Monday, May 09, 2011

Stack Stack Stack

I've written about team tennis lineups before on this blog (see here), but I can't resist ranting again.

As we head into the girls high school championship weekend in Colorado and the NCAA Division III men's and women's draws are being made, this issue of placing players in order of strength naturally arises.  In my previous post (linked above) I think I made the case for random draws of players.  That would solve the bs about coaches stacking and about who plays above whom on each team. There would still be battles to get into the lineup, but there would be no more "How come I'm playing behind Suzie" types of gripes.  Suzie and Molly and Amy would all go in a hat, to be drawn out at random.

I'm not only about reducing conflict, though.  Tennis is fundamentally about conflict so I say let's keep some of that.  I prefer to let coaches arrange their lineups, who plays singles, who plays doubles, with whom and in what order, however they want to.  The coach has an ethical obligation to arrange his players in the manner that gives his team the best chance to win, both in the current match and with an eye toward future matches.  The problem is that currently a rule prohibits this.  Now coaches have an ethical obligation to place their players in the order of strength.  Bad rule.

The "order of strength" can vary a lot.  Perhaps a player is good in practice matches but performs poorly in competition with other teams.  Who is stronger, the player who wins in practice or the player who wins against outside competition?  Perhaps Suzie shows up to the match with a bad attitude, warms up poorly, and appears to be going through the motions.  Is she still the team's number 2 player?  Is the coach doing his duty to put the team in the best position to win if he plays Suzie at number 2 that day?  Is he cheating if he drops her to #3 or #4?  By most rules, he is deemed to be stacking if he moves her down and most rules prohibit any two-spot moves between any two matches.  Bummer for Suzie and her team.

I say remove the rule that creates suspicion and doubt among coaches about the ethics and motivations of each other.  Let's join every other team sport that I know of and let coaches decide who plays and who plays where.  Isn't that a fundamental part of coaching?  Let's embrace that in team tennis.

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