The thought of managing a tennis team for a sports event who have been coached throughout their sporting life and brought up to train and think as individual athletes is a daunting experience.
Individual athletes are well known to have egos and the pressure on yourself during competition, dealing with not only your physical strengths and weaknesses but also experiencing an emotional rollercoaster point by point should be taken in to account.
Unlike team sports, you don’t have other players on court with you that you can rely on and share the moment with and you have to be able find a way of processing all of these elements.
I’ve recently come back from the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel with Maccabi GB, a competition that occurs every four years and hosted 10,000 athletes from 80 countries at a Junior, Open and Masters level. As the tennis manager/coach, alongside my other coach Marc, I had picked a squad 18 months ago of 10 players who would be competing in the Under 18s tennis tournament and we had trained fortnightly days up until flying.
Even though everyone had started to get to know each other during the training sessions and we had held a couple of socials, there weren’t any immediate connections or sparks between the squad. In my position of responsibility, and staying with the squad for two and half weeks, my main concerns were that they wouldn’t naturally bond and create a team atmosphere. With the competition standard so high, I was also worried that the vast age difference, with the players ranging from 14 – 18 years would also contribute to this as their levels of maturity were very different.
I think it is fair to say that we travelled out as a group of individuals but came back not only as a solid team but also a group of lifelong friends. Even though the squad competed against players who had ATP, WTA and ITF points, their support for each other during every match was incredible. We dealt with success over matches won and heartbreak over matches lost and would always find a way to get through it together.
During our trip, we would also regularly unite and chat about what we had planned as well as playing ice-breaker games that would not only keep everyone relaxed and comfortable but would also be a good laugh. It was moments like this as well as the times travelling on the bus to and back from competition and over breakfast and dinner that would be remembered.
Spending so much time together allowed them to became a closer group to the point that other teams would come and say how nice it was that the tennis squad were so close.
As a manager and coach, using different communication and management styles helped as well as always understanding each player on a personal level and putting the teams best interests first. Speaking with them individually on a daily basis and checking in was key and they knew that they could always approach us if they had any worries or concerns. Adopting different roles like a coach, manager and friend were vital and strengthened that position of trust. There were moments that we found tough, but the satisfaction from seeing a group of young tennis players form was so rewarding.
After participating together in an unforgettable journey over the two and a half weeks, they won’t only forget the time they shared but also will remain firm friends going forwards.