Enlightenment in the Uber Lane

Everyone has a Uber story, here is mine ūüôā !

cards.jpg

Couple of days back I was en-route to the Bay Area from Dallas to visit my sister’s family and my parents for a summer vacation recharge. As my Uber ride pulled up and the windows rolled down, I heard my Uber driver call out,

‘The back door’s open for you. You please relax and get comfortable. It’s my job to get your stuff put in the trunk.”

As I strapped on the seat belt, I wondered to myself, “I have never heard that before! Looks like it is gonna be one hell of a chatty 30 min drive to the airport today !!”

By the quick time it took to get to the tollway, we had become couple of buddies catching up on the living room couch… I had learnt by then that my Uber driver was an Army veteran, originally from Trinidad & Tobago and grew up with a lot of Indian people, food, cricket and culture around him (sounded like my own childhood!!), who had served 22 hard years in the Army(not so much like mine on this one !!), retired at an early age of 42, now 49 (this particular piece of information could have been the motivation of the day for me…little did I know that there was more to come …haha!!), happily married with 2 kids and about to become empty nesters. He had been a Tank Commander in the army, traveled the world, been in few wars (Iraq, Afghanistan to count a few) and was now unfortunately, getting treated for PTSD due to the stuff he had been through.

As we sped on the tollway, I understood,¬† my man was passionate, sensible and a people person…but my slightly distraught eyes kept flipping between his face on the rear-view mirror and the car’s speedometer. The speedometer seemed like a mirror of my EKG in front of my eyes as it fluctuated…hitting the highs as my man’s passion ebbed and flowed …haha!! We had covered an array of coffee table topics by now around Indian culture, arranged and love marriages, family values, the currently ongoing¬† World Cups(Women’s soccer and Cricket), life in America, life in the Army etc. Pheww….

About 20 mins in, we saw the first signs of traffic due to the closure of couple of lanes on the tollway…and my man, took a safely, well executed turn into the exit and wove through the traffic like an expert, picking the lanes that moved faster like a surgeon making decisions in a critical surgery…..As I saw him make his moves, I saw a man who knew his stuff…which is when I first noticed that he did not have his phone stood up near the instrument panel, with the GPS on, as most drivers do….

As we sped on an empty lane, waving to the long line of GPS followers on their pilgrimage to the airport, my respect for the man grew.

We entered the airport stretch and he asked me for the second time what my gate was (first time being at the start of the trip)…. I was about to reduce some points after a so far stellar performance..but thought what the heck..lemme have a glance in the app . Lo and behold…. my terminal and gate had been changed! My man had just saved me some minutes and hassle of changing terminals with less than an hour left for my takeoff !

As we pulled over to the curb at the airport, he asked me, “I watched you on the mirror as I took the alternate route and you didn’t show any signs of stress or discomfort…Why was that ?”. Pondering on what to reply, I realized I hadn’t even thought about it! I gathered up my best reply, which was, “You just seemed to know your stuff, I didn’t want to bother !”.

As I disembarked, he brought up my luggage, we shook hands and he handed me a couple of packs of cards…. I blurted out, “Oh what is this, I can’t take this !”. I noticed that it seemed like a used, yet high quality pack of cards having the Choctaw casino branding on them, with the drilled hole in the pack (which I learnt casinos do to make sure the used pack doesn’t get sneaked back into games).

He responded calmly, looking in my eyes, “Never lose your great attitude, man…. I would work for you any day if you were the CEO of the company I worked for. I just wanted to give something for you and your sister”. I felt a wave of pride wash over me for whatever reason and it felt good to be drenched in it, even with the full clothing on !

As I saw his car depart and started wandering within the airport, I wondered, I didn’t even ask his name (but I guess I can just lookup the app!!), but had learnt some high quality life, work and tennis lessons from this one high speed Uber interaction !

Which leads me here, where I thought of sharing few things that hung on to me from this chance encounter,

"Only in this country can you wake up one day and make money"

I recalled his story of his neighbor’s son who was withering away his late 20s and early 30s without a job. He had asked him to mow his lawn, given him 30 bucks for the work but more invaluably advise to put out posters in the neighborhood for lawn mowing services… After the guy posted the fliers, he had gotten around 30 calls just in one day, in his neighborhood for lawn mowing work and was onto earning about 200 bucks a day. Since then, he had expanded his business to 5 employees, providing more home services and running a thriving local business. Even to this day, the guy mows his lawn for free every month !!

"The top thing I learnt in the army was Patience."

Being a tank commander, it required him to just hold position and stay at one place  for hours, sometimes days. He shared how he had learnt the value of being patient in life and with people, through this experience.

"I ain't getting counselling from a school kid."

He had been suggested counseling for his PTSD, but felt that the only person who can counsel him is a person who had been in the trenches with him and can say, do this, if this. This made me think of the many trusted adviser/ coach/ mentor/ leader situations that I am in typically in life, work, tennis etc… and what I can do to improve my ability to lead.

"I just trusted my training ...
... If you are not fearful, you are gonna die."

This was his response to what I thought was my best question of the day, “How did you face the fear of death in the Army ?” He said that before his unit went out on a mission, his commander used to say that, “Your Life expectancy in this mission is negative zero.” Being prepared for what to expect, just focusing and trusting the training he had got, was the only way he could handle this situation.

This made me think instantly of how crucial practice/training is in all aspects of life, be it tennis, work or other things.

An unexpected and amazing perspective on a Uber journey, that enlightened, as well as reinforced my core beliefs.

Godspeed.

Posted in Lifestyle, Mental, Passion | Tagged , ,

Finding Gold in Tennis Drills and Practices, Part 1: Framing The Challenge

Recently a friend of mine did a tennis drill at a well-known tennis facility in town and shared, ‚ÄúI had a good drill in the morning. It was exhausting and refreshing‚ÄĚ. I assumed that it was exhausting because it was a physically intense session, and a great workout. It was refreshing because ‚Ķ, maybe the early morning aerobics increased the neurotransmitters in the brain! But I wondered, what about the learning aspect of tennis‚Ķ

Was there a piece of gold that you could make your own from the session?

Exhausted

I thought about the typical ‚ÄėAmateur‚Äô or ‚ÄėAdult‚Äô Tennis Athletes (ATA) practice session – hours spent trying to build the muscle memory on the same ‚Äėold‚Äô forehand and backhand, followed by competitive match play.

During the competitive play, old habits and patterns of play overpower the nuggets from the last drill or coaching session.

The latter getting filed away inevitably in the archives for a later date which in large probability may never materialize!

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Image Source:  Medium.com

I thought about instances when I have shared my 2 cents of advise to my peer ATAs in practice. For example, something like, ‚ÄúI think shortening your swing and swinging slower on that approach is better‚ÄĚ has evoked a response such as, ‚ÄúI know what to do, my execution is not there today‚Ķ my forehand is just not working‚ÄĚ. So ATAs¬†seem to ‚Äúknow what to do‚ÄĚ, have a sense of what works for them and their goals, but do repeat old mistakes and revert to deeply ingrained patterns of play and shot selection in competitive match situations.

ATAs face challenges with converting the nuggets of learning/insights assimilated from various sources into long term ‚Äėmuscle memory‚Äô due to various reasons.

They also won’t take advise from just about anyone and rightfully so.

They are selective about who they will listen to based on various factors.

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Image Source: Business Insider

Applying ‘Design Thinking’ to Frame the Challenge:

To help frame and articulate the challenge faced by ATAs based on these thoughts , I drew inspiration from my ‘design thinking’ (https://www.ideou.com/pages/design-thinking) skills to do a session at one of my team’s¬†practices along with 3 of my ‘lead user’ team members, in order to understand the needs of the ATAs better. Here is the drill session’s blueprint I had put together with focus on doubles and one of the most important tactic of ‘Poaching at the Net’ with intent to finish the point with one lethal shot.Drill

There were some interesting feedback from my peer ATAs at the end of this session, such as,

“Superb method. Just a simple ritual of chatting for a few mins after 20 mins of game was so helpful… and planning out every point with your partner is also a good idea.”

“Very good session. Enjoyed it. Our constructive critiques helpful.”

I also made my own personal observations through this session and framed the challenge statement as,

The ATAs need a new pro-active and intentional approach to practice sessions¬†to change ‘old habits’ by recreating common competitive match situations in adult USTA league and tournament matches (3.0 – 5.0 levels), and reinforcing new behaviors (mental, physical and tactical) that will lead to ‘success’ because ATAs want to¬†maximize the ROI of time and money spent in drills and practices.¬†

The measure of ‘success’ varies for ATAs, but in most cases, it is characterized by qualitative measures of enjoyment/fun in the process and progress with learning and growth goals, as well as quantitative measures of win-loss ratio in competitive match play.

In addition, I also captured what I felt were some of the needed elements of a solution to solve the above problem. There is a need for,

  • Core group of ATAs with a mindset of commitment, open-mindedness, collaboration, learning and the courage and willingness to continuously disrupt their game.
  • An ATA with a Design Thinker’s mindset and skills who can lead/facilitate the session and the self introspection.
  • One or more trusted expert Coaches who can guide the group of ATAs with the appropriate drills, coaching, feedback, resolve differences in opinion and takes an active interest in the group’s improvement.
  • Definition and buy-in to a common Team Philosophy/Vision for change
  • Definition and adoption of Ground-rules for the Session (especially, when a Coach is not present)
  • Library of Proven Drills that can change mindset/behavior, build capabilities, enable ‘success’ and be fun. (Drills with match play simulation are fun.)
  • Of course, some tennis courts and the necessary tools/equipment for the job would be ‘Nice to Have’ Wink Emoji¬†!!

Stay tuned for the next posts in this 3 part series where I discuss the solution and learnings in more detail after testing and refining the solution over a period of time.

Think

Please leave your comments and thoughts below or reach out to me directly at tenezious@gmail.com to discuss more if you are interested.

Posted in Drills, Practice, Tactics | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Practical Toolkit for Having Fun in USTA Leagues

I am no old timer, but been through the thick of things in USTA League (4.0/4.5 levels) for the past 5 years as a Player & Captain, which in no way makes me a Guru, but more closer to Rufus, the Hawk, an integral member of the Wimbledon Security team for the past 14 years.

Rufus

Now that we are at the¬† dawning of another USTA League season, thought I would share my 2 cents on a practical toolkit for having fun playing this ‘Team Sport‘.

  • Foundational Culture of the Team matters: A lot of players I have found take the approach of a ‘Promiscuous Mercenary’ to team tennis. Nothing wrong with this, has benefits as well since playing regularly with a diverse group helps. But ‘Fun’, hmmm…. it still leaves something missing, the camaraderie and bonding of a team, the hanging out for a beer or a cup of coffee. Rome stayed true to it’s foundational culture of fratricide and violence. The same applies to any team, it usually stays true to its foundational culture. Find a team whose foundational culture is learning, positivity and growth. You will not go wrong and end up having the max fun based on what you put in every season.
  • ‘The Dream still Matters’: As they say, the ‘American Dream’ doesn’t work for most people but the dream still matters. Same is true in team tennis, if you may dream, you may as well dream big.¬† Finding a team committed to traversing to the end zone (‘Nationals’ @ the sunny courts of Florida), will bring meaning to the season and channel the fun!
  • Winning breeds Fun & more Winning:¬†Ever wondered, why does a team keep on winning ? There are good tennis players everywhere. Constant focus on improvement is the key. Assimilating from your opponents, practicing and competing with a diverse set of players who challenge you is important. A team that recruits well, and is constantly on the lookout for the best and is open to change constantly creates fun automatically.

And lastly, a Captain who watches how the chips fell week after week matters. Having a first hand account of what happens in the written word matters. After all, our story is our biggest asset.

Every team needs a storyteller, who better to do it, than the Captain !  Image result for wink emoji

Now, go have Fun !

Fun

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Match Tiebreaker – is it a roll of the dice ?


results

Results of a quick & dirty survey that I had run a while back with my hardcore tennis friends in my tennis/social network.


In my opinion, the answer to the match tiebreaker as with any facet of a tennis match is,

  1. Mental
  2. Preparation

Playing a match tiebreaker shouldn’t be looked at as any different than the way you play the tennis match from start to finish. Don’t dread it, don’t fear it, don’t blame it …¬†Embrace and Relish it !


Mental:

#1: Focus on current point and being positive. 
Implies:  Be present 100% and focused in the moment.This is your best chance to succeed. Be in the moment.

#2: Play to win – Be Aggressive
Implies:  
Compete hard & play free, all the time, no matter who the opposition is, no matter what the score is + Play to your strengths & play smart (high percentage)

#3: Focus on the first 4 points
Implies:
 The average point lasts fewer than four shots. That means that you (and your partner) need to be rock solid on the first two balls. Serve (or return) and the next shot. (Source: http://www.theprevidisystem.com/index.php/services/226-three-steps-to-your-best-doubles-in-2017)


Preparation:

Nothing prepares you like practice. Practice. Practice. Practice …


 

Sources:

 

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A Role Model for every Athlete

Sachin

A billion people needed good stories around them to forget themselves … In¬†a place where poverty prevents any system to prevail, he gave hope, something to look forward to and a prism through which the country could be visualized.

–¬†‘SACHIN: A BILLION DREAMS (2017)’


Over the weekend, I went to see the movie – ‘SACHIN: A BILLION DREAMS (2017)’. The movie is a treasure for folks like me, who will probably never get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the ‘God of Cricket’. It is an opportunity to cherish and learn in the words of Sachin himself, about his journey.

I may not have heard anything significantly new nor seen any drama of Bollywood caliber, but I am not one to complain, for I will lap up any opportunity to get an insight into what built and drives the man, the athlete and the cricket player, with whom I grew up.


What built Sachin ?

  • Yes, it does require a village to build a Champion. His support¬†system was the ‘People’ in his life,
    • His Father: His strongest role model was his father who exemplified to Sachin the values of calmness, respecting others, integrity and humility. Every time he looks up to the skies after an achievement, he thinks of his father.
    • His Mother: In his own words, he imbibed the quality of tenacity from his mother.
    • His Brother:¬†His brother was an anchor, a soundboard, a pillar to lean on and a source of motivation. As Sachin states, every time ¬†he walks in to the arena, there are 2 people walking in, his brother in spirit.
    • His Coach: ¬†A Coach who instilled the work ethics and kept him grounded and focused on the task at hand.
    • His Wife: His wife sacrificed her career for him to be the rock in his life whenever he needed amidst the madness of it all.
    • His Friends: His circle of close friends who gave him an outlet to relax, be himself and be a pillar to lean on in difficult times.
    • The army of Fans: who scream for him every time he walks out
  • Work ethic
    • It’s what Sachin did with his gifts that made him a legend – the hours of work that went into practice and preparation.
    • He took in the knowledge from his coach and mentors, but he still had to apply his mind to it
  • He went to a Champion school¬†– Sharadashram Vidyamandir (English) High School,a school at Dadar, Mumbai, India, which had a dominant cricket team and had produced many notable cricketers.

What qualities he exemplifies as a role model Athlete ?

  • Practice hard, play hard and put the team first
  • Don’t chase the money. He represented the middle class virtues of humility, integrity and loyalty
  • Treat each and every one with respect
  • “If I am stuck with technique, how will I watch the bowler” – Sachin
  • “You have to learn to look after your kit and the kit will look after you” – Sachin

What drives Sachin ?

  • Cricket was like oxygen, without which he could not live.¬†“I treated the game like I was going to a temple” – Sachin
  • “My father always used to tell me … it’s one thing that you’ve chosen to play cricket in life … but the thing that will remain with you for life … will be the fact that, what kind of a person you are”
  • “After any disappointment, it’s important for every player to stand up on their feet and fight” – Sachin
  • Family
  • Country
  • Music

Sachin Tendulkar – Player Profile and Statistics

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Leadership Lessons from Captain Cool

“When I die, the last thing I want to see is the six that Dhoni hit in the 2011 world cup final.”¬†– Sunil Gavaskar

ms DhoniIn 2011, ‚ÄúDhoni finishes off in style. India lift the World Cup after 28 years‚ÄĚ .
Click here to ¬†experience this incredible moment —>¬†pic.twitter.com/Q61sLx10VA

I have been leading a USTA team for the past 5 seasons and MSD is a great case study for leading teams.  Having watched on TV, MSD play and lead over the past decade and read the many articles published on his smart leadership style, I correlated this with my own experience leading a USTA team and have summarized my assimilated point of view on Leading Teams.

Leadership is more art than science. Being maximally effective as a leader means being able to diagnose the situation and adopt the leadership approach that works best. And that’s exactly what MSD has excelled in and I have tried to adopt.

  1. Display Competency: Establish credibility through display of knowledge and expertise in the domain the team engages in. This encourages the team members to follow and look at the leader as a role model.
  2. Establish Trust: Listen and incorporate inputs from team members. Active coaching and providing means to get better, is better than giving negative feedback. Being transparent about difficult decisions helps build trust.                                 
  3. Promote Communication: ¬†This is probably the biggest one from my perspective. Team members must have the ‘energy’ and comfort level to interact face to face and the more the interactions you can help facilitate and build, the better. And secondly it is not just enough if few members exhibit this, the entire team or a majority must. The level of ‘engagement’ within the entire team is a critical factor. And lastly team members must ‘explore’ opportunities in the field outside the group and network and bring back those ideas into your team. This is the ideal communication model that you as a leader must ensure happens.
  4. Embrace the Cause: Take complete ownership and responsibility of the people, process and outcome.
  5. Learn Constantly: Stay humble, learn from peers and more experienced/skilled people.
  6. Know Yourself: Self assurance comes from knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Trust your instinct/gut feel: The key here is that you have to turn up for practice and competition,  build more experiences, broaden and deepen your knowledge of the domain, fellow competitors, your own team members , match & conflict situations.
  8. Manage your emotions and Stay calm under pressure: ¬†¬†Oh, what we all wouldn’t give for getting this quality transferred over to us from MSD !! But it can be learned and practiced like any other skill. Staying composed, focused, and effective under pressure are all about your mentality. People who successfully manage crises are able to channel their emotions into producing the behavior they want. Based on my observations, the secret is a 3 step process,
    1. Forestall the panic, manage your emotions
    2. Think logic and critical reasoning, it’s time to ask yourself important factual questions
    3. Take action, but don’t beat yourself up, keep your energy on things you can control.

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Well, this is just here so that you will come back for atleast this video again ! – ¬†The famous helicopter shots of MSD, ENJOY! ūüôā

629-Star_dhoni_mainGod is not coming to save us., Captain Cool

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If you can’t start the point, there is no point!

That’s right, If you can’t start the point, there is no point! The probability of success in doubles play at the competitive amateur level of play (4.0 and 4.5) goes up dramatically, if you can keep your return of serve success % at around 80% or over.

One of the main things I have been working on since my return from Tennis Congress 2016, has been the ‘S.A.L’ (Short, Angled and low) service return in doubles that I learnt from Coach Billy Previdi and Matt Previdi ‘s session (The Previdi System) at the Congress. This is a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal¬†in many match situations (discussed more below) and helps with high percentage play when your drive returns aren’t working or when you just want to keep your opponents guessing!

Keys for Success – What I learnt after using it for around half a year now in competitive amateur (4.0 & 4.5 levels) level play….

  1. Objective:
    1. Take away angle, time and opportunity from opponent.
    2. Play high percentage tennis.
  2. Preparation: Before the Point of Contact:
    1. If you know you are going to play S.A.L, keep the continental grip ready.
    2. Set your 2 target points and Visualize it
      1. Where it is going to pass over the net: Target the middle of the net or a bit farther away from the opponent net player depending on the opponent net player’s ability and frequency to poach.
      2. Where it will¬†land on the opponent’s side of the net: An ideal target is usually around the intersection of service line and the inside alley line
    3. Split step as the server tosses and contacts the ball.
    4. Be aggressive with your feet and get to the ball fast
  3. Execution:
    1. Always meet the ball in front and lean into the return.
    2. Before you start the swing, make sure the racquet head is above the point of contact.
    3. The ideal contact point is to meet the ball somewhere at mid-point between the service line and baseline.
    4. At the point of contact,  execute like you are playing a volley.
    5. Drive through the ball with confidence, don’t try to guide and hold the shot
    6. Finish up high, don’t let your hands drop down on the finish (avoid chopping action or slicing down on the ball)
  4. When to use it:
    1. At the start of the match, gauge the opponents with S.A.L.
    2. Convert S.A.L into a lob over the net player occasionally to mix things up. Use this in non-critical match situations only since this is a low percentage play.
    3. Second serve is a great candidate for the S.A.L.
    4. Critical points such as 30-30, break points, match points are great times to use, to keep the return high percentage and get the point started.
    5. More effective against a player who tends to stay at the baseline after service or doesn’t move fast into the court or¬†doesn’t bend down well to reach for the low shot.
    6. Also very effective when hitting into the wind since the ball will tend to hold back.
  5. Additional Tips:
    1. Play the piano on the grip until the last moment, helps to keep hands loose and not tighten up.
    2. Focus on the impact point, that is more important than the swing. It is key is to meet in front of the body.
    3. More effective when you can create more angle and hit as close to net as possible
    4. Hit as soon as you can, to take time away from server, take the serve early
    5. Vary the target position, find out what makes the opponent uncomfortable
    6. Don’t try to return back at same speed as serve, visualize and think soft hands
    7. On a hard first serve, stay back a little bit to give yourself time
    8. Talk with partner and let them know your plan
    9. Be aggressive with your feet, not with your arm

S.A.L Drills:

Chip & Charge:

S.A.L Strategies:

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Tennis Congress

An idea sprouts. What all events led upto it, why this point in time, what sparks it to take root and burgeon and take a certain form is as enigmatic as the dawn & rise of life. Life is an idea.  Time cloaks the attributes of the idea Рwhose, why, how, where it is headed …. But to nourish the idea and let it grow towards its destiny, it requires energy.

pj

Tennis Congress is the idea of one man, PJ Simmons, which is nourished every year by the passion of 80 professionals and 200+ amateurs who bring the energy it takes to keep it headed towards its destiny ‚Äď enriching and empowering the life of adults globally.

The adults are not fadeouts, escaping the drudgery of life nor washouts seeking to play out a fantasy. The adults are serious athletes seeking to empower themselves to reach higher.

What did I go for … ,
I had a notion‚Ķ, fed by the internet, of what Tennis Congress is ¬†– ‚ÄúA watering hole where birds of the same feather flock to learn & improve, not prove.” ¬†A place where new friendships and symbiotic linkages may be established. An excitement about the possibilities of new experiences and knowledge in a familiar domain that defines my identity.

What did I find …,
I found Tennis Congress to edify 3 core ideas, ideas that matter more than the ‚Äúother stuff‚ÄĚ,

  1. Reach higher
  2. It is never too late to be an athlete
  3. Make the most and the best of yourself.

Wait‚Ķ.I found ‚Äúother stuff‚ÄĚ as well‚ĶIn subsequent posts, I will write about my personal experiences applying the concepts about the ‚Äúother stuff‚ÄĚ ¬†that I imbibed. Here is my top 10 takeaway areas from the event, that I intend to explore, try out and write about in the near future.

  1. First strike tennis
  2. Practice like the pros
  3. Is consistency over-rated
  4. Injury free Tennis
  5. Targeting, positioning & dynamic strategy in Doubles
  6. Transforming the serve
  7. Transforming the serve return
  8. Transforming the 2 hand backhand
  9. Transforming the forehand
  10. Soft hands, touch & putaway volleys

Stay tuned …collage-2016-10-24-19_00_47

http://www.tenniscongress.com/

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Learning the ropes of captaining a USTA League Team

It was a hot afternoon in July, the climax¬†of the 2015 USTA Spring/Summer League. Our team had done well in the regular season to qualify for the Qualifying Tournament(QT) for the City Championship. With the conclusion of the games¬†today, all 3 teams in our¬†round robin group had won 1 game respectively and all were 3-2 wins!! ¬†The numbers had spoken… ¬†as we had gotten edged out of the championship round due to the¬†stat for ‘# of sets won’.

To celebrate the successful season and douse the tinge of disappointment at the loss, we headed out to drench ourselves at¬†the bar at Fox and Hound. As the afternoon waned, thoughts and talk meandered into the next season (Fall 2015). Our captain expressed the intent to¬†hand over the reigns to me for the Fall 2015 season, due to a busy work schedule in the Fall. As all the eyes turned to me….the ‘yes sure’ that came out, seemed to me to be laced with self doubt and shaky from the weight of the responsibility. The guys were encouraging and expressed support, which was comforting and I left the pub¬†that day, with a score of¬†thoughts racing in my mind like, ¬†“how¬†will I …

  • live up to the confidence placed in me,
  • make the off-season productive and¬†bring about changes to take us to the next level,
  • not screw up the lineups during the¬†season”

and many such more …

To break the short lived suspense, we did end up with a successful 2015 Fall season where we again made the playoffs, but couldn’t make the City Championship Finals (for different reasons this time, those learnings for a different time!). During the season, there were many learnings along the way¬†and I hope¬†My Top 10 List¬†¬†may¬†help you, ¬†if you are an aspiring USTA ¬†league captain or a leader of any team in general.

#10. Avoid having Co-Captains if you can: I initially toyed with the idea of co-captaincy for the season, but  decided against it, due to my belief that difference of opinions, methods and vision can lead to confusion within the team. As the time tested military model has shown, the chain of command must be clear and well defined. The other aspect which influenced my decision was to know for myself, how I will handle this responsibility.

There may be teams where there is an excellent chemistry between the co-captains and there are very well defined roles and responsibilities that are adhered to. If you can make this work, then more power to you !!

Cap Co Cap

#9. Organize¬†drills tailored to the team’s specific needs for tactics, as well as personalized coaching sessions with a smaller and focused group for “Quick Wins” on technique:¬†¬†Work with 1 or at the max 2 coaches and stick with them. From my experience, ¬†working with more coaches is good to get perspectives but too many cooks can spoil the broth too. So find good coaches and stick with them.

Use the off season to focus on major changes to technique and only aim for “Quick Wins” during the season itself. During the off season and into the season, thanks to the doubles drills, our team did a great job to transition from a team comprising primarily of singles players to a team who can bank on the doubles lines as well.

racquet take back

#8. Be a facilitator, stay in the shadows:¬†¬†The goal I set for myself was to do everything in my ability to facilitate the team to focus entirely on tennis and not be dragged down by the drudgery of organization and co-ordination.¬†I used the messaging app called whatsapp to coordinate practice and send updates to team, had setup a ‚Äėgroup‚Äô for the team in same. We also had a google group for email communication and used it for sharing match lineup and match results (though the whatsapp group was used interchangeably sometimes). Also used Google drive to share videos or any documents. Used a excel spreadsheet on Google drive to keep track of team member availability that everyone could update and I referred every week to call the lines.

Give importance to being dependable, punctual, involved and a keen observer in practice and during competition.

The season affirmed a notion that a non-playing captain may be better than a playing captain for 2 key reasons,

  • it gives you an opportunity to observe all the 5 lines in competition and get to know what is working and what is not
  • remain dispassionate and carry on with business since losses when playing can cloud emotions and judgement sometimes (losses are always personal and take time to get over !!)

coming to practice

#7. Know your Opponents: Before every game,  size up your opponent by,

  • going through their current and past seasons and seeing how they have played the lines specifically in the first game, against teams similar to yours¬†in strength and the lineups tried in the last 2 to 3 games.
  • as you see this, ¬†make note of ¬†any specific strategies used (order of strength vs. stacked), which lines are typically strong, which players have good records etc..
  • reach out to your¬†teammates to know if they have played any of the opponent’s¬†strong players
  • scout players if opportunity presents¬†on game day when they¬†practice or at tournaments, other league matches etc. ¬†(‘Information is Power’)

I usually print out multiple match sheets and have my lineup alternatives ready on game day. ¬†I make the final call on game day, before heading out to the match site but keep it flexible for any last minute changes before¬†exchanging¬†the match sheet with¬†the opponent’s captain.

opponents

#6.¬†Make practice fun: ¬†One of my teammates¬†said that the sign of a good captain is by the number of people who turn up for practice regularly. Building “team chemistry” is key to making this happen. (for more on what”chemistry” is about, read my previous post).

Build traditions – we have a tradition in our team to cap off the practice sessions by hanging out at ‘Twin Peaks’ pub where we analyze the practice session, strategize for the upcoming weekend game, celebrate ‘fake’ B’days:-) and of course down a few rounds of drinks and appetizers ūüôāPractice

#5. Plan your roster well: I went with a team size of 14 but ended up lacking depth in the playoffs, had 3-4 team members down with injury for good part of the season. But still believe a core group of 10 and a total of 14 is a good team size to have.

For realizing championship dreams, it is important to have,

  • sufficient depth with players who are strong in singles and doubles
  • lines who will be dependable to deliver against the best at¬†your level since you are bound to err when stacking (90 % luck and 10% analysis), unless you are Professor Charles Xavier of the X-men !
  • consistent singles players
  • consistent doubles lines with good chemistry (with each player having a primary and secondary partner)

Roster

#4. Create a culture around¬†learning and not winning:¬†It is important for the captain to¬†nurture a culture where each team member can give their best without worrying and being pressurized about letting down the team. The approach to competitive play should be “No sorries, no apologies, do what you got to do with what you have while enjoying the process”. When¬†in the face of a tough loss, share positive , encouraging, yet honest feedback for improvement.

winning

#3. Get to know your team-mates on the court and off the court: Turn up for¬†as many practices, scrimmages and season games as you can.¬†Have a genuine interest in your team-mates’ game and their development as players.

#2. Be a Leader: In my opinion, leading by example is the best form of leadership.It is key to,

  • create an environment of mutual trust and respect, where there is no penalty for mistakes
  • challenge each person to get to their next level
  • make sure the goals of each team member for playing team tennis is met
  • drum roll……which leads to my #1 point

cgc13

#1. Exude Warmth and Competence: Your team is bound to have diverse team members of varying age, culture, experience level etc. But irrespective of these differences among people, everyone forms their impression of the captain (or for that matter any person) through 2 key questions РCan I trust this person ? Can I respect this person ? A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong (as a player and leader) is the best recipe for a captain.
http://www.aol.com/article/2016/01/16/a-harvard-psychologist-says-people-judge-you-based-on-2-criteria/21298315/

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“Strong legs, Steady hands, Relaxed mind, can’t Lose !”

My inspiration to write this blog post is thanks to PJ at http://www.roadto45tennis.com
http://www.roadto45tennis.com/lessons-from-a-first-time-usta-captain/

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Chemistry ‚Äď you either have it or you don‚Äôt!

Based on my observations of tennis doubles pairs that have had and are having success, a common underlying theme is the mysterious ‚ÄúChemistry‚ÄĚ ‚Äď you either have it or you don‚Äôt!

Chemistry

This is the mysterious ingredient that,

  • fuels the anticipation of having fun and camaraderie on the court, learning something new and constantly keep improving,
  • makes a team look forward to and turn up for practice (at the end of a long work day or during a brief respite on a rainy day !! ),
  • brings success in crunch situations, off days and the big points during competitive play
  • gives the confidence and belief that you can take down a team of individuals who may be a notch or two above you in experience, physical and shot making abilities

As a kid and into my teens, I don‚Äôt know how many endless hours I have spent reading and re-reading the innovative genius of Goscinny and Uderzo ‚Äď ‚ÄúThe Adventures of Asterix and Obelix‚ÄĚ. What is most glaring of course is the difference in their sizes (emphasized further by the choice of their names) and the need for the ‚ÄúMagic Potion‚ÄĚ brewed by the cranky Getafix (Oh, how much I used to love and still love the play with the names by Goscinny and Uderzo !!!). The chemistry they shared during their adventures, while bashing the Romans and Pirates along the way, is¬†what makes¬†them such endearing characters and proves that¬†“chemistry” means much more than just¬†complementary skills,

  • They really respect and enjoy each other‚Äôs company. (Obelix is funny and dependable while Asterix is serious and sometimes nutty)
  • They complement each other amazingly well.(Obelix is super-human while Asterix has the smarts)
  • They are both focused (In every adventure they have their fights, but always know and support each other against the common enemy and are back to being old friends again)

Here are a few quotes from real life successful doubles pairs which echoes these qualities,

The Bryan brothers:

  • ‚ÄúBob and I have totally different personalities, I‚Äôm more conservative, Bob, on the other hand, he‚Äôs a little flashier; he likes to go big or go home.‚ÄĚ
  • ‚ÄúIf I said the same things I say to Mike to any other individual, the partnership would be done in five minutes, it‚Äôs why we‚Äôre able to keep our level so high, because we cut through the crap.‚ÄĚ

The Bryan twins’ personalities complement each other on the court. Mike, who is right-handed and perhaps the best serve returner in doubles, plays the percentages. He makes few mistakes and doesn’t go for broke at the net. Bob, a lefty, gambles on aces and winners and loves to sneak over to Mike’s side of the court to poach volleys.

Martina & Leander:

  • ‚ÄúLeander is a very giving person and is always worried about me being fine. It’s most important to have chemistry on court. We complement each other on court very well and I feel with him on court, nothing can go wrong. He is a great human being. As a woman, it’s important to feel safe on the court. He will protect my serve if I am not feeling well. Be it in a relationship or in life in general or on court, you need to feel protected. Last few years, we have come to know each other and I know that he can read my mind. With Leander, I know that I have won a great friend for life and that’s important. We are both very straight and he believes more in me than I do in myself sometimes. Also, we have respect for each other that is sometimes missing in the new generation of tennis players and that way, we are old school.‚ÄĚ
  • ‚ÄúOne thing I do have is the guts. I will go for it. It’s been part of — my whole life is about perseverance, just trying to find a way to succeed. Sometimes the chips are against you; sometimes they fool you.What I love about this teamwork, to answer your question, is that in any partnership there’s got to be one person who brings the energy to the team. There’s got to be one person who takes all the pressure on their shoulder and drives the team forward. I know if I can keep Martina happy, if I can keep her relaxed, the tennis I don’t even have to worry about. This young girl is phenomenal on the tennis court and off of it. We actually have our best times when we are on the practice court.‚ÄĚ

Martina Hingis, who ruled the top of the Women’s Pro tour has amazing¬†groundstrokes and return of serves, better than most players of the modern era. Leander Paes on the other hand is a master doubles strategist with a great volley and court positioning skills, who can make his partner feel super comfortable and protected playing their natural game.

For the Love of Doubles and Tennis thumbs up

http://www.wsj.com/articles/tennis-bryan-brothers-the-secret-power-of-twins-1432663278
http://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/interviews/2015-09-11/an_interview_with_martina_hingis_and_leander_paes_final.html
http://bestengagingcommunities.com/2012/04/19/the-perfect-startup-team-asterix-and-obelix/
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