Captain Leon Cooper's "work before play" method has maximized the performance of his USTA Southern California men's team.
© Gregory Shamus
By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. – When 69-year-old Leon Cooper of Indio, Calif., agreed early last year to captain a USTA League team for the first time, he had no idea what he was getting into.
Yet thanks to his business background and a fundamental tennis philosophy, Cooper has surprisingly led his Southern California Section team all the way to this weekend’s USTA League Adult 55 & Over National Championships at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex.
Cooper, a retired Certified Public Accountant, played the game when he was younger but admits today that he was “terrible.” He started his second stint with tennis four or five years ago and began playing as part of a group.
“I was retired and I wanted to play tennis, so I just did it,” Cooper said.
A friend would suggest to Cooper that he should join the USTA, put together a USTA League team and serve as the team’s captain. So, Cooper said, “I ended up being a captain and putting a team together,” also admitting that being a USTA League captain was a new learning experience.
In 2013, Cooper and co-captain Chuck Maguire, who had played with a wide range of players, put together a fairly strong team based at the Sun City Shadow Hills retirement community in Indio.
“Fortunately, my business organizational skills allowed me to give the appearance that [being a captain] was easy,” said Cooper, who described himself as a very detail-oriented person. “In fact, one of my teammates said, ‘I know it’s a lot of work, but you make it look so easy and simple.’”
Cooper says he is working on becoming a student of the game and learning as much as he can about tennis. He’s the first to say that he needs to work on his own playing skills. Yet as team captain, he’s developed a rule that became the blueprint for his team’s success.
“When we had our first meeting, one of the things I told them was that I have a philosophy that you ‘work before you play,’ and that means drills, lessons or whatever,” Cooper said. “We don’t play before we work. At first there was a little resistance, but after a while they realized it was good.”
Cooper’s “work before play” ethos helped his team win their league with a sparkling 6-0 record. They went on to capture the USTA Southern California section title at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, Calif., last December, earning the trip to Surprise.
“It was unbelievable excitement – it brought me to tears,” said Cooper, describing the moment his team clinched at Sectionals.
As they prepared for Nationals, Cooper told his team: “My expectations are that this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I know we want to win, but when you’re on the courts, have fun and enjoy yourself. It’s your time.”
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