This week started my 4th year coaching high school tennis. I never played tennis in high school; tennis was for the rich kids who had taken lessons their whole lives. In high school, I would watch the tennis players with their white clothes as if they were rock stars. As a young child, the closest I got to tennis was hitting old balls with a steel racket against the wall at my local community college.
I took up tennis as an adult and have been nationally ranked in my age group in the top 20 for the last 7 years and have won 7 NorCal Player of the year awards. But I have done it with lots of coaching, fancy equipment and hours of hard work on the courts.
I had quit my sales job 4 years ago because I completely hated my life. I got certified to teach tennis just as something to do in the meantime while interviewing for my next sales job. I was lost. A friend of mine who is a school teacher told me his high school needed a varsity tennis coach, would I be interested?
The fact that I was a female, and would be coaching a boy’s tennis team didn’t strike me in the beginning. I was interviewed by a female athletic director and female principal and they were enthusiastic so I began. I had been the only female in many careers, so this didn’t intimidate me.
Boy’s high school tennis is the good old boys coaching world. I was the only female coach of a varsity boys team and my fellow male coaches were anything but welcoming. I was told the wrong time for the league meeting, the male coaches barely said hello, and at a match one male coach yelled at me in front of my boys because one of my boys was 5 minutes late for warm up because he had a test. That time I had enough. These were my boys and you could treat me badly, but not them. I yelled back and was in this man’s face, literally yelling at that coach about how he was to never try to bully one of my students and scholastics took precedence, did he understand me? He backed off apologizing again and again. My boys had instant respect for me and that I would stand up for their best interest at any time, no matter what. My boys beat that team 7-0.
My school had bad past seasons for over 10 years before I became the tennis coach. But I brought on all freshmen and sophomores for my starting year and we went 18-1, making the 2nd round of CCS. All the boys and their parents became great friends, we all worked hard and were rewarded. By the end of my first season, my career took off as a personal trainer and tennis coach and I was no longer looking for that sales job.
But being a high school tennis coach has only a small part to do with playing tennis. As an 8th grader, I played girls middle school basketball. I sucked. I was fat with no athletic ability or training. We had a male coach, he screamed and yelled at us so much he actually spit on us while yelling. I quit one day because it was no fun and he just took my uniform and walked off, no questions asked. Since I wasn’t a star player no one cared including my team members. I vowed to NEVER be that coach. I learned nothing from him, not how to shoot, be a team member, or conduct myself, in fact I learned the opposite. I learned how to quit, I learned I didn’t matter, and that I sucked so much no one cared.
I am tough as a coach. I demand respect and hard work and it has paid off not just in wins, but in watching these boys grow into men and these young girls grow into responsible women. They are all best friends, laugh and joke through practice and get wins. They trust me enough to come to me with their problems and life questions. I try to always be available to them and it is hard not to tear up when Mr. Clutch pulls off the win for us in the third set tie break or watching them do their group hug at the end of a winning match.
Having the girls come by just to say hello is priceless. Watching all of them gain self-worth from doing better than they ever expected is all I work for as a coach. To show them hard work is all it takes. We can’t all win, but we can all try.
I take it very personally when I fail as a coach. When I can’t teach a kid to show up on time, give me 110% and be proud of him/her self, I failed and carry that with me. Yesterday was the last day of the varsity team being chosen and I know what an honor it is to incoming freshmen and last year’s JV team to make this Varsity team and be part of this winning team.
I put some of them on notice—win this point—-just this point, and you make Varsity. Two of the three I put in that stress position won that point off better players. I watched both of those players fist pump to themselves, proud of themselves as I walked over to them, shook their hand and congratulated them. The third, who lost the point, kept working every point of the rest of practice as hard as he could. His work ethic is everything, he also made Varsity.
So, I had my 15 players but there were two players still on the bubble. They could make it to Varsity or go back to the JV team. They had been practicing with the varsity for 2 days and I knew they were hard workers, just lacked some skills, but I always reward hard work and desire. So, in front of the already 15 varsity boys, I gave them their opportunity.
“Here is 15 seconds, tell us why you should be part of this Varsity team and how you will help us win CCS.”
The first boy, kid of stumbled verbally and I stopped him. Who are you, state your name and then your attributes. He started again and NAILED IT, proudly looking all of us directly in the eye. The second one was more than ready and nailed it too.
The 2017 Varsity team was chosen. The 17 of them hugged and cheered with each other for over 10 minutes, bonding as a team, the seniors welcoming the freshman as one of them. I walked off to teach a private lesson, my adult student couldn’t stop watching the team celebrating. “Wow,” he said, “I never had anything like that, they are all so happy and joyous.”
Many times, I am asked why I continue to coach high school tennis when financially it is a drain and mentally it can overwhelm me. As I watched those 17 boys celebrate, I thought life isn’t just about what I can personally accomplish, but what I can help others accomplish.
Money can’t replace the feeling of helping others.