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Team tennis and camps: a perfect match.

Roger was 14, a tall, lanky kid with an attitude. Summer camp hadn't been his idea, and he refused to enjoy it. He wouldn't cooperate with counselors, wouldn't participate in group activities, wouldn't even trade h is long pants for shorts. He kept to himself. But Roger had athletic ability, and eventually the camp tennis director talked him into trying team tennis.

Soon Roger became caught up in the excitement of competing and winning for his team. Other players began to respect him. Girls began to notice him. Roger's entire attitude changed. He felt better about himself, and it showed. When he returned to camp the next year, wearing shorts, everyone wanted Roger on their team. Roger belonged.

Roger's story is by no means unique. As a camp tennis director, I have seen team tennis transform dozens of disinterested, even rebellious campers into cooperative and enthusiastic team players. In fact, team tennis creates a sense of excitement so contagious it can energize an entire camp.

The Magic of Team Tennis

Tennis has always been a popular sport at all-around camps. Typically, campers compete individually or as doubles, with the best players going on to challenge representatives of other camps. The problem with this system is that only a few talented or advanced campers can participate in the excitement of tournament play.

Team tennis, however, offers every camper an equal chance to share the responsibilities and excitement of team competition. In team tennis, the weakest player's point is just as important as the strongest player's point. Consequently, team members root for each other, and everyone feels affirmed. This positive team experience motivates and unites campers, creating a camp-wide spirit of excitement. Eager to improve their strokes and strategies, campers become enthusiastic about lessons and practices. They look forward to matches. They talk about tennis wherever they go. They share a sense of pride and distinction.

Individually, the team tennis experience fosters feelings of self-esteem that often lead to remarkable changes in behavior. Sullen or withdrawn kids like Roger can become animated and involved. Kids who are unaccustomed to responsibility learn about discipline and accountability, while hostile, aggressive kids learn sportsmanship and cooperation.

Organizing a Team Tennis Program

In 1974, when the concept of collegiate team tennis had become quite popular nationwide, Glen Roswal, tennis director at Camp Taconic in Hinsdale, Massachusetts, introduced the idea at that coed camp, where I worked as a counselor. Both Roswal and I had played team tennis in college. Together, we turned an already popular activity into the talk of the camp. A few years later, as tennis director at Camp Mah-kee-nac, a boys' camp in Lenox, Massachusetts, I incorporated the concept there, with similar results. Both of these programs are still in existence today.

Team tennis programs can be established at any camp math access to tennis courts. At camps lasting four weeks or more, matches are usually played once a week, with a tournament the last week. Shorter camps might want to condense this schedule, or leave out the tournament. At camps divided into junior and senior divisions, tennis staff can organize two leagues to cater to age differences.

There are many ways to construct a team tennis league. To recruit our players, we conducted a bunk-to-bunk, general sign-up. Next, we selected team captains, one for each six to eight team members. Our choices rested on our personal observations or knowledge of each player's ability, personality and leadership skills. To help assess new players, counselors conducted lessons and skills tests during the first week of each camp session. Both tennis staff and team captains were allowed to see the resulting ratings.

Captains then met to participate in a player draft. To ensure equity among teams, we ranked the captains by ability and assigned them turns in a round robin sequence. In the first round, the captain who was the weakest player chose first, and the best chose last. By the final round, the best player had first pick. (At the coed camp, tennis teams were coed also.)

Following the player draft, we emphasized the responsibilities of leadership and instructed the captains to keep the sequence of draft picks confidential. Apparently, this approach worked. Players' draft rankings never became an issue. In fact, by the time teams met to select team names and colors, everyone had forgotten the draft.

With the teams in place, tennis staff members and other counselor volunteers who enjoyed tennis were appointed as coaches. All coaches were requested to assume a low profile, acting only to advise team captains and ensure that everyone had fun. This approach allowed the campers themselves to take responsibility for their team and enjoy the sport without undue emphasis on winning.

Conducting Matches

Once teams were organized, coaches explained the format of the sport to players. Each match consists of three singles games and two doubles games, involving seven players in all. The only rule governing who plays is that the team's strongest player must play in one of the first games, either singles or doubles. This stipulation prevents pitting a team's weakest player against the other team's strongest player.

Captains must submit their lineups to the tennis director no later than five minutes prior to the match. The visiting team must submit their lineup first, giving the home team the opportunity to study their opponents' lineup and then place their players accordingly. Each team member plays one match.

Following the format of high school or college tennis, team scores are accumulated from winning matches, with each match worth one point. Normally, with three singles and two doubles matches, three out of five points are necessary to win. However, camps may adjust this system, depending on the total number of players. With fewer players, fewer points may be required to win.

To speed up matches, scoring is simplified to 1, 2, 3, 4 and game, with six games to a set. A one-minute time-out and change of court are allowed between games. At the conclusion of a set, players shake hands and report their score to the coach designated as scorekeeper.

Players referee their own matches. Coaches step in only if there's a problem or question, which is rare. Good sportsmanship is emphasized and enforced. Poor behavior results in one warning, then loss of a game, and, ultimately, forfeiture of the match. Coaches and captains are responsible for their team's decorum.

Special Circumstances

If teams have more than seven players, additional matches are played following regular matches. Although the results do not affect the team score, these extra matches are great practice for less skilled players. Rules can be adapted to allow beginners or younger players more leeway. For example, a ball may be allowed to bounce twice before the player hits it. Or, the entire game may be played within the service area near the net. For the very young, coaches may even authorize an anything goes" format, allowing players to hit the ball as many times as possible until it rolls.


In my experience with team tennis, campers have demonstrated unbelievable enthusiasm for the sport. Indeed, for many, it becomes a highlight of their camp experience and a reason to return the next year. Because team tennis offers all campers an opportunity for fun, camaraderie and healthy competition, even "problem kids" like Roger gain self-esteem and a sense of belonging from the program. Few activities offer such great rewards or such far-reaching benefits to the overall camp environment.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Evans, Michael D.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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