Beyond The Score: Tips To Success From a League Captain

By Lisa Thomas

I’ve been a tennis league player for about 10 years now.  For most of those seasons of play my friend Paula has been my team’s league captain.  I think she is a very good league captain and I can say that because from my side of things it all goes swimmingly.  Thanks to her efforts, I am always in the right location, usually on time and have a willing doubles partner ready to go.  Of course behind the scene Paula has done and is doing a lot to help make it all a success.


I thought I’d check in with her a get her seasoned tips to share with those contemplating taking on the leadership role with a league team and also to showcase to the rest of us who don’t step up to shoulder the responsibility, what it takes to get us on the court.

Here are her three top tips:

Be a good communicator:

Like most situations that deal with people, communication is key to making this work a little smoother.  You need to be prepared to communicate early and often with your team and to encourage them to engage with you too.  For example, when the weather forecast is for potential rain, something that will effect start times or even result in play not getting underway, get in early and let the team know that things might not go according to plan and that you will be sure to let them know by a certain time the following morning whether it is a go or no go.  Waiting to the last minute to start this conversation means a lot of e-mails coming your way that need a response and people getting frustrated because they don’t know what is going on.

Encouraging your team members to communicate with you is also important.  Have them share if they think they will have a conflict on the horizon, or if they are having some trouble playing with a particular partner.  Better that you know these things in advance and together you can work out a solution.

You will be communicating with other league captains too.  Some are in it to win, some for the fun of playing and helping others and some it seems to be in charge.  So you will encounter a variety of styles and motivations in your interactions with the captains. Best advice is get in early and be straight forward and objective in your communication.

Have a deep list of subs:

Every season, expect the unexpected.  This last season a stalwart player for many years needed serious surgery. My best player moved mid-season and another had her consulting business take off meaning her availability changed from rather open to really not around.

I have learned over the years that it is best to have a deep list of subs, as many as you are allowed because you will probably call on all of them.

As much as possible have some guidelines around the timing of pulling out of a match and the role the player has in replacing themselves for that day.  When someone comes down with a bad cold the night before there is little either of you can do to avoid a mad dash to get a replacement, but it is a good idea to avoid this when you can.

Make the sub list available to everyone on the team so they can be proactive about finding replacements.  Not a bad idea either to be clear on when people are available to play.  For example don’t bother asking Karen the first Monday of the month because she looks after her grandchildren.

It comes down to keeping things running smoothly and making sure you have the full contingent of players every time your team plays.  Oh and keeping your sanity.  You really don’t want to be spending many hours the night before hunting down players to fill an unexpected empty spot.

Know the league rules:

Knowing the league rules is imperative.  It is rare that a captain is not called on throughout the season to settle an issue.  Issues arise regarding the roster, late start times, tie breaks, behavior on the courts, recording of scores, make-up matches and uniforms.

If you don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the rules, have a copy of them with you or easily accessed.  Actually I recommend that you do the research in the moment, pull out a hard copy or bring up the rules on a device and don’t rely on another captain’s interpretation of the rule.  This is especially helpful when things are getting a little heated.  More often than not they are right but there have been circumstances where the rule clearly states something other than what is being suggested.  This is not to be pedantic but to help things move along smoothly.  Also by referring to the actual rules rather than a recollection, it is easier for everyone to agree and to get back to play.

There is more involved in leading a team but these three tips will help you on your way.  It may be a good idea to co-captain for your first season to get a feel for what is involved and to get the benefit of the other captain’s experience.

Hats off to those who take the step and keep the teams running.  League tennis is a wonderful thing for so many reasons and it remains that way in large part because of the people who volunteer to keep people like me in check.

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