After playing in the USTA for five years, this writer recently decided that he should captain a USTA team. After playing season after season of competitive adult league play, I felt I was ready to take on the duties and responsibilities of being head of a team. I could not anticipate the difficulties that lied ahead. At the beginning of the season, I made a list of friends whom I thought would play on the team. I felt I was prepared and made spreadsheets, made phone calls and sent out e-mails. I was determined to put together a team that was not only a great group of guys to play next to, but also a group that had the potential to go the distance and make sectionals. With the group I had, I knew that my first experience captaining a team would be a wild success, and at the end of the season, we would all enjoy a drink laughing about how our rookie team had done something truly special.
After the initial enthusiasm and zeal I felt of finally captaining a team, with the expectation that we would do great things, the rug was quickly pulled out from under my feet. Nothing was as I expected. Players who had committed to my team suddenly decided that they were going to skip the season. Other players who committed to my team were approached by other teams and to my great perplexity they had chosen those other teams over mine. Where I thought I would have too many players, I all of a sudden found myself in desperate need of bodies to put out on the court. The few players I did have all had different schedules, and I found it impossible to schedule a practice for us to play together. Matches always seemed to be at a time when no one was available. Injuries surfaced, prior commitments arose, and some even had the good fortune to welcome new members into their family. None of these things were under my control, and it seemed like the task I had deemed rather easy was turning into an uphill battle. In the end, we got through the season and although we didn’t have the success I had expected, it was an experience that I took a great deal away from.
The whole experience made me realize that I had taken for granted all the captains I played for in the past. I thought it was a simple job … all you had to do was send out an e-mail, set a lineup, and enjoy the pizza after the match … but I was very wrong. This made me think about the guys that do it season after season, year after year. There are guys who consistently put out teams and play competitive tennis. How do they do it? What motivated them to do it? What did they know that I didn’t, and how did they find success where I couldn’t? The names that immediately came to mind were Long Island’s three great captains: Stephen Sombrotto, Jim Dileo and Adam Moramarco. If asked to name the best and/or most successful captains in Men’s Long Island USTA, their names would consistently top the list. I decided to bring my questions to them and crack the “Captain’s Code.” Here’s what they said about doing it the right way.
Jim Dileo is known throughout the league as the captain with all those Carefree teams. Jim has been captaining USTA teams since 2001, had several teams go to sectionals and has been known to run as many as eight USTA teams in a single season. I asked all the captains what it was they did specifically to make their job easier when communicating with the team and was most interested in Jim’s answer as he runs multiple teams with enviable ease.
“The master of multitasking,” Jim Dileo uses spreadsheets and e-mail to grease the wheels of communication. For members of the team, you have to be prepared to check your e-mail at least once a day. There, you will find updates on practice opportunities, match dates/times and status updates. Players relay what matches they are available for at the beginning of the season and then are sent an e-mail a few weeks prior to the match to let them know if they are in the lineup. Players are given a designation of playing, unavailable or stand-by, this way there can be no confusion or mix-ups. Since he runs so many teams, Jim cannot be at every match and will designate an acting captain for a match (which it was my honor to do recently). Jim is quick to point out that it is really his players and acting captains that deserve most of the credit. The acting captain of the match run the logistics of the match and are also consulted on the lineup from the players available for the day. Jim shows his acting captains and the rest of the team a great deal of respect for their time and commitment to the team which is equally returned.
With Jim Dileo, you’re joining a team that’s main focus is having fun. He knows that no one player on the team is playing for money or a sponsorship of any kind. Jim and his team are a laidback group of individuals who play for exercise, camaraderie, and of course, for the pure enjoyment of the game.
Adam Moramarco is notoriously known in USTA/Long Island as the captain with the young players. Adam owns and operates his store, Advantage Tennis, where he’s met and befriended many of his players (this author included). Adam consistently puts out some very competitive teams, season after season. His ability to match people up, assemble good lineups, and his knowledge of USTA rules makes him a feared opponent. His teams have been upstate to sectionals several times, despite only beginning to serve as a captain as of 2007.
I asked all of the captains how important practice is to a team’s success. Adam replied that it is imperative, most especially for doubles. Adam regularly holds practices at least once a week where he can have as many as 30 people rent out all the courts at Hempstead Lake Indoor for practice. Adam will walk around the courts, making observations so that he can streamline his lineup for any upcoming match. Practices often extend beyond the court though, often spilling over to post-practice dinner and drinks at a casual dining locale. The time off the court is almost as important as the time on the court. It builds a sense of family which Adam stresses is what motivates him to keep doing it year after year, season after season. Playing for Adam makes you a member of the Advantage Tennis family.
Stephen Sombrotto is known as the “Maverick of USTA/Long Island Tennis” with his Maverick tennis community. Steve has been to sectionals multiple times and his teams are almost always found in the first or second spot in the league. His teams are always very competitive with their strong core group of players with him as head of a monster team. Perhaps more than most, Steve has promoted tennis on Long Island, bringing people together and he even managed to facilitate use of an outdoor park, Eisenhower Park, to host his home matches this past summer.
Steve, more so than the other captains questioned, is a competitive captain. He runs competitive practices, scouts opposing players and teams, and brings an overall intensity that is not easily matched. When faced with the dirty question, Steve answered with reason and class. He says that any time you are passionate about something, it’s going to come out in the way you go about things. In one of the truest statements I received Stephen said, “A captain can shape his own experience.” Steve is a captain’s captain, putting in that little something extra which fuels the engine that is his team.
Steve has been captaining his way since 2006 and that means doing it for fun, but also being competitive and trying to win the league his team participates in. If you find yourself playing against Steve, come prepared to have a tough fight on the court and also be ready to eat some good barbeque off the grill.
While all three super captains had different opinions on various topics, the overall message on what makes a great team was the same. The secret to having a great team and being a great captain is … to surround yourself with great people. To be successful in USTA League tennis, you need reliable people. Chasing people down, sending out futile e-mails and text messages, and not holding practice just makes the experience of playing and captaining more of a job than anything else and no one wants an extra job. When you have a group of players who want to play, are easy to get along with, and have a similar focus and goal as their captain, the experience can be legendary. While my first experience as a captain was not a stellar one, my teammates were what motivated me to do it. Without them, it would have been impossible and it was a pleasure to play alongside them.
What does Adam Moramarco think about the 10-Point Super Tie-Breaker? What teams does Stephen Sombrotto love to play against? What does Jim Dileo think about the ratings system? To learn more, click here to read the super captain’s interview answers.
Miguel Cervantes III
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 UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com.