Why I love Coaching Boys AND Girls High School Tennis Teams
Legendary Clemson tennis coach Chuck Kriese confessed at a coaching seminar I attended that “tennis coaches have the best job in the world.” Coaches don’t make a ton of money, but we get to work with student athletes who are learning and growing within the framework of competition. The lessons they learn by playing tennis inform how they deal with life, conflict, problem-solving, how to fight and win with grace, and lose with pride and dignity. I love my job as a coach.
Standing with just a chain link fence between us, I have been present for tears of joy, pain, disappointment, and even relief. We all remember how difficult high school is, even under the best of circumstances. Toss in some intense physical training, high expectations, and wanting to win for your team, and that’s a recipe for some drama...and as a coach we do see some. Neither boys nor girls can claim to be more dramatic than the other: although girls tennis gets most of the blame in that area. I can report however, that high school boys create their own brand of drama. Managing that drama for each team has been the juicy part of life and coaching that I love.
In my experience, a few truths are applicable to both boys and girls. Making it as easy as possible for them to have a schedule and a routine helps considerably. The boys will compete and make a game out of ANYTHING and the more games the better to keep them engaged during practice. Any kind of training game where you can keep score with a points system is key for them to dial in and focus. The girls enjoy time together as a team or participating in team activities: split the group into two teams and compete them against each other always has great results. One of thing I’ve learned is that nobody reads emails.
Also, food. A LOT OF FOOD. I spend a large amount of time every season helping my players remember to eat properly and hydrate during the school day. I educate them about sports nutrition as if they know nothing because they actually receive so many mixed messages about weight, fitness and food to throughout their life. I try to keep it simple and easy to remember. In season they have all their work plus a bus ride, a match, then a ride back which puts them home usually between 7-8:00 pm. 3 matches a week, 2 practices and all-day tournaments on Saturdays equals tired kids who need fuel and time for recovery.
The boys require more guidance and management support for them to compete. You have to hand hold them a bit more than the girls in the beginning: more texts and reminders about matches, events, and you CANNOT tell them anything too many times.
For the girls, I have found that the first 10 minutes of practice during warm ups and conditioning, girls need to talk...a LOT. My girls know that they have that time while getting their gear together, etc. And, if they didn’t, chatter would just overflow into the drills and focus for the day and nobody would hear me or learn anything. There are plenty of tools for coaches: websites, apps for their phones, programs. I just keep it simple and send a group text to varsity and junior varsity and emails after matches to parents and the kids. The parents DO read the emails. And texts are about the team or tennis only.
My players know that when we are across the fence from each other, it is a safe space for them to just be themselves in that moment: cry, complain, get mad, or just to tell me they are afraid. Providing that safe space for them is good practice for life too. They learn and grow through adversity while I walk alongside them and point out “hey you will remember this match and moment 20 years from now.” Senior boys and girls get it, and that’s a fun season when we get to see what 4 years working with a student athlete can create. What a privilege I have to be there for that moment as well as all their moments, and to be able to share it with them.
Cathy Rubey lives and works with her family in the Indianapolis area and is the head boys and girls tennis coach at Cardinal Ritter High School and a USPTR Certified Pro at Indianapolis Healthplex. You can contact her via email at email@example.com.