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Player Advice
The "I" in Team - One-Eighth of the Whole

We have all heard the old adage, There is no I in TEAM. Whether little league, club soccer or the NFL, the phrase is always there. Team sports utilize a number of players on the same field at the same time all working in unison.

Tennis, in the team format, is a different beast altogether.

Coach Thomson with his Drake Team
courtesy, Drake Athletics
In high school and college, tennis is an individual sport with team results. Six singles courts and three doubles courts are all working independently of one another, playing different points, hitting different shots, all for the same goal - a team victory. Individuals may win their matches, but the team can still lose. Court 1 cannot set up Court 5. Court 4 cannot double team with Court 3. Court 6 cannot run a screen or pick and roll for Court 2. But each of these parts end up as a whole, and they can support each other and have an effect on the courts around them. Once a match begins there are no substitutions. Once a player starts a match it is up to them to finish. This becomes a challenging focus for coaches. "Who is ready to go on any given day?" You hope everyone is obviously. This is why it is so important for the "I" to be visibly confident and consistent in what they do.

There is, in fact, an I in TEAM. As John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country (team) can do for you, but what you (I) can do for your (my) country (team)." If there is any truth to that statement, and I believe there is, there is most certainly an I in TEAM. Without me (I) and you, there can be no team and definitely not much success.

During my first season coaching at a new institution, I ran into a great example of this. I was in the middle of Fall individual meetings with the players.

This was the women's team at a mid-major Division I university with a rich tennis history. The program had been treading water for a few years, but I felt it had the potential to be bigger and better than it had been in the recent past. The team had some solid players with good backgrounds. For the most part, the players had good work ethics and attitudes to go along with good intentions, and I felt that even the players thought they could perform better than they had during the past couple of seasons.

They did, however, lack direction, confidence, and the knowledge of their individual roles as leaders, followers and players. It wasn't their fault. It's likely that they did not had strong mentors from the classes ahead of them. It's sometimes the case that players never had these roles modeled for them, and, as a result, they never developed these skills or confidence to put them into place.

I found one player in particular to be especially bright, hardworking and committed. She was also a very good person on and off of the court. She wanted it as much, if not more, than any of the others on the team, which actually held her back to some degree from what she could accomplish because of the stress she put on herself. She wasn't a one-in-a-million talent, but she was a solid player. However, her heart and effort were golden.

In our meeting, she told me, almost confidently, "I know I am the eighth girl on the team, but I want to and will work as hard as I can to get better and get on the courts as much as I can." I immediately stopped her and said two things. "Thinking that way, you are always going to be the eighth girl" and "There is no one, two, three, four, five, six, seven or eight girl on this team. You are not eighth, but you are one-eighth of the whole."

The biggest issue with this team was the identity role of the eight I's. Each one-eighth working for the whole by doing what each does best. They weren't selfish or egocentric. They just lacked the experience and knowledge to know what they could, or maybe should, do to help the team - and not necessarily on the courts. All-Conference or walk on, regardless of where they played in the line up, each spot only counted for one point. If they weren't in the line-up, they might play an even bigger role as a coach or maybe a double team by just being present on one of the other players' courts. Everyone's role may be different, but all are invaluable on or off of the court.

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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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