Rod Heckelman's career started in 1966 when he began his five-year role as a teacher at John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch in Carmel Valley, California. Later he opened as the resident pro for Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch on Camelback in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In 1976 he took over as head professional/tennis director at the Mt. Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, California, and added the title and responsibilities of general manager in 1982.
In 2010 he was awarded “Manager of the Year” for the USPTA NorCal Division and the “Manager of the Year” at the USPTA World Conference. Rod has written several books including, “Down Your Alley” in 1993, “Playing Into the Sunset” in 2013, and most recently, “250 Ways to Play Tennis.”
He also produced the “Facility Manager’s Manual” and the “Business Handbook for Tennis Pros,” which is distributed by the TIA.
A VOLUNTEER FOR PAIN
League Captain - often a thankless and painful job!
By Rod Heckelman
The leagues are back and with that the sacrificial few that choose to captain. It’s a tremendous, pressured position, magnified by cancellations due to weather and rosters that are difficult to manage. Those who take on those roles will have to overcome difficult personalities, players whose attendance is sketchy, the task of organizing the line-up, late-night last-minute calls, and all without any real guidelines or often any help from the organizations that sponsor these leagues. Essentially, they have volunteered for a painful experience, but because these few people are so important to the overall process, we as tennis pros need to help them as much as possible.
First note, there are several types of league organizations, the most popular are the USTA leagues, but there are many local leagues that have existed for years providing this venue within local communities. Leagues have always been a fun and enjoyable experience, but that seems to be dedicated by those who are just playing and have no responsibility as a captain. Unfortunately, only a small effort goes into helping and educating how captains can navigate this demanding task. It seems that most of the input from the organizers is focused on recruiting and creating the programs. It’s surprising that there is no general instructional guide for captaining. This may not be an oversight, but rather the result of there being so many different leagues with different formats. Add to that the recent quick revival of leagues, and there may just not be enough time for this training in the art of being a captain.
Also, most people who choose to become a captain, do so because they are often seeking that mercurial goal of winning at a local level and then going all the way to the national title. In essence, they’re in it for the win and are going to get there by any means, including becoming an aggressive captain. There are also those who see the overall experience as a great bonding tool and social outlet. These captains look forward to getting people to unite and enjoy a competitive team event. Although there may be several reasons for wanting to captain league play, we should help everyone take on this task. In all cases, they often become your most loyal and valuable members.
For that reason, it is best to set up some guidelines. Guidelines that fit your specific organization. The key is adapting and changing with the times. But here are a few ideas to help get started.
Define the goals for your teams before they even begin to be organized. Having different goals and agendas will cause variations that can’t be explained or rationalized after the fact.
Define who is eligible to play on your teams. Every club has a different type of membership or association, and that issue needs to be addressed before any captain begins the process of recruiting. Many leagues are a blend of different organizations. There could be public facilities, private clubs, or corporate clubs, all playing in the same league, they may all have a different goal and in turn a different objective for their season.
Captains should take on their position with a clear understanding of whom they have available to be on their rosters, i.e., level of play, membership qualifications, and size of the roster. They should also be made aware of the investment and the time it will take to be a captain (in many cases, having a co-caption is helpful)
Know ahead of time what social venues or social activities the captains will want…i.e., practice sessions, food service, and post-season parties.
Since many teams are put together from historical rosters, know if they are open to new players, or if they need new players.
Before the season begins, have a group session with all the captains to explain scheduling and rescheduling. You will need to be completely aware of court availability.
If possible or desired, try to find a tennis pro to help coach the team. It is important not to put this person in the awkward position of organizing the roster or dealing with the politics of competitive play. Let them coach.
Before the season begins, put an instructional sheet together explaining the playing formats and what choices are available, most common, and important, the league rules, rules of play that may arise, and how to play the types of tiebreakers that they will be using.
Tracking the progress of all the teams is important, and it is best not to show any favorites along the way. The general message should always be that it is the journey and not the results that are most important.
If you do have teams that do quite well and are moving on to the next level of competition, try to acknowledge that success via your newsletter or social media.
League play is here to stay, and that’s not going to change for a while. With that in mind, take steps to get ahead of issues and avoid counting on larger organizations to help you navigate these complex and emotional programs. As mentioned, in most cases, these organizations are focused on promotion, planning, and collecting income. At the end of the day, it’s on the club or tennis pro to make it work. For that to best happen, remember to treasure and assist those who volunteer to be captain. It’s quite often a thankless and painful job that can be challenging for any person.
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