through our wives who went all the way to the Nationals in 1999. It was a great experience for a group of mostly new players to the game and we had a blast. Following a close second are the regular comments I receive from my players thanking me for running the teams, setting up the drills and practices, coordinating the seasonal courts, etc. To get those words of appreciation mean a lot and, reinforce for me, the value of doing this each year.

►What do you think could be done to better the experience of captaining a team? What do you think could be done to better the experience of playing USTA? I would love to see the USTA, as it did at the end of 2009, use major ratings bump ups regularly as a way to keep the playing field level. While I have been a vocal critic of the self-rating process, it is here to stay and the actions taken at the end of 2009 really helped mitigate some of the disadvantages of the system.

►What advice would you give a first time USTA captain? Do it to have fun, get some exercise, make friends, and play competitive tennis. Winning is great and it is something to strive for, but don’t let that be your sole motivating factor for being a captain.

►Is there anything else you'd like to say or add? To the 75-80 percent of the captains that play it straight, and do it for the right reasons, my sincere thanks and appreciation. You make this a better game for all of us and you are definitely respected by your peers.

Miguel Cervantes III

<p>Miguel Cervantes III teaches at Carefree Racquet Club and privately outdoors. Miguel specializes in teaching beginners, training juniors and coaching doubles. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com">UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com</a>.</p>