December 29, 2008

How to be a Great Tennis Team Captain!

So you've joined a tennis team, you're a great tennis team member, and now they've asked you to captain the team! Here's what it takes to be a great team captain:

1. Familiarize yourself with all tennis and league rules. If you haven't done this already, you will have to do it now. Part of being a captain is making sure the rules are followed and this may mean you have to resolve on-court disputes on behalf of your team. So learn the rules now, before those disputes arise, and then be prepared to back up your team members when necessary.

2. Let everyone know what your "goals" are. If you just want to have fun and the team is laid back and relaxed, let everyone know. If you're hoping to win your division, move up in the rankings, or desperately need to make points just to stay where you are, tell your team members. It not only helps explain what your strategy is, it also lets people know whether or not this is the right team for them.

3. In doubles play, try to pair people up on a regular basis. No matter how compatible two players are, it can take a few games for them to figure each other out. And by that time, they may be down too far to come back. The more players partner up, the better their results should be. While it may not be possible for each member of your team to have a regular partner, try to form groups within the team and partner up within those groups. So you may have 4 players who usually play at Line 1 or 2 and those 4 can pretty much expect to play with each other each week.

4. Keep everyone informed. Let your team members know what's going on so they feel included and can contribute in every way possible. Be sure they have a roster and know everyone's name and phone number, especially cell phone number. Let each member know when and where you are playing. Definitely keep them all updated on how the team is doing each week and where you stand in the rankings.

5. Make it fun. Even when your team is at the bottom of its division, especially when it's at the bottom, make sure everyone is having fun and feeling appreciated. If team members don't enjoy themselves, even when they're losing, they'll find some other team where they do have a good time. So have a team name! Have a uniform! Have lunch together! Have an end-of-season party! Give out your own end-of-season awards! Do whatever you can to develop some camaraderie!

6. Be there for your team. This seems like the easy step but it can often be the most difficult. As team captain, you should really try to be at every match. Of course, you may not be able to be there each and every week. You may actually have to do something NOT pertaining to tennis every once in a while! But, most of the time, you should be there to support and help your team. Your team needs you not just to keep track of the score sheet, team members may also need you to resolve disputes (see No. 1 above) and to "handle" the opposing team's captain and members.

December 27, 2008

Playing Ladies' Doubles With A Man

In the aftermath of the holidays, my indoor team still was scheduled for block time on our indoor court yesterday and, of course, a few of us wanted to play. Unfortunately, while three of us were available, we couldn't find a 4th. Everyone was out of town, visiting with family, recovering from Christmas, etc. Well, all was not lost. One of our team members, Mimi, convinced her wonderful husband, Larry, to be our 4th! We had a great time playing "ladies' doubles" with Larry and it got me thinking about how helpful it can be to play against a man every once in a while.

Occasionally, you can't avoid finding a guy on the other side of the net and it can be a little stressful. I get into this situation in drills quite a bit and try to see it as a welcome challenge. Playing against a guy is a little like playing against a woman who's much better than you. You can psych yourself out just thinking about it. The fact is that men play differently from ordinary women like me. So when I come up against a guy, I approach it as a learning opportunity. I try to keep just a few things in mind.

1. Remain calm. Unless you're playing in a mixed doubles tournament, it probably doesn't matter much what happens in your match. So have fun and don't stress.
2. Men usually try to serve harder and/or with more spin than women do. So, at least initially, on your return, just think about blocking the ball back.
3. Similarly, men often want to rush the net. Watch the ball and not the guy running at you.
4. Many men want to either hit hard ground strokes or put the ball away at the net. Many men do NOT want to run down lobs. So don't be afraid to use the lob.
5. Of course, if your lob comes up short, be prepared for the crushing overhead that guys love to hit. The good news is a lot of these may end up in the net.
6. Forget about pace. You're not going to outhit most guys. Give them soft and short balls that require them to do some work.

Thank you again to Larry for a fun match yesterday!

December 25, 2008

Happy Tennis Holidays!

It's a very Merry Christmas and, in my house, a wonderfully Happy Hanukkah, as you can see from this photo. The new tennis bag arrived and it is now loaded and ready for action. Look for me on the courts - with this bag I won't be hard to miss!

December 18, 2008

How to be a Great Tennis Team Member!

After you've captained a tennis team, you realize that your best team member is not necessarily your most highly skilled player. If you want to be the team member that your captain plays again and again, follow these tips:

1. Be available. Nothing is worse for a captain than forfeiting a line because she can't find anyone to play that day. So make sure that you are always available to play. Captains love the team member who is ready and willing to play at the last minute. This means if you are on a Wednesday team, don't schedule your manicure for Wednesday morning. Keep your Wednesdays open for tennis.

2. Play at whatever line you're needed. You may think you are a Line 1 player - and maybe you are. But sometimes your captain needs a player at Line 4 so she won't have to forfeit Line 4 that day. Sometimes she needs someone to play with that team member that others find "difficult" to partner with. Sometimes she has a strategy that includes playing stronger players at lower lines. If you are always willing to play any line, your captain will not only appreciate your attitude but will play you more often.

3. Play at whatever location you're needed. Depending on where you live, this may not be an issue. But where I liveand the leagues in which I play, getting to a match can often involve a 30 minute drive. If you exclude yourself from playing those "far away" matches, you will definitely cut down on the number of times your captain can use you.

4. Be a willing partner. Nothing is harder on a captain than having one team member who no one else wants to play with. I have had team members come to me and actually say, "Don't ever play me with her . . . ever!" While you may feel that way about certain players, the reality is that a captain has some obligation to play everyone on the team at least some of the time. And eventually someone has to play with that player that no one likes. And it should not be the captain over and over. So be willing to "take one for the team" occasionally and partner up with that unwanted team member.

5. Be a good partner. If you want to avoid being the "unwanted team member" referred to in No. 4 above, be a good partner to your fellow team mates. Be positive. Make good, honest calls. Don't throw in the towel in a match even when you feel like you can't come back. Don't blame your partner for her mistakes. Don't ever say to your partner "You have to get those." Be the partner that everyone enjoys playing with and your captain will be happy to play you often.

6. Appreciate your captain. Being a tennis team captain is not easy. A captain may have to set new lines each week. She is often strategizing ways to win points just to keep your team from being moved to a lower level. She has to deal with league directors, other captains and, of course, a whole team full of players, each with their own personal agendas. If the team is losing, players may blame the captain for making bad pairings and following the wrong strategies. If the team is winning, players may feel its only due to their superior tennis skills. So, appreciate your team captain. Tell her what a great job she's doing every once in a while. Your support will not only make her happy, but may result in you playing as often as you'd like!

4 Reasons To Keep Playing Tennis

Yesterday I had a lesson that went badly - really badly. For the last 10 minutes, I played out points crosscourt with my coach. I was receiving on the forehand side. I didn't even have to serve! Just play out the points.

I think I won one point out of maybe 35 serves. My returns were all over the place. I followed the wrong returns in. I couldn't hit an overhead. I couldn't hit a volley.

After this awful performance, my reaction was, of course, "I need to quit tennis."

And I woke up this morning STILL going over my poor play. But, I was finally able to get a grip on myself because I remembered - there are lots of good reasons to play tennis beyond winning points. Here are my top 4 reasons to keep playing tennis:

1. I have more and better friends because I play tennis. I started playing tennis because of the encouragement of so many of my friends. Apparently, I was the only woman in the neighborhood NOT playing tennis! And, as they promised, playing tennis has given us all something we can experience, practice, play, enjoy and, occasionally, hate together. I also have lots of new friends who I've come to know and love from my tennis teams. It is a fact - no one will sit with you and analyze each point of the match you just lost as intently as the partner with whom you just played.

2. I do more with my family because of tennis. I'm lucky. My husband is a great tennis player. He doesn't play regularly and doesn't really care to. He only plays to keep me happy. My older son is a natural tennis player - he's never taken a lesson and yet, I guess because he's a boy who plays other sports, he understands all of the nuances of spin and placement. His biggest fault is that, like many males, he's all about power. My youngest son wants to play tennis and loves to get out on the court with me. In fact, he actually LIKES to pick up balls and so it's great to have him out there. Even my daughter, who claims to be completely unathletic, can get out on the court and hit balls with her family. So tennis is something fun we can all do together that rarely degenerates into my husband and I yelling at the kids.

3. Guess what? I'm competitive! I honestly did not know this about myself because, sadly, I had not played any kind of sport since I was 12 years-old! But tennis has shown me that I like to compete and I like to win. Tennis gives me, and every woman I play with and against, a socially acceptable means of working out that competitive streak.

4. Tennis helps me stay in shape. Because I play ladies' doubles almost exclusively, I do not think I'm getting much of a workout when I play tennis. But I do make myself exercise on a very regular basis because I want every advantage I can get when I play. So I do aerobics several times a week because, while I may lack precision out on the court, I want my opponents to know I will always keep running down balls. I am also taking up yoga because I just can't get loose enough in my back, shoulders and arms to serve the way I would like. And I need to relax while I play. Maybe yoga isn't the answer, but what do I know? It can't hurt.

December 15, 2008

Simplify My Serve . . . Please!

We have all heard it - the serve is the most important stroke in tennis. It's the one time you have absolute control over the ball and you dictate exactly where it's going and what the other players will do in response. So I am the first to agree about the importance of the serve.

The problem for me is I just haven't gotten my serve to the point of being any kind of "weapon" in a match. And I think its just because there are just too many things to think about when serving. If you practice serving with an instructor, I'm guessing the litany of "service tips" sounds familiar to you: "Keep your chin up. Keep your tossing arm up longer. Get your toss out in front. Further in front. Accelerate the racquet before you hit the ball. Aim to the right of the target. Aim more to the right. Apply more spin. You're not keeping your chin up . . . " and blah, blah, blah.

The problem is I can't remember all of these things when the time comes to hit an actual serve in an actual match. Right now, I need a "simple serve" - something worked down to the most basic level that I can actually apply and feel good about in a match. So I've decided for the next few matches, I will try to think about only 3 things when I'm serving. And I'll work on these 3 things by practicing serves on my own over the next several weeks. And when these things become a part of my serve to the point where I don't have to think about them quite so much, I'll add something else. I'm not saying I won't EVER try to do EVERYTHING right. But I have enough to deal with mentally during my matches and I'm sure I would relax so much if I could just focus on a few things when serving.

Your list of 3 things might be a little different from mine. But try simplifying your serve by thinking about just 3 things. Here are my 3 simple things:

1. Toss - I get it. The whole serve depends on putting that toss in the right spot. I get impatient and just throw it up and hit every toss, no matter what. I am going to take my time and wait for a good toss (not the perfect toss, just a good toss).

2. Placement - I am going to try and put my serve in a specific spot, hoping to control what happens in the next shot or two from there. For example, if I can serve wide and draw the receiver off the court, maybe the net girl won't move quite fast enough to close up the middle giving me (or my partner) an easy winner down the middle that will have little chance of going out.

3. Spin - For me, this is the difference between my first serve and second serve. If you're my receiver, you might not see any difference in those two serves. But I am going to try and at least think about spin before I hit each serve and see if I can make your job a little more difficult.

December 12, 2008

Santa's Tennis Gift Guide

I was shopping in my favorite tennis store today because I heard they had a huge holiday sale going on. And they did! Thirty percent off all apparel - including all new Nike, which is pretty much what I wear. But looking around, I saw so many cute tennis items that I would love to give to my tennis buddies and would by happy to receive myself. So here are my top five things "Santa" could bring me this year that I would put to good use on the court:

1. Tennis Socks - You cannot have enough socks. I think my kids wear mine. Lately, I have seen really colorful, fun tennis socks that I know they wouldn't steal from me. My favorites: sassy ankle socks with the words "Tennis Snob" in rhinestones.

2. Instructional Videos & DVDs - Hasn't everything about tennis been filmed and said already? Apparently not. There are plenty of new videos and DVDs out there and, since I am a sucker for anything I think might improve my game, I would love to have some of the new releases.

3. Tennis Books - Along the same lines as #2, there are so many new books - not all instructional. I haven't even read James Blake's autobiography yet so that would be new to me. It is definitely something I'll be looking for under my tree.

4. Tennis Bag - My first one was basic black. My second was a purple (gasp!) tote. But I now have my eye on one that's a double-racquet Pucci-inspired bag, hot pink and yellow, with lots of room for balls, water bottles, sunscreen, etc. This will give exactly the right message to opponents when I arrive on the court, especially with the rhinestone socks above (Message: This girl spends way too much money on tennis!).

5. Tennis PJs and Slippers - OK, so these won't help my game out much. But they were too cute and, if I'm thinking about tennis in my sleep, it can't hurt. Right?

December 10, 2008

How to Join a Tennis Team

It's the end of the fall tennis season and all three of my teams are wrapping up. Thinking about the next season, I find myself talking with my team mates about where these teams are going - strengths of various players, weaknesses, who plays well together, who doesn't, who is staying on the team, who is leaving. But while all of this talk is interesting (at least I think it is), the truth is once you're on a team, it's almost impossible to get kicked off!

If only you could get on those really great teams . . .

So how do you join a tennis team in the first place? And how do you move up to a better team when you're ready?

Here are my tips for finding and joining a tennis team:

1. Talk to your friends - If you're interested in tennis, you must have friends who are playing tennis. And most likely, at least some of them are playing on teams. If you're already on teams, you know who is playing on the higher level teams. So find out if your friends are on teams looking for new players or if they know other captains who might need players. And, when you get those names, don't be afraid to "cold call" captains to find out if they have spots open - captains are always looking for players to join their teams.

2. Talk to your tennis coach or pro - Any good tennis pro not only teaches, he is also talking to his students to find out how their games are going. Are they winning or losing? And just how are their teams doing? Your tennis pro should know the teams that his students play on and he probably knows if they have openings. The great thing about talking to your pro about joining a team is that he knows what level you play at and can help you find a team that is appropriate for you.

3. Talk to the Tennis Director at your club - This is their job! If you're paying dues to belong to a club that has a Tennis Director, she better know what teams are playing out of her club, who is captaining each team, and hopefully, who is looking for new players. Have your Tennis Director give you names and phone numbers for these captains and, again, don't be afraid to cold call.

4. Play in mixers, tournaments, drills and clinics - In other words, play a lot of tennis! These events are always fun and attract people who are "in to" tennis, like you and me. Chat them up and you are sure to come across a team captain or someone who knows of a team looking for a player just like you.

5. Become a sub - This is absolutely the best way to get on a team. So offer to be a sub and don't consider it to be beneath you. Because today you're a sub, tomorrow you're the player filling in for the team member who got injured and the next day, you're the reliable player that the team needs. And if you're looking to move to a higher level team, becoming a sub ensures that you'll get the challenging match play you need to make that leap up.

December 9, 2008

Am I Too Old for Tennis?

Am I just too old to be taking up tennis? I've been playing for almost four years now and feel like I'm not getting better fast enough. And I don't want to wait 20 years to get better!

So do I throw in the towel now, move on, maybe take up golf (please, no!)? Do I accept this level of mediocrity and keep playing unsatisfying B level tennis for the rest of my life? Or is there some remote possibility that, if I work hard and study up on this game enough, I might reach a level of proficiency where I'm actually happy with my game?

I've decided to bet on the last one on that list. If I think back to where I started (and Lord knows I don't like thinking back on those days), I have actually come a long way. And I'm sure if I keep up all that I'm doing with my game right now, I can go further.

So here's what I've been doing in the last few months and will be doing into the indefinite future - team clinic on Monday, private lesson on Wednesday afternoon, league play on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, drop-in drills on most Saturdays, ball machine when I can fit it in. Oh yeah - somewhere in there I have to take care of my doctor husband and three kids. It sounds like a lot but, if you've seen me play then you know - I need all the help I can get. And hopefully I can cut that 20 year learning curve down by a few years!

December 8, 2008

My Tennis Fixation

I have been searching the Internet for a site about tennis - my kind of tennis. I play ladies' tennis. To be precise, I play ladies' doubles. I've only been playing a few years and I'm never going to make it to the pros. But I'm OK with that. I just want to improve my game enough to play well against most of the people I know, right here in my own neighborhood.

And I would like to have more fun when I'm playing. While I want to have proper form and apply the right strategy, I also want to enjoy myself.

And I would love to look as fashionable as possible while playing. Arriving on court in a cute tennis outfit is often the highlight of my game!

And I do love talking about tennis - whether it be discussing my own play, how my teams are doing, or what is happening on the pro tours.

Well, I can't find a site that covers all of those things. So I'm starting my own! I know there are lots of women just like me, playing tennis on a regular basis and working hard to get better. That's what I'm doing and that's what I'll be talking about. So I hope you'll check here often for tennis tips, hints, observations and rants. I also hope you'll post your own comments and questions and be a part of my "Tennis Fixation."